Choosing Your Zills
Brass finger cymbals, known as zills in Turkish belly dancing or "sagat" in Arabic belly dance, are a beautiful addition to your dance routine. Although originally played by the musicians for belly dance performers, the light, flashing accents at a dancers fingertips, adding accents to both the music and the movements of the dance, have become a symbol associated almost exclusively with the art of belly dance.
The right zills for you. You will find many styles, sizes, and shapes of zills available around the world, and it's difficult to tell by pictures alone if a particular pair of belly dance zills are right for you. I selected my first pair of zills at Rakkasah West in the early 90's after testing every pair I could find at the fair. The ones I finally settled on had just the right pitch and tone with a long, sweet sustain to their ring. They feel perfect on my fingers and are my favorite belly dance zills to this day. You can hear them for yourself below. Inevitably you will find that your final choice will be based on these two criteria, how they feel on your fingers and if the sound is right for you.
Think of zills as no more than flattened brass bells suspended from your fingers. The shape of the bell, width of the rim, thickness and quality of the brass will all affect the sound of the zills as they ring. Zills of identical shape and material will all sound unique - each pair of the embossed belly dance zills I currently carry has a slightly different tone. Belly dance zills with a deeper bell shape and thicker material will have a pronounced full ring with a long sustain due to the density of the brass, but their extra weight may be more difficult for a beginner to learn. Finger cymbals made of pressed brass sheet of varying thicknesses will have very little sustain but are light as a feather on your fingers. This may also make zill rhythms easier for a beginner to learn.
The elastic material used to fasten the zills to your fingers is also an important consideration. Before the production of rubber materials, simple leather or twine strands were used to tie the zills to the fingers. The zills you find today will have an elastic band or strap. Flat multi-strand elastic bands provide the best "grip" on the fingers for maximum control over the zills while playing. Round fabric covered elastic bands will slip around too easily and become hard to control. When fitting a pair of zills, you want the elastics tight enough to avoid slipping around on your fingers but loose enough not to cut off circulation to your fingertips.
I have collected a few of the most common shapes and materials of belly dance zills below. Although you can't feel them on your fingers, you can listen to the differences in sound and tone for each type of finger cymbal.
Please note: the sounds below do not represent examples of rhythms and are for samples of the sound of the zills only.
Embossed Brass Zills
Our popular economy zills. They have a pretty flower and leaf design. These are single-hole zills and are the all around best value I have found so far! These zills come in both the chrome-plated finish shown or brass finish shown above. Approximately 2.25" diameter.
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Tarnished and aging, these are my personal finger cymbals selected at Rakkasah West in the early 90's. Their strong tone and high sustain are due to the quality of brass and smooth bell shape. These are two - hole zills, which most dancers prefer over single hole zills. Just over 2" diameter. These are almost identical to the student zills below.
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Plain Flat-Edge Zills
The deep dome and thick casting of these plain brass zills produces a low tone like the paisley zills. Good for the beginner to learn without the ringing after affect. Again I suggest once the basic patterns are learned to up grade to Student Zills or our Professional Zills for the quailty of sound. Notice the 2 holes for better hold on fingers. They come in Brass finish or chrome plated finish, 2.5" diameter.
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Paisley Pattern Brass Zills
I originally selected these paisley pattern brass finger cymbals for sale on this website because of their solid brass casting, which proves to produce a nice low tone for beginners to learn without the high pitch ringing until they can get some basic patterns down. Then I would suggest to upgrade to Student Zills or our larger Professional Zills. These paisley zills are 2.5" in diameter.
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These are our most popular finger cymbals with professional quailty and economic price. Beginning students pick up playing finger cymbals much easier with slightly lighter and smaller zills. Zill work requires extreme finger strength and duration to play well. These professional grade Student Zills are made out of the same quality of brass as our professional zills but are slightly smaller in diameter and have a little more curve to their center. Student zills are slightly over 2" in diameter.
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These professional grade zills are of a higher quality brass and a better degree of craftmanship and balance. These are our more popular finger cymbals for the serious dancer. These zills will have a much longer sustain and a crisper, more consistent ring than less expensive finger cymbals. The zills shown here are an etched pattern, but are also available in a plain cymbal without the etched motif. These zills are approximately 2 1/2" in diameter.
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Professional Band Zills
When playing in a troupe or group, or in some types of tribal style dancing, larger finger cymbals with a deeper sound and longer sustain is desired. These 3" diameter professional zills are huge, but even with their larger size still fit on small fingers well. Big Band zills are over 3" in diameter.
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Professional Turkish style belly dance zills have a distinct upturned edge that not only provides a distinct higher pitch sound, but also allows you to "play the edge" of the zills differently than flat or bell shaped zills. Also made of heavier brass, the Turkish zills shown here have a strong sustain due to the density of the brass. Approximately 2 1/2" in diameter.
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Pressed Brass Zills - Round Strap
These finger cymbals are similar in style to the zills at the left with the same sound, but notice the elastic on these zills. Instead of the flat multi-strand band, these zills have a round fabric-covered rubber band. Elastics of this type slip around on your fingers easier and are harder to control. ranges from 2 to 2 1/2" in diameter.
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Pressed Brass Sheet Zills
These zills are stamped or pressed out of thin sheets of brass. They don't produce much of a ring because the material is so thin, and they are easily damaged and bent. They are lightweight which is easier for a beginner, but the single hole makes them harder to handle. 2 to 2 2/2" in diameter.
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Learning to play zills. Working with zills in your belly dance routine is a topic for another article. Soon to be published on this web site, "Learning the Art of the Zills."
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