Information on Finger Cymbals

by Lanh Ma
Finger cymbals add an auditory element to belly dance.

Finger cymbals add an auditory element to belly dance.

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Finger cymbals, also known as "zills" or "zagat," are small rounds of metal worn on the middle finger and the thumb. When brought together, they make a non-pitched chime. While they can be played in counterpoint to other musical instruments, they are best known for being an accompaniment for belly dancers, who wear them while dancing to complement the rhythm of the music to which they dance.


Finger cymbals look like regular percussion cymbals in every way except for their size. There are very small finger cymbals only an inch across, but most are around 2 inches across. They are sold in sets of four, with two cymbals for each hand. They are attached to their respective fingers with bands of elastic that may be tightened or loosened, depending on the preference of the wearer. Finger cymbals are worn close to the tips of the middle finger and thumb.

Playing the Finger Cymbals

Playing the finger cymbals involves bringing the thumb and and middle finger together so that the finger cymbals touch. The ideal result is produced when only the edges of the finger cymbals meet; if the entire round is brought together, it makes an unpleasant clashing sound. When played correctly, finger cymbals produce a delicate, sharp note. Tap the finger cymbals together every beat or every other beat.


Finger cymbals have different sound tones and capacities. Smaller cymbals make a more delicate chime and are recommended for beginners, as they are light. Larger finger cymbals are capable of making a significantly louder noise, so they are often used in situations in which a louder noise is preferred, such as performing in a restaurant or other lively venue. While practicing, you may wish to muffle the finger cymbals so you do not disturb others. Do this by placing a taut X of masking tape across the inner center of the finger cymbals and removing it when you want to perform. Use tape that doesn't leave a sticky residue.


It takes some time to become confident when combining finger cymbals with belly dancing. Start with motions that you have embedded in muscle memory first. Once you get a repetitive motion in place, such as a hip movement or snake arms, add the finger cymbals. Start with a simple melody in which you hit the finger cymbals every beat. After you are comfortable with it, add some elaborations. Take it slowly at first, and only add more embellishments as you feel comfortable.

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