There are two different instruments referred to as crash cymbals. One is a specific type of cymbal used singly in a drum set or drum kit. The other is a pair of cymbals used in concert and marching situations. We will discuss both here.
Concert or Marching Crash Cymbals. The crash cymbals used in orchestra and band ensembles and in marching bands are a matched pair of cymbals with straps that are held in the hands – hence the British name hand cymbals. Crash cymbals come in various diameters that are specified only as small (10–14” or 24–36 cm), medium (15–18” or 38–46 cm), and large (19–24” or 48–61 cm).
There are several different ways to play a pair of crash cymbals. One way is to clash them together and then hold them over the player’s head while they go through their slow decay. This would be the approach if a half-tie symbol were added to the notehead, or if the term let ring or laissez vibrer (l.v.) were used.
Alternatively, the crash cymbals can be deadened by damping the cymbals against the player's chest. If the term secco or choke indicates that the note is to be played very short, the cymbals are dampened immediately. It is also possible to hold one cymbal still and “swish” the other across it. One of a pair of crash cymbals may also be mounted or simply suspended by its strap and used similarly to the play in the context of a drum set or kit.
Crash Cymbals in a Set or Kit. A drum set or drum kit is usually minimally stocked with at least a set of hi hat cymbals, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal. It may also include a splash cymbal and/or a sizzle cymbal, as well as other specialty cymbals, such as a China or Chinese cymbal. Crash cymbal descriptions may mention the particular attack, decay, sustain, and release features that the cymbal has, as well as the volume it’s designed for. The sound may be described as bright, crisp, clean, warm, cutting, explosive, dark, complex, sharp, penetrating, glassy, full, and high or low.
There are some subtypes with names like fast crash, rock crash, power crash, and full crash. There are also variations in thickness, denoted by names like thin crash, medium-thin crash, and medium crash. Some crash cymbals are hand-hammered.