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Percussion instrument
Classification Percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.22
(Percussion plaques)

Crotales (/krˈtɑːlz/), sometimes called antique cymbals, are percussion instruments consisting of small, tuned bronze or brass disks. Each is about 4 inches in diameter with a flat top surface and a nipple on the base. They are commonly played by being struck with hard mallets. However, they may also be played by striking two disks together in the same manner as finger cymbals, or by bowing. Their sound is rather like a small tuned bell, only with a much brighter sound, and a much longer resonance. Like tuned finger cymbals, crotales are thicker and larger; they also have slight grooves in them which give their sound more sparkle.

Modern crotales are arranged chromatically and have a range of up to two octaves. They are typically available in sets (commonly one octave) but may also be purchased individually. Crotales are treated as transposing instruments; music for crotales is written two octaves lower than the sounding pitch, to minimize ledger lines.

Crotales are already found in prehistory. The National Museum of Ireland has several examples on display dating from the late Bronze Age (1200 – 800 BC) which were found in a hoard alongside various brass wind instruments.[citation needed]

Crotales, C6-C8 range (by maker Paiste).


One of the earliest uses of crotales in the orchestral repertoire is Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Other classical pieces featuring Crotales include Berlioz's Symphonie Roméo et Juliette, and Ravel's, Alborada del gracioso.[1] In Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the score calls for two crotales in A-flat and B-flat, and his Les noces ends on a plaintive series of chords struck by a combination of chimes and crotales.[citation needed]

Another orchestral piece, From Me Flows What You Call Time by Toru Takemitsu, features crotales (as well as a host of other bells) in a prominent role.[citation needed]

In Joseph Schwantner's ...and the mountains rising nowhere the composer calls for the instrument to be bowed with a double bass bow, producing an eerie, sustained glass harmonica-like effect.[citation needed]

Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mantra features pianists using crotales along with ring modulators and shortwave radio.[citation needed]

The contemporary American composer John Adams also uses them in many of his more colourful orchestral pieces such as Short Ride in a Fast Machine.[2]

Rock drummer Neil Peart uses crotales as part of his basic drum kit.[citation needed]

Progressive metal drummer Mike Portnoy used a crotales set in the Awake and A Change of Seasons era.[citation needed]

Jocie Adams of The Low Anthem plays the instrument in the bowed manner in their live shows.[citation needed]

Songwriter Rufus Wainwright uses the crotales to percussive effect in his song "Beauty Mark" from his self-titled debut album in 1998.[citation needed]

Mike Oldfield utilized crotales in Clear Light on his album Tubular Bells II, accompanying a synthesizer and guitar tune.[citation needed]

Glenn Kotche of Wilco uses crotales, most prominently in the song "I am Trying to Break Your Heart".[citation needed]

Crotales can be heard in "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush, played by percussionist Morris Pert.[citation needed]

Progressive rock drummer Alan White of Yes uses crotales in the middle instrumental section of Awaken from Going For The One.


  1. ^ Karl Peinkofer and Fritz Tannigel, Handbook of Percussion Instruments, (Mainz, Germany: Schott, 1976), 61.
  2. ^ May, Thomas (ed.). The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings on an American Composer. Pompton Plains, N.J.: Amadeus, 2006. p. 108

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