on bowed cymbal

Bowed cymbal is one of my personal favorite sounds; it’s complex, uniquely beautiful, and of course, spooky. It’s used extensively by sound designers, film composers, orchestral composers, improvisers, and so on.

Executing a bowed cymbal is simple enough; you just bow a cymbal like you would anything else. The one important trick to this is that it almost requires both hands, despite only one hand needing to do the actual bowing. This is because it is difficult to get the cymbal to stay still without something to stabilize it. Additionally, placing a finger tip on the cymbal will help the player not only control frequencies but also bring them in much stronger volume. Placing a finger near the edge brings out higher frequencies, with lower frequencies coming the closer the finger is to the bell. It’s worth knowing that the closer a finger is to the bell, the harder the cymbal is to control. You can see a few examples of this in the video below (apologies for the sub-par audio quality):

on notation:

There’s nothing complex about bowed cymbal notation; simply specify arco or indicate with an up bow “V” sign, and clarify when a beater change should occur.

A note on placement:

It’s always important to think about the placement of instruments when writing for a large percussion setup. Put simply, bowed cymbal is harder to execute the farther that it is from the player’s body. The bow should be perpendicular to the cymbal, and again it’s important to have a free hand to manipulate the frequencies. If that reach is unable to be made, issues might occur. Careful of putting too much around a cymbal, or placing it across the low end on a keyboard, etc.

A note on orchestration:

A bowed cymbal, while it has a low dynamic ceiling, is able to cut through quite a few textures with it’s extremely high frequencies. That being said, it can’t cut through extremely large and forceful sounds (climactic brass moments, for example) in the way that a crashed cymbal can.