You may have noticed that I've lately been advocating for heavier cymbals than are currently in fashion, especially among jazz drummers. After pursuing ever lighter cymbals for most of the oughts, finally settling on some thin Bosphorus Turks and Master series cymbals, I began to sense that they weren't projecting much beyond the edge of the stage, and that they were doing something funny to the balance of the ensemble— they seemed to induce a kind of death spiral of softness, with everyone trying to play down to the level of the cymbals, and me playing quieter to stay under the band, who then try to play quieter still. Traditional medium-weight cymbals, or heavier ones like my 22" Paiste behemoth— even when played very softly— have more presence, and seem to free the other players to play with a bigger, more natural sound.
I say frees because, despite people's sensitivity about cymbals, and volume in general, I think few musicians truly want to do all of their playing within the bottom 10% of their dynamic range, and listening audiences want the band to be loud enough to not be obliterated by the waitress setting down some drinks at the next table.
For different reasons, I've also been letting in some drier cymbals, which runs a little bit counter to the above thing. Unmiked, they don't necessarily project well to the audience, but at times I felt that the band was hearing the pulse as a wide sound, and losing it a little bit, and I wanted to narrow down the attack for them. The dry cymbals (a 602 flat, and an older Dejohnette signature Sabian) seem to have a sonic envelope more like a drum, which gives you almost the feeling of being a conga drummer— with the entire instrument having the same decay— which encourages me to play a little differently.
Anyhow, coming up we'll have a few posts here kicking around issues with cymbals. First, coming from strictly a jazz perspective, there's this video “Balancing Your Sounds” by Ian Froman, from the Vic Firth site. VF doesn't allow embedding, so you'll have to go there and view it. He generally advocates playing other parts of the instrument softer than the ride cymbal— or rather, hitting them softer than the ride to avoid overwhelming it.
Actually, someone has put the video on YouTube unofficially— if it gets taken down, hit the link above to view it at the VF site:
He's identifying the principle behind something you should already be doing if you're listening to what you're playing, rather than just playing based on what feels good muscularly. And because I know how drum students think: you do not need to revamp your technique, “baking in” the uneven stick heights. Instead, listen to the sound you're making, and use Froman's principle as a guide for correcting your balance.