Typical cymbals, usually designated as crash or ride cymbals, can produce three primary types of sounds. The sound they make depends on how you hit them. It is important to know how to hit a cymbal properly, because if you do, a single cymbal is instantly transformed into three different instruments.
The first type of sound is the big crash sound typically associated crash cymbals, although other cymbals can make a similar type of sound if struck the same way. To make this sound, hit the edge of the cymbal forcefully with the body of your stick. When you hit a cymbal like that, the edge cuts into the body of the stick and leaves a little notch. Do it enough times, and your sticks will get chewed up. But sticks are cheap, and if you want that big crash sound, that’s the way to go.
The second type of sound is a clean ringy, bell type sound. It is made by striking the cymbal’s appropriately named bell section with the stick’s tip. The bell is the rounded part of the cymbal located at its center.
The third type of sound is like a wimpy crash. Not as loud as a crash, but also not ringy and clean as the bell. This type of sound is typically associated with ride cymbals. To make this sound, just strike the cymbal with the tip of your stick anywhere on top, but outside the bell.
One way to make use of all this is to strike a ride cymbal differently at each beat, such as alternating between the bell and another part of the cymbal. Another way is to use your ride cymbal as a different type of crash cymbal by striking it on its edge, and to use your crash cymbal as a different type of ride by hitting it on top.