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A hi-hat, or hihat, is a type of cymbal and stand used as a typical part of a drum kit by percussionists in jazz, rock and roll, and other forms of contemporary popular music.
The hi-hat consists of two cymbals mounted on a metal stand, with a pedal pulling down on a narrow metal shaft, which is countered by a spring attached to the bottom of the shaft that repels against the upper cymbal to playing. The bottom cymbal however, is stationary and rests on the metal stand, connected to a hollow metal rod. The top cymbal can move up and down to open or close the hi-hat via the pedal. It can be played in both the open and closed positions, a partially open closed position, or making the cymbals clash together using the pedal.
History of development
The hi-hat originated as a cymbal turned upside down on the floor, with another cymbal tied to the drummer's shoe, and was played by stepping on the bottom cymbal. Later in the 20th century, it was raised up to sock level (just below the knee) and called a "low boy" or "sock cymbal", and operated by a pedal. The low-sock was a pedal which simply clashed together a pair of similar crash cymbals. The cymbals were mounted next to the pedal, so playing them with a stick was not possible. Today it is called the "hi hat". The hi-hat stand was developed from the low-sock by Gene Krupa in collaboration with Armand Zildjian.
Up until the late 1960s the standard hi-hats were 14", with 13" available as a less common alternative in professional cymbal ranges and smaller sizes down to 12" restricted to children's kits. In the early 1970s heavy rock drummers (including Led Zeppelin's John Bonham) began to use 15" hi-hats. In the late 1980s Zildjian's released their revolutionary 10" Special Recording hats, which were small, heavy hi-hat cymbals intended for close miking either live or recording, and other manufacturers quickly followed. However Paiste offered 8" Mini hi-Hats as part of their Visions series in the early to mid 1990s, one of 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", with 13" a less common alternative, and smaller hats mainly used for special sounds. Rivets in hi-hats received rave reviews but failed to catch on.
Modern hi-hat cymbals are much heavier than modern crash cymbals, reflecting a continual trend to lighter and thinner crash cymbals as well as to heavier hi-hats. The other change has been that a pair 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 or Sabian, Zildjian, and Paiste's X-cellerator, Mastersound and Soundedge resspectivly. 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 (like again the K Custom Session Hats where one hat is ¼ of an inch smaller than the other).
Another recent development is fixed and cable-controlled hi-hats. An extended drum kit will often have a second set of hi-hats, normally smaller than the main ones, mounted to the centre or to the right. These may be fixed closed or connected by a bowden cable to a pedal operated by the drummer's left foot, or more rarely, their right foot.
Additionally, many drummers use a drop-clutch mechanism to disengage the top hi-hat in order to free up both feet while using a double bass pedal. This results in the hi-hat producing a closed sound until the hi-hat foot is available again. The mechanism is typically enabled by depressing a switch on the hi hat clutch which drops the top cymbal, letting it sit freely upon the bottom cymbal, then disabled by fully pressing the hi-hat pedal, which reattaches the top cymbal to the clutch mechanism, allowing the top cymbal to be moved laterally by the pedal. Recent development from drum manufacturers have resulted in a "clutch pedal", which when used together with the hi-hat pedal does the same thing as a drop clutch system but has the advantage of freeing the drummer's hands completely.
Sabian released the Triple Hi-Hat which is designed by Peter Kuppers. In this variation of the hi-hat, the top cymbal moves downwards and the bottom cymbal moves upwards simultaneously while the middle cymbal remains stationary.
When struck closed or played with the pedal, the hi-hat gives a short, muted percussive sound. Adjusting the gap between the cymbals can alter the sound of the open hi-hat from a "shimmering", sustained tone to something similar to a ride cymbal. When struck with a drumstick, the cymbals make either a short, snappy sound or a longer sustaining sandy sound depending on the position of the pedal.
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 hihats 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 their left foot, and may additionally use either 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. However, some top modern drummers like Billy Cobham, Carter Beauford and Simon Phillips do not cross their hands over at all, normally playing the hi-hat and also a second - or a sole, depending on drummer's preferences - ride cymbal 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.