zildgian ride cymbal

What Size Ride Cymbal for Jazz?

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There are a few sizes you can consider for a jazz ride cymbal. Usually, it’s just three main sizes that drummers like. I like to play a larger ride cymbal when playing jazz.

These are the major size differences amongst jazz ride cymbals:

info graphic showing jazz ride cymbal sizes

In general, you want to remember the brighter tones come from the smaller cymbals. 

As you go up in size, your tonal quality will be darker and more sustained.

If you want your ride cymbal to match your bass player’s deep, darker tone, you want a larger ride cymbal.

If you go to an online music store like Sweetwater and search “jazz ride cymbal”, you will notice most cymbals are 22 inches, which makes sense to me because those larger ride cymbals are going to have a darker tonality.

Conversely, if you want more of a contrast in sound while playing with the bass player, I would choose a smaller 18 inch ride cymbal. The smaller ride cymbals are going to cut through more with a brighter splash sound.

I prefer a darker sounding ride cymbal for most jazz playing because it’s usually played with an acoustic bass.  

It’s nice to mesh more with the bass and other players in a smaller venue, which is most jazz gigs instead of accidentally overpowering them with too much volume and splashy brightness on the cymbals. 

Exceptions to the Jazz Ride Size Rule:

There are exceptions to the rule of sounding darker with larger ride cymbals. You really have to play a ride and listen to it without earplugs before you can decide if it’s the right cymbal for your jazz playing. There are some 20 inch rides, which sound as dark as any 22 inch jazz ride.

The Sound Quality of the Ride Cymbal

Drummer’s tastes in cymbals vary greatly, so it’s hard to say that all Jazz drummers prefer a dark sounding cymbal over a bright one and vice versa. It’s common for Jazz drummers to have two or three ride cymbals on hand to choose from that will accommodate different musical situations.

Get a Good Ride Cymbal

Generally speaking, a good ride cymbal will have a wide tonal range. This doesn’t mean that you have overtones that are all over the spectrum, but that a dark cymbal will have a good stick definition with a touch of ping to it, and a bright cymbal will have warm undertones supporting the predominantly bright sound.

It’s worth paying a lot for a good quality jazz ride cymbal because that is our predominant piece of gear we are playing in jazz. 

Think about it. Everything in a jazz tune usually follows the lead of that swing on the ride cymbal.

The swing on the ride cymbal is what comes to mind when I think about jazz music as a whole.

Usually, I emphasize that you should concentrate on spending money on lessons and getting better rather than buying expensive gear, but a nice jazz ride cymbal is worth it if you are mostly playing jazz.

The Ride Cymbal is the Primary Voice of a Jazz Drummer

Rock, Pop, Funk, and R&B all rely heavily on a steady backbeat supplied by a snare drum and heavy bottom end provided by a bass drum to produce a groove. Brazilian and Afro Cuban drum set playing emphasizes the drums more than the cymbals. In most forms of Jazz drumming, the groove is generated from the ride cymbal with assistance from the hi-hat.

Developing Your Own Feel on the Ride Cymbal

Good Jazz drummers will spend years and countless hours developing their touch and feel on the ride cymbal. The personal sound that a Jazz drummer creates on the ride cymbal is an amalgam of influences. These have come from the greats of Jazz drumming. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the practice studio playing along with recordings of Joe Chambers, Al Harewood, and Bill Stewart to shape a ride cymbal pattern that I enjoy playing.

Learn to Produce Different Sound on Your Jazz Ride Cymbal

Work at developing your touch on the ride cymbal. The way you strike the cymbal matters. Using specific parts of your stick when hitting the ride matters.

Which part of the ride cymbal are you playing? If you play the ride up near the bell, it will sound different from the lower part of the jazz ride cymbal.

Remember, you can hit a jazz ride a certain way and use it as a crash cymbal.

So size does not always matter in regards to your overall jazz cymbal sound.

Which size do you prefer for your jazz ride cymbal?