The hi-hat consists of two cymbals that are mounted on a stand one on top of the other and clashed together using a pedal on the stand. A narrow metal shaft or rod runs through both cymbals into a hollow tube and connects to the pedal. The top cymbal is connected to the rod with a clutch, while the bottom cymbal remains stationary resting on the hollow tube. The height of the top-cymbal (open position) is adjustable.
When the foot plate of the pedal is pressed, the top cymbal crashes onto the bottom cymbal (closed hi-hat). When released, the top cymbal returns to its original position above the bottom cymbal (open hi-hat). A tension unit controls the amount of pressure required to lower the top cymbal, and how fast it returns to its open position.
Initial versions of the hi-hat were called clangers, which were small cymbals mounted onto a bass drum rim and struck with an arm on the bass drum pedal. Then came snow shoes, which were two hinged boards with cymbals on the ends that were clashed together. Next was the low-boy or low-hat, similar to a modern hi-hat stand, only with cymbals close to the ground. Hi-hats that were raised and could be played by hand as well as foot may have been developed around 1926 by Barney Walberg of the drum accessory company Walberg and Auge.
Up until the late 1960s, the standard hi-hats were 14 inches, with 13 inches available as a less-common alternative in professional cymbal ranges and smaller sizes down to 12 inches restricted to children's kits. In the early 1970s, hard rock drummers (including Led Zeppelin's John Bonham) began to use 15-inch hi-hats. In the late 1980s, Zildjian released its revolutionary 10-inch Special Recording hats, which were small, heavy hi-hat cymbals intended for close miking either live or recording, and other manufacturers quickly followed. However, in the early to mid-1990s, Paiste offered 8-inch mini hi-hats as part of its Visions series; these were among the world's smallest hi-hats. Starting in the 1980s, a number of manufacturers also experimented with rivets in the lower cymbal. But by the end of the 1990s, the standard size was again 14 inches, with 13 inches a less-common alternative, and smaller hats mainly used for special sounds. Rivets in hi-hats failed to catch on.
Modern hi-hat cymbals are much heavier than modern crash cymbals, reflecting the trend to lighter and thinner crash cymbals as well as to heavier hi-hats. The other change has been that a pair of hi-hat cymbals are no longer necessarily similar. More typically the bottom is now heavier than the top (but in some cases like the K Zildjian Steve Gadd Session Hats the pattern is reversed for a cleaner chick and cleaner sticking), and may also be vented, this being one innovation to have caught on. Some examples are Sabian's Fusion Hats with holes in the bottom of the hi-hat, and the Sabian X-cellerator, Zildjian Master Sound, and Paiste Soundedge. Some drummers even use completely mismatched hi-hats from different cymbal ranges (Zildjian's K/Z hats), of different manufacturers, and even of different sizes (similar to the K Custom Session Hats where the top hat is a sixteenth of an inch smaller than the bottom).
Other recent developments include the X-hat (fixed, closed, or half-open hi-hats) and cable-controlled or remote hi-hats. Sabian introduced the Triple Hi-Hat, designed by Peter Kuppers. In this variation of the hi-hat, the top cymbal moves down and the bottom cymbal moves up simultaneously while the middle cymbal remains stationary.
Drop-clutches are also used to lock and release hi-hats while both feet are in use playing double bass drums.
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|Hi-hat being opened and closed by its foot pedal|
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It can also be played just by lifting and lowering the foot to clash the cymbals together, a style commonly used to accent beats 2 and 4 in jazz music. In rock music, the hi-hats are commonly struck every beat or on beats 1 and 3, while the cymbals are held together. The drummer can control the sound by foot pressure. Less pressure allows the cymbals to rub together more freely, giving both greater sustain and greater volume for accent or crescendo. In shuffle time, a rhythm known as cooking is often employed. To produce this the cymbals are struck twice in rapid succession, being held closed on the first stroke and allowed to open just before the second, then allowed to ring before being closed with a chick to complete the pattern (the cymbals may or not be struck on the chick). A right-handed drummer will normally play the hi-hat pedal with his left foot, and may use one or both drumsticks. The traditional hi-hat rhythms of rock and jazz were produced by crossing the hands over, so the right stick would play the hi-hat while the left played the snare drum below it, but this is not universal. Some top modern drummers like Billy Cobham, Carter Beauford, and Simon Phillips do not cross their hands over at all, playing the hi-hat mounted on the left with the left stick rather than the right. This is called open handed playing. In both rock and jazz, often the drummer will move the same stick pattern between the hi-hat cymbal and the ride cymbal, for example using the hi-hat in the verses and the ride in the chorus of a song, or using the ride to accompany a lead break or other instrumental solo.
Roger Taylor, drummer for the band Queen, plays with many unique hi-hat techniques, including involuntary opening of the hi-hat on every backbeat for a rhythm emphasis and leaving the hi-hat slightly open when hitting the snare. His trademark hi-hat beat is opening the hi-hat on first + and third +. before hitting the snare.
Those playing double bass drums have also developed special techniques for using the hi-hat.
In much hip-hop, the hi-hat is hit with drumsticks in a simple eighth-note pattern, although this playing is usually done by a drum machine or from an old recording from which the sound of a hi-hat is recorded and loaded into a sampler or similar recording-enabled equipment from which it is triggered. Pioneer Kurtis Mantronik was one of the first to program hi-hat patterns that employed thirty-second notes.