The Hi-Hat is an incredibly expressive and dynamic part of the drum kit. It is often overlooked during practice and its true potential sometimes never being realised.
This lesson is going to look at how the opening and closing of the Hi-Hat can offer interesting and exciting ways to spice up drum beats and grooves.
Many drum beats can have the addition of a Hi-Hat opening, or “bark” as it’s sometimes referred too, to add spice and interest to an otherwise ordinary groove.
It is important that the Hi-Hat is opened and closed accurately and in time in order for it to sound correct. The Hi-Hat foot needs to open exactly when the Hi-Hat is struck with the stick and closed again exactly when the Hi-Hat is struck next. There are occasions when the Hi-Hat is not struck with the stick when closed but for the sake of simplicity this lesson will deal with the occasions when it does.
The Hi-Hat foot should only be raised a little, about an inch, when opened. It is not necessary and in fact incorrect for the foot to be raised any higher than this. All that is required is for the foot to roll back on the pedal a little for the two cymbals to raise and separate.
As well as this, the Hi-Hat cymbals only need to be set apart by about an inch when open at rest. The distinctive Hi-Hat bark occurs when the two cymbals vibrate against each other and so need to be in contact slightly when opened.
The Hi-Hat foot should apply a little pressure to the closed Hi-Hat in order to get a tight crisp sound. When the foot is raised it should do so quickly and smoothly and not slowly otherwise there is a chance that the Hi-Hat cymbals will not ring true. The same goes for when the Hi-Hat is closed, the foot should come down firmly and quickly at exactly the time the cymbal is struck with the stick.
The Hi-Hat should be struck with the shoulder of the stick (where the stick starts to taper towards the bead) on the edge of the top cymbal. This will create the satisfying and “meaty” sound that most drummers enjoy so much.
Basic Hi-Hat Motions
This first exercise will help you to get used to the motions necessary for a satisfying Hi-Hat sound. As mentioned previously the foot should only be raised about an inch and be raised quickly, exactly when the cymbal is struck and the same goes for when it is closed.
The little ‘o’ above the notation indicates where the Hi-Hat is opened and the ‘+’ indicates where it is closed.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat Exercise
Play slowly to start off with and listen to the quality of the sound being produced by the cymbals. It should sound tight and energetic, the best way to describe the sound is like steam being released and then turned off abruptly – Tsssss-sup!
Focus on the Hi-Hat foot and make sure that it is opening and closing firmly. Is it comfortable working in time with the right hand? If the Hi-Hat foot opens before the cymbal is hit then it will not sound correct and if opened after the hit then no sound will occur at all. Listen out for this.
Working the Hi-Hat with the Bass and Snare Drum
The next step is to get used to opening and closing the Hi-Hat with the bass drum at the same time. These two exercises either have the Hi-Hat closing with the bass drum or opening with the bass drum.
Hi-Hat Closing With Bass Drum
Try to ensure that the bass drum is struck at exactly the same time the Hi-Hat is closed. After a little repetition you might find that both feet are moving in the same way, i.e. up down up down. This is fine if it works for you.
Hi-Hat Opening With Bass Drum
This is the harder of the two because as the bass drum foot moves down to strike the Hi-Hat foot moves up to open. Be very careful that the movement is comfortable and controlled. Remember to not take the whole foot of the Hi-Hat pedal; it only needs to roll back a little to open the cymbals.
Hi-Hat Closing With Snare Drum
You will hopefully find these exercises a little easier if this is all new to you. The snare drum is struck at exactly the same time the Hi-Hat is both closed with the foot and struck with the stick.
Hi-Hat Opening With Snare Drum
The snare is hit at the same time as the Hi-Hat foot is raised.
Using the Hi-Hat Within a Drum Beat and Groove
The next step is to actually use the opening of the Hi-Hat within a standard drum beat.
There are eight different combinations of bass drum, snare and the opening and closing of the Hi-Hat to think about. The Hi-Hat could open on it’s own and close with the bass drum or snare drum, the Hi-Hat could open with the bass drum and close on its own, with the snare or with the bass and the Hi-Hat could open with the snare and close on it’s own, with the snare or with the bass drum. You need to learn to open and close the Hi-Hat with all of these combinations.
The following drum beat has been used because the opening and closing of the Hi-Hat, being moved one 1/8th note across each time, covers all of these combinations.
It’s important to be able to play each of these variations so that you are then able to open and close the Hi-Hat no matter what bass or snare drum notes occurring around and underneath it. You might find it easy to open the Hi-Hat on its own but more difficult when a bass drum is played at the same time for example.
Find which of these eight variations you find the most difficult and make them your priority.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 1
The Hi-Hat opens with the bass drum and closes on its own.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 2
The Hi-Hat opens on its own and closes with the snare drum.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 3
The Hi-Hat opens with the snare drum and closes on its own.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 4
The Hi-Hat opens on its own and closes with the bass drum.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 5
The Hi-Hat opens and closes with the bass drum.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 6
The Hi-Hat opens with the bass drum and closes with the snare drum.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 7
The Hi-Hat opens and closes with the snare drum.
Opening and Closing the Hi-Hat within a Drum Beat – Exercise 8
The Hi-Hat opens with the snare drum and closes with the bass drum.
Applying Hi-Hat Technique to Other Drum Beats and Grooves
The next six drum beats show how very different grooves can use the Hi-Hat to enhance and adapt their sound. Any drum beat in the world could be used in this way and these are only some of the many possibilities.
I recommend that if you are finding the drum beat hard then take out the Hi-Hat openings until the groove is mastered, then try to adding them back in after.
Hi-Hat Variation Example 1
This is Drum Beat 5 from the Basic Drum Beats lesson with a Hi-Hat opening on the ‘+’ of 3. This is a very popular place to open the Hi-Hat as the sound leading into the snare drum pushes the beat forward; it creates forward momentum.
Hi-Hat Variation Example 2
This is a classic dance/disco drum beat with the bass drum playing on all the downbeats. The opening and closing of the Hi-Hat on every upbeat really is a great effect and can be heard being used on many dance tunes.
Hi-Hat Variation Example 3
This drum beat is a little quirky in that the first snare drum falls on the ‘+’ of 2 and not on beat 2 as it would most commonly. The positioning of the Hi-Hat opening really sounds great and helps to add to the originality of the groove.
Hi-Hat Variation Example 4
This drum beat is known as “half time” groove due to there only being one snare drum note in the bar, on beat 3. It has the effect of making the beat sound like its being played at half the speed (hence “half time”) when all that’s happened is the removal of one snare drum note. The placement of the snare drum on beat 3 is the most popular and audibly satisfying placement.
Hi-Hat Variation Example 5
This is Drum Beat 3 from the Basic Drum Beats lesson and shows how multiple openings of the Hi-Hat within the same bar can really add spice to a groove. Take your time with this.
Hi-Hat Variation Example 6
Another example of how a very basic drum beat can be transformed with the use of the Hi-Hat.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas as to how the Hi-Hat can be used to add a third dimension to any drum beat. Learning to use the Hi-Hat effectively should be a high priority as it is an important and versatile part of the drum kit.
If you want some more beats to practice then I recommend you take each of the drum beats from the Basic Drum Beats lesson and add your own Hi-Hat openings within the bar. Some placements will sound better than others so enjoy creating your own grooves by moving the openings around the bar.
This lesson has only dealt with opening the Hi-Hat with 1/8th note Hi-Hat patterns, we will be dealing with opening the Hi-Hat with other types of right hand patterns in later lessons.
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