Free Drum Lesson: Polyrhythmic Hi-Hat Ostinato (Third Sixteenth): Licks, Grooves and Ideas

This lesson is about a cool idea I’ve seen Gavin Harrison and Danny Carey demonstrate at clinics and on video. These drummers are able to play odd grouped Hi-Hat ostinatos over the top of even metered grooves. This creates a polyrhythm between the Hi-Hat and the Snare/Bass drum where it sounds like the Hi-Hat is playing one rhythm while the Snare and Bass play another.

In this lesson I’ll show you exactly how to construct these polyrhythmic groove ideas and hopefully give you some new and exciting ideas to work on.

Polyrhythmic Hi-Hat Ostinato

The Hi-Hat pattern used for this polyrhythmic effect is constructed of sixteenth notes such as these…

Sixteenth Notes

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

If we then mark every third sixteenth note, shown here with brackets, we get this…

Sixteenth Notes (Every Third Marked)

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Note how the superimposed grouping of three notes do not line up with every beat of the bar. They move over the beat instead.

Lets now remove the un-bracketed notes to leave every third sixteenth note only, like this…

Sixteenth Notes (Every Third Only)

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

As you can see, the pattern will not resolve on Beat 1 of the next bar. It moves over the bar line and in fact takes three whole bars for the pattern to return to Beat 1. In other words, the pattern takes three bars to get back to where it started from.

Here are all three bars of the pattern written for the Hi-Hat. This is our Hi-Hat ostinato…

Hi-Hat Ostinato

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Ideas

The rest of this lesson will show you 7 standard Snare and Bass drum grooves that can be placed underneath this Hi-Hat ostinato to create the polyrhythmic effect we’re after.

When listening to these ideas note how the Hi-Hat pattern seems to move independently of the Snare and Bass drum.

Eventually, with a little practice, you can train your right hand to become as automatic and unconscious as your other right hand patterns. This will allow you to play any Snare and Bass drum pattern without it effecting this Hi-Hat ostinato.

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 1

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 2

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 3

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 4

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 5

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 6

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth

Polyrhythmic Groove Idea 7

Hi-Hat Polyrhythm Third Sixteenth


Initially, you will have to spend some time getting used to lining up the notes in a linear fashion. Eventually though, you will be able to maintain this Hi-Hat pattern automatically so that all you have to focus on is the Snare/Bass drum pattern.

Try experimenting with your own Snare/Bass groove ideas and if you’re having difficulty in lining up the Hi-Hat then write out the pattern in full. Remember that this polyrhythm requires three whole bars to resolve.

Another idea to consider is where to enter the polyrhythm. You don’t have to play the full three bars but, instead, start on the second bar and exit half way through the third for example. You can choose how much of the three bars you wish to play as using all three bars might be a bit too much for most songs!

For another similar polyrhythmic idea check out the lesson on the 3 Over 4 Bass Drum Polyrhythm. You can also check out the free video drum lesson that accompanies this lesson by clicking here, this video demonstrates for you all the ideas shown.

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