Crash Course on Cymbals

Lane Armey

The cymbal line is often one of the more overlooked sections of the marching percussion ensemble; however, it is an integral part musically and visually of many top groups. Especially with the rise of indoor percussion and the focus on movement and choreography, cymbal lines are arguably more important than ever.

For this article, I caught up with David Medina, long-time cymbal performer and instructor with the Santa Clara Vanguard organization.

Armey: What are the most important criteria for putting together a successful cymbal line?

Medina: Commitment, strength, timing, and coachability. As with most things in life, a commitment to being great and coachability are vital. Strength is just a prerequisite for playing cymbals. If you cannot hold them up, you cannot play them! Not many kids walk into a cymbal line with much experience, so timing skills become a big determining factor in predicting success.

Armey: What are some skills that students should work on when auditioning for a cymbal line or making their own cymbal line better?

Medina: If you are looking to march in a drum corps or WGI independent drumline, first do your homework to determine the style that the particular group uses. There are all sorts of crash variations and flip techniques that differ by group, in the same way drumming styles are not all the same. Second learn the terminology—port crashes, flat/orchestral crashes, chokes, etc. Finally, get strong! You’ll make a great first impression if you are among the physically strongest individuals auditioning.

Armey: How are cymbal lines changing with the evolution of WGI Percussion?

Medina: More exposed cymbal moments are being created with complex grooves, tricks, and focused staging. These methods are not seen much in drum corps, so it is pretty exciting to see how there is more of a hype being built around WGI cymbal lines. Aside from that, the cymbal line often has the most range of motion on the floor since the musicians are not wearing carriers and are more able to contribute to the visual performance of the group.

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