Today I was practicing for a drum performance in school and I didn't know the positions of the crash cymbal and ride cymbal were different from the usual drum set up. I only realised the mistake halfway through the practice when the sound produced was weird.

How do I differentiate between the "Crash Cymbal" and "Ride Cymbal", which look so similar in appearance assuming you do not know the position of it in the drum set?

I am open to other answers which would allow me to differentiate between the two.

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  • 3
    About the position, a ride cymbal is usually placed lower than the others cymbals : its allow us to hit the 3 parts (edge/bow/bell) easily at a high tempo. Its the hit-hat big sister.
    – JoeBilly
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 0:00
  • 1
    Be prepared! I'd suggest turning up to class a few minutes early to familiarise yourself with the supplied kit. Then you can see where which cymbals are available, and you can adjust if someone else has changed the height and angle of the toms, changed the snare tuning, adjusted the height of the hi-hats, and so on. Commented May 2, 2017 at 12:00
  • ride is bigger than the crash
    – user53472
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 5:42
  • Related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/41554/… Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 16:17

10 Answers 10


The purist, jazz drummer in me will tell you there is no difference. You can place a cymbal wherever you want and play it however you want regardless of what word the manufacturer decided to print on it. You can ride a crash and crash a ride. "Crash" and "ride" are just divisions we've made based on how well they produce certain kinds of sounds. So really the only distinctions you can make are based on sound. Do you like the way it sounds when you crash it? Then crash it. Do you like the way it sounds when you ride it? Then ride it. But crash and ride don't have to be different cymbals - just different play styles. I often run an 18" "crash/ride" on the left and a thicker 20" "ride" on the left but I crash and ride both of them interchangeably depending on the music. So which one is my ride cymbal? Both. Which is my crash cymbal? Both. They just crash and ride in different ways and at different intensities. I also have a 17" "dark crash" that I like to ride in smaller venues and stuff. It's small and light and opens up at a pretty low volume. So it works pretty well in small, intimate spaces and playing lightly with light sticks. Alternatively, it makes an excellent crash cymbal in sort-of medium-loud live music or in the studio where volume doesn't really matter so much. So I feel it has pretty diverse applications.

Idk, that's a pretty philosophical approach to a simple question, but I legitimately feel the boxes we place on ourselves - you can only crash and crash and ride a ride - are limiting and inhibit our creativity and musicality. So go, crash your rides and ride your crashes. Experiment. Find what sounds good and let that be the ultimate measure of what a cymbal is. Size, thickness, position, even the label on the cymbal - no one in the audience or listening to your record is going to know or care about these trivialities - only sound matters.

  • 5
    Note that the question contains this: "I didn't know the positions of the crash cymbal and ride cymbal were different from the usual drum set up. I only realised the mistake halfway through the practice when the sound produced was weird." I think the question asker, Computernerd, would disagree with you. This person already rode a crash and crashed a ride, then didn't like what s/he heard.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 12:37
  • 1
    Dekkadeci, Good observation. It sounds like Computernerd is already doing the right thing - trusting their ear. In that sense the question is already somewhat self-answering. "I only realized the mistake halfway through the practice when the sound produced was weird." followed immediately by: "How do I differentiate between the "Crash Cymbal" and "Ride Cymbal", which look so similar in appearance?" If it sounds weird, then it mustn't be your preferred setup. Differentiation achieved.
    – Sheldon
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 14:14

Hit both the cymbals once .

The "Crash Cymbal" should produce a loud, sharp "crash"

The "Ride Cymbal" should produce a sustained, shimmering sound

Sample of Crash Cymbal sound

Sample of Ride Cymbal sound

  • 2
    There are several ways n which to 'hit the cymbals'. This answer doesn't really help.
    – Tim
    Commented May 29 at 7:13

As @Meaningful Username pointed out, the ride is usually heavier than the crash. It is also typically larger than the crash (ride usually 20 inches in diameter and crash mostly 14 to 18 inches).

If you hit the center region of a ride, it produces a bell-like sound.

  • 3
    If you hit the cup of a crash it will also produce a bell-like sound ;)
    – BartoszKP
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:11
  • @BartoszKP really? I have never tried that!
    – Menglan
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 21:33
  • Flat rides are designed without a bell. They do not have a bell sound. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 20:30
  • The crash cymbal is easily identified: it is far and away the more annoying of the two. Optimal placement is usually outside the auditorium, where no-one will have their hearing assaulted. Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:51

More often than not the word "crash" or "ride" is printed somewhere on the cymbal in question. A ride usually is thicker and heavier than a crash.

  • As pointed out in the most voted for answer, and I agree, printing a word on the cymbal doesn't pigeon-hole its use.
    – Tim
    Commented May 29 at 7:15

To add to what's here:

Ride cymbals will not be very loud when struck (comparitively), but will have overtones that last for much longer than crash cymbals.

Crash cymbals, for the most part, are meant to accent the beat - be loud when hit, then fade quickly.

If you hit both very hard, across the edge of your stick, listen to see what is still ringing many seconds later.

  • Actually, ride cymbals sound louder when played loud as they are bigger than crashes. Most often, crashes are 16 to 19 inches, rides are 20 to 22 inches, and hi hats are 13 to 15 inches big.
    – user53472
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 13:03

There are already some great answers here, but in general, a ride cymbal will be wider than a crash cymbal, and will also have a larger, more pronounced bell in the center. There are exceptions, of course.


I'd say the sound. Ride cymbals would have a more classic ping sound. It's meant to keep time like the hi-hats. They're typically used in the chorus whereas the hats are used during verses. Crashes are for the transition of the accent and have a sharp sound.


To crash a cymbal usually needs it to be hit on its edge, with the whole stick. Any cymbal will respond to this, but to facilitate it, that cymbal needs to be higher, so its edge is more easily accessible for crashing.

On the other hand, riding happens more towards the middle (not the bell) with the stick tip, so lowering it on its stand makes that action easier.

Some like the crash on the right, so it's more accessible after a break around the drums, and the ride on the left, where the position is closer to the hi-hat, which gets played a lot!

So, really, it matters not too much which goes where, which label it has, how big it is, how heavy it is, it's all down to personal preference - and as a drummer, OP needs to be aware of these factors, and place (and play) accordingly.

True, some cymbals crash better than others, some ride better, but both are available for both jobs, depending on how they're hit. It's both sound and placement, along with that, that's more important.


What makes Crash and Ride cymbals different is their sound, hence function. Putting it a little bit black and white:

  • a Crash asks for attention, i.e. is fine for certain accentuation ("LISTEN, here's something new ! ...")
  • a Ride you love listening to for a longer period of time ("what a nice contrast to the drums ...")

"Sound" depends on many circumstances, like:

  • the cymbals design, see other posts here
  • how you hit it (chopping vs. caressing)
  • where you hit it (bow, bell, rim)
  • hitting device, i.e. the contact point and its material (sticks, brushes, broomsticks, mallets, fingers ...)
  • the band/orchestra (i.e. its floor of frequencies, loudness, noise)
  • the room (broom closet vs. hall/outdoors)

etc. Which implies, as was already stated here, that you can:

  • "abuse" a Ride as a Crash (hit harder)
  • being gentle to the Crash for a Ride (softer stick control)

Like almost all things on the drumset it's subjected to the drummers preference, what she or he deems a good sound.


Ride is usually bigger. But, really, hit them and listen! If it sounds like a crash, it's a crash. If it sounds like a ride it's a ride.

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