Cleaning Cymbals
Cymbal Cleaning / Cymbal Care:

Have you ever noticed that some drummers’ cymbals shine so much that it always looks like they’re brand new? Then there’s the rest of us. We’d rather take a bullet in the head then to have to clean those darn things.
Most like the way cymbals look when they’re shiny and bright. The stage lights reflect off of them and really set off our drumset. But…are we often too lazy to clean them? I must admit, I rarely ever cleaned my cymbals. When I did, I dreaded it as it would make a complete mess out of the kitchen. I’d have cleaners spread from one end of the room to the other. I’d have numerous rags, and usually papers or towels on the floor because the things were always so awkwardly big that you couldn’t fit them into the kitchen sink. I was relieved to finally play with a few big artists where the stage crew (and hired union workers) would clean them for me.

And so…
Well, I’ve written this article to help with the laborious task of cleaning your cymbals. Hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two and you won’t ruin a few of your cymbals the way I did. Remember there are numerous opinions on the subject and this will vary depending on personal experiences. Here are a few pointers based off of my own experience and research:


1. Do it in the yard, not in your bathtub or kitchen sink. Take a bucket of warm water out there just like you’re going to wash your car. Leave your bath or kitchen be. It does nothing but make a huge mess and pisses off your girlfriend or spouse. Ha!

2. Experiment with all the cymbal cleaners. I’ve listed them below. Be careful with scouring mixes like Comet. They can scratch the surface of your cymbals if you’re not careful.

3. Determine whether your cymbal needs a polishing, a quick once-over, or a deep-cleaning (dirt and grime has built up on the cymbal over a period of time as opposed to just stick markings). If they only need a quick polish, buy a spray-on type of cleaner. It’s usually quick and effective.

4. When you clean your cymbal, wipe in the direction of the grooves of your cymbal. You can use an abrasive sponge or scrub brush but make sure that the wires of the brush are not metal or that they’re not something that will scratch the cymbal.

5. Some drummers will use household cleaners such as Fantastic or Formula 409 to help remove the initial deepened grime. It won’t get it all out but it might help loosen it up. You can also soak your cymbals in hot water before cleaning them. This will help loosen the dirt.

6. Remember that some commercial cymbal cleaners are more for polishing or touching up rather than deep-cleaning (and visa versa) so be sure to read the label before proceeding.

7. Clean small sections at a time, especially with really dirty cymbals. Again, think of it like your washing your car. You don’t wash the entire car at one time right? Take it one small section at a time.

8. Some drum shops have professional cymbal cleaning machines and they offer this as a service to their customers. It will cost you a bit but will save you a lot of time if you’re one that simply detests the chore.

9. Some cleaning agents can be harmful to your health. Be sure to use rubber gloves or a breathing mask if necessary. Make sure there is proper ventilation.


What are cymbals made out of?
An alloy (or combination of metals) consisting of copper, tin, nickel silver, brass, or bronze.

What makes cymbals get dirty?
Dust, cigarette smoke, and especially oil from your fingers.

Why do cymbals turn green sometimes?
This is a result of tarnishing. The cymbal becomes discolored due to slow oxidation. When there is brass or copper in the cymbal alloy, it will turn green over time if not polished.
What drummers often use to clean cymbals:

Drum Products:
Zildjian Cymbal Cleaning Polish
Paiste Cymbal Cleaner
Sabian Cymbal Cleaner
Groove Juice
Buckaroo Cymbal Cleaner
Blitz Cymbal Cleaner
Household Products:
Graffiti Remover
Fantastic or Formula 409
Car Wax

– Usually cymbal ink labels will rub off during cleaning. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to clean around them effectively.

– Although it’s debatable just how much, metal is lost in the process of harder scrubbing and if care is not taken to follow the grooves, it could affect the overall tonal quality of your cymbal.

– Avoid using a high speed drill with attachments. This could prevent undesirable results and/or you could ruin your cymbal.

– Vintage cymbals: Altering their age properties or original design structure could devalue the cymbals in the resale market. Use extreme caution


Do have trouble finding time to practice?
This famous writing may provide some inspiration.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers, he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered.”Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is:
If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

The list goes on and on. You should never justifiably be able to say,
“I don’t know what to practice”.


How to Audition

Initial contact – be friendly and professional. Don’t oversell yourself but be confident and assertive. Find out what they are looking for in a musician and determine whether or not you fit the criteria.
Know the material better than anyone else! –This is the key to a successful audition. If you know the tunes better than anyone else (assuming you play them with feeling and with good time) you will probably get the gig.
Be personable. – The second most important criteria in getting a gig is how well the other members of the band think they might be able to get along with you. Be friendly, but be yourself. People can usually see through facades.

Keeping the Gig

Attitude – It’s even more important after getting the gig to be cooperative and extremely diplomatic. You will have opinions, but try and not be to forceful with them. Keep a positive attitude and you will have respect from the other players.
Stay current – Stay on top of the new tunes that come out in the genre of the music you’re playing. Know what’s happening!
Be professional – Be on time, keep yourself and your equipment in good shape, and play every night like you’re making $1000 instead of $50. Wear a smile and act like you’re having a good night even if you aren’t.
Improve on your instrument – Consistently try and better yourself, learn the newest techniques, the difficult songs, read all the magazines, etc. Be a strong force in the group.


The secret is REPETITION
Most young drummers (and even some old ones 😉 underestimate the importance of this word. But many simple problems are solved relatively easily by incorporating just this one little secret.

PROBLEM #1: My arms tire while playing for long periods of time.
FIX: REPETITION.! Practice single strokes for LONG periods of time. Get them EXTREMELY fast to where they become “very” comfortable. If the rest of your technique is relatively good, your arms will not tire after that.

PROBLEM #2: My feet are slow and can’t do half the things my hands do.
FIX: REPETITION.! Isolate your feet and practice nothing but them for extended periods of time. Play the samba bass drum rhythm “allot”. That’s always been a good one for getting your right foot in shape.

PROBLEM #3: I can’t play in odd time signatures.
FIX: REPETITION.! Vinnie Colauita once said, “Just play in 7 for like an hour”. This is especially insightful as we can often get caught up in studying things too closely and miss the point. Sheer repetition will help lead to more comfort in odd times.

PROBLEM #4: I can’t do a proper double stroke roll to save my life.
FIX: REPETITION.! Play that thing slowly, properly, and for “long” periods of time, while gradually increasing your speed. DO NOT CHEAT. Make yourself do intentional,
defined doubles. Chart your progress by playing to 16th’s on a metronome. In no time at all, you’ll be GETTING IT.


Let’s face it; if your drums don’t sound good, you are not going to sound good. You can have all the chops in the world but we as drummers are hired by, not just our licks, but by other factors such as how we get along with others, how musical we are, how we groove, and yes… how good our drums sound (determined by how well they are tuned).

This article won’t serve to instruct the exact method of tuning drums as much as it will to address a few key issues with regard to tuning your drums or drumset.

For tuning most drums, it involves a simple process that can be honed as a skill the more we work with it. Tuning drums is an inexact science but like anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

The most important thing to know is that you’ll tune the drums so that the pitches near each lug are as close to the adjacent lug as you can possibly get it. The end goal is to get the drum in tune to itself, which means we will try to have the pitch near all of the lugs sound the same on the head your working on. They can differ from top to bottom and in fact, that’s how you’ll obtain your pitch.

For snare drums, aim to tune with respect to what kind of snare sound you wish to achieve. If you want a marching band type of snare, you’ll want to really crank the heads good and tight. If you want a deep sound, you’ll need to tune the heads looser, and so on. If you want the snare to have a washy snare effect or a “wet” sound, you’ll need to leave the snares on the bottom of the drum a bit looser so they can buzz more. Similarly, if you want a tight crisp sound, you’ll want to have the snares tensioned tighter. Just be sure that you don’t tighten too much or the snare drum will sound choked.

With toms, or tom toms, whether or not you start with tuning the top head or the bottom head matters not so much as being sure that you again, tune the drum to be in tune with itself. Some drummers try to pull the pitch of the tom drum out of the bottom head and others will try to pull it from the top. You’ll need to experiment to determine your own preference. There is really no right or wrong way.

With regard to the bass drum, some drummers like a deep, low, thud sound and others like more of an opening resonating sound. If you want the traditional punchy, thud sound, you’ll need a pillow or some substantial muffling on the inside of the drum. If you lay the pillow so that it slightly touches the front head, you’ll achieve even better results. For more of a resonating bass drum sound, go with less muffling and maybe even do without any kind of air hole in the front head.

Tuning Tips:

  • Head selection is an extremely part of the drum tuning process. There are drumheads of all shapes and sizes. Experiment with different types of heads to see how they will affect each drum’s tone and response.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t get a slight wrinkle out of the drum. If the drum sounds good, that’s all that matters.
  • Don’t over-tighten drum heads. Although they can withstand quite a bit of stretching, they do have a breaking point.
  • Drumheads get brittle in cold weather and are more likely to crack. If the drum is extremely cold, let it warm up a bit before cranking on those heads.
  • The higher quality the drum, the better the drum will sound when it is tuned properly.
  • Experiment around with different types of hole sizes in your bass drum and where you position the hole


-Do you read music?
Now, before you start running the other direction, please hear me out. I’ve noticed through the years that, for various reasons, many drummers prefer not to learn how to read. They either think that it will take too long or that it will be inevitably too hard. Folks, it’s not really that bad. I repeat, “IT’S NOT THAT BAD”! Shoot, compared to learning a foreign language or something, it’s a walk in the park!!

In 1996, I wanted to come off the road. I knew that this might possibly mean stepping back into the “real world” job-wise so I taught myself to type in preparation for a “decent” job in the workplace. I knew that computers were now dominant in our society and if I was going to compete, I’d better learn to do something more than ‘hunt and peck’. I now, 6 years later, type 683,000 words per minute (or something like that :).

So you say, .. “Hey, ‘I hunt and peck’ and I have a job at Microsoft as ‘Systems Analyst IT Engineer blah, blah,..’. Well OK, so it does happen that some real smart people make out just fine ‘hunting and pecking’. But let’s step back into the music world for a minute. Can you imagine yourself at a Dave Mathews Band audition and they throw a chart in front of you to read? What will you do, ask them if they have it in ‘tab’ format?

I say, “Learn to Read”. Don’t get caught up in that crap about.. “Well, Buddy Rich didn’t read…” or “Dennis doesn’t read…” etc. It’s a cop-out! Those guys are (were) exceptions to the rule. You need to have a firm understanding of basic rhythmic theory (and harmony if possible) to compete in this highly competitive field. You can’t afford to be second best. You must have all your bases covered because if you don’t, there are 50 other drummers standing by ready to take your place. (Actually, there are 500 drummers standing by ready to take your place. 🙂

Why not be “great” at playing drums rather than “mediocre”. It’s so much more fulfilling. Reading will give you the tools to get to that next level. You’ll not only have a better understanding of what you’re playing but you’ll be able to execute this knowledge into a better performance overall.

Consider signing up with a private teacher and letting them help you learn how to read. Once you get the ball off the ground and rolling, it’s not really that bad. It just takes a little bit of courage and determination to get started and, with a little stick-to-itiveness, you’ll be reading in no time. I promise