The Ultimate Guide To Hi-Hats
HERE’S A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO UTILIZING HI-HATS IN YOUR BEATS CREATIVELY AND UNIQUELY!
Every producer has used hi hats at some point in their career. The variation of different hi-hat usage is incredible and underrated. Whether it’s open hi-hats or closed hi-hats, every individual hi-hat note plays a purpose in the grand scale of a beat. Even simple two-step hi-hat patterns play their role in composing a full production. Although often simple and straightforward, there are many techniques you can use in your productions for your hi-hats to elevate an instrumental. Today we’re gonna go over some of the top ways to utilize hi-hats in your beats.
Hi-hats are often the driving force of a beat. Adding a kick and snare can create the general rhythm, but adding your hi-hat pattern really emphasizes the bounce of your drums. Usually, hi-hats are added to keep the rhythm and fill gaps in your drums. This is generally done with a steady and consistent pattern throughout the drum section. The consistent hi-hat pattern is also commonly created using half-beat notes for trap beats 100-200 bpm. Slower beats in the 60-100 bpm range can use quarter-beat notes for their patterns and faster beats 180+ bpm can use full beats for theirs.
Now that you know that hi-hats drive the drum pattern, we can talk about when to use a hi-hat pattern. I recommend introducing your hi-hat pattern at the hook of your beat, which is the beat drop, high-energy part that often repeats. I often start my hi-hat pattern at the hook because it increases the energy of the drop and gives me the opportunity to have a simple intro.
Some producers choose to bring in their hi-hat pattern in their beat intro. This is a creative choice that can be used to build hype for the drop. This could also give the listener an idea of the drum bounce before the rest of the instruments come in. Other producers argue that bringing in the hi-hats too early can spoil the drop for listeners and it is better to wait until the rest of the instruments are introduced. This is ultimately up to you as a musician and you should experiment and choose which works best for you.
Since you know to add your hi-hat pattern to the hook of your beat, we can also take it away during our verses. In your beat, you need to add verses and gaps to give the song chances to build energy back up. Usually, this is the job of the verses in between the hooks. Take away some drum patterns, including the hi-hats, so you can bring them back in for the next hook and keep the energy flowing.
Hi Hat Rolls
While creating a hi-hat pattern, using rolls is one of the most common ways producers spice up their tracks. There are many different types of hi-hat rolls and techniques when adding them. We’re going to talk about some of the most popular hi-hat roll methods producers are using in 2023.
First of all, in FL Studio, there are two main ways to create hi-hat rolls. The first way is to create a note in the piano roll that is the length of the roll you want to create. Highlight this note with the “Select” tool then press Alt + U on your keyboard. This will open up the chopper pop-up to use for your note. The “Time mul” knob is the most important thing here. By adjusting this knob, you can determine how short you want the notes in your roll to be. I would suggest turning it back and forth to hear how each length sounds in the beat and decide which sounds the best. There is no right or wrong length for notes when creating rolls, it all depends on the style of beat, tempo, hi-hat sample, and many more variables
The second common way to create hi-hat rolls in FL Studio is by using the paint tool. In the piano roll, you will see many tools to use in the top left corner. The second from the left tool is the paintbrush, and you can use this tool to drag many notes across the piano roll in one click. Select the green magnet and choose how long you want your notes to be in the roll. A very common length for hi-hat rolls is “½ step.” Once you have selected your length, you can choose the paint tool and drag it across the piano roll where you would like to add your roll. You can choose which key to add it to and how long you would like it to go for.
Where to put rolls
Now that you know how to add your rolls, you have to make the important decision of where to put them. Adding rolls to every single beat will get obnoxious and the artist and listener will get sick of your beat. This is why it is important to know where to add them and how many to add.
A popular method when adding hi-hat rolls is to create a roll right before the clap. This creates a continuation between two drum instruments and emphasizes the bounce and rhythm of the pattern. I add this roll to many of my beats because it is simple and reliable. Generally, I use the ½ step roll on the half beat before my clap. Another common place to add a roll is the beat or half-beat right after the clap. Deciding where to add your rolls mostly comes from trial and error. Experiment with the placement and length of your rolls to figure out what works best for your production style.
Changing the pitch of your hi-hat notes in your pattern is a great way to add variation to your track. You can pitch your rolls, create accent notes, go up in pitch, go down in pitch, and really anything else you can think of! There are many techniques when it comes to pitching hi-hats; here are some of my favorites.
Low pitched rolls
Adding rolls in the lower notes of the piano roll makes your hi-hats sound layered and more complex, but it is very simple. Use your roll strategy from above (either the alt+u or the paint tool) and add a roll on a note below the C5 that the regular hi-hat notes are on. Usually, I like to go to G4. The contrast between the quick high pitched regular notes and the stretched lower notes is very sonically pleasant and is a great way to add some character to your pattern. Experiment with different notes to add your low-pitched rolls in and figure out what works best for your beat and mixes.
Now we are moving into some complex patterns. A staircase roll is a hi-hat roll where each note either accends or descends in pitch. This creates a very interesting roll and can bring your hi-hat pattern to the next level if done correctly. I recommend experimenting with your staircases to go up or down and decide which you prefer. Remember not to use these too often in your pattern, because the sudden shift in pitch can get annoying if done too frequently. Instead, use them only once in a pattern to ensure your listener does not get irritated with the repetitiveness.
An interesting quality of hi-hats is that when you lower them in pitch enough, they begin to sound like snare drums. With this knowledge, you can create a snare-like accent line in the low octaves of your hi-hat pattern. This occurs usually around the C2 range, usually, anything lower becomes too muddy. C2-C3 is a great range to add accent notes in your pattern to add variation to your clap or snare and add more bounce to your drum pattern overall. You can also create rolls in these lower octaves as long as they do not make the mix too muddy.
In terms of music production, velocity is essentially the volume of each note. When creating a hi-hat pattern, you can change each individual note’s velocity to create more bounce and uniqueness. There are a few techniques you can use in your hi-hat patterns when it comes to velocity.
What I like to call the “alternate bounce” is a style of hi-hats where every other note is lowered in velocity. This creates a humanized feel in the pattern where the emphasis is created on more important notes. The alternate bounce pattern works best in slower-tempo beats or old-school hip-hop. I also think this pattern sounds the best when you use an acoustic hi-hat sample instead of a trap hi-hat, but it works with both. Combine this pattern with other methods noted in this article to create your ideal drum bounce!
When creating rolls or accent notes, making them descend in velocity can create an interesting pattern. One of my favorite uses of the descending velocity is when I use it for a very fast roll. A ¼ step roll is quite fast and can be harsh in the mix when all notes are at the same velocity. Instead, try a descending velocity pattern to make the roll fade out. To do this in FL Studio, at the bottom of the piano roll, hold right-click at the top of the green line directly below the first note of the roll. Then, drag your mouse down to the bottom of the green line directly below the last note of the roll. This will create a consistent descent in each velocity as it approaches the end of the roll.
You can also use the descending velocity to lower emphasis on less important notes in your hi-hat pattern. For example, you can lower the velocity of the hi-hat note that comes right before your clap. This will create space for the clap to come in and fill the gap. Without adding anything, you created a larger emphasis on a different part of the beat.
The ascending velocity is generally the same as the descending, but opposite. You can create an ascending velocity pattern to lead into a clap or 808. This is sort of a makeshift riser or sound effect and is usually used to build energy up to something coming up. You can use this method on rolls or on simple half-step hi-hat patterns. Just remember that the ascending pattern is mostly used to add emphasis to the note following it. Also, remember that this is not a necessary rule and you can use it however you see fit in your beat!
Hi-hat slides are very underused and underrated. This may be because hi-hat slides create a very subtle bounce or because people have not thought to try to make their hi-hats slide, but adding slides to your hi-hats can create a very unique energy that you may have not heard before.
How To Add a Slide Note:
When creating slide notes in FL Studio, you will need to layer two notes on top of each other. The first note is on the key that you want your note to start at and the second note is on the key that you want your slide to finish at. For example, if you want to slide from note C5 to note G5, your setup should look like this:
Next, you will decide how long you want your slide to be. Faster slides are generally better for hi-hats because hi-hat samples are usually short. You decide this by changing the length of your second note. If you want your slide to be quick and only take 1/2 step, you should change your second note to look like this:
To activate your slide, you want to double-click your second note, which will open a pop-up, and select the triangle symbol at the bottom left of the “levels” section. This will turn your second note into a sliding note and activate it the next time you play your pattern.
How to utilize slides
Sliding down is usually the best way to utilize slides in your hi-hat pattern. Sliding up does not really give any uniqueness or interesting effects to your pattern, it just sounds like a higher hi-hat note. Sliding down, however, can be extremely unique and create textures and sounds, unlike any other percussive aspect in your beat.
Creating a downward slide in your hi-hats adds a sort of laser-sounding effect to your pattern. You can also create sliding rolls. This is where you add a slide on each note of a hi-hat roll. It is interesting to put all of the hi-hat techniques we talked about together and experiment with pitch staircases or velocity changes in your sliding rolls as well. Overall, the most important thing is trying new things and experimenting with your patterns to see what works best for your beats.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER!
As I mentioned above, a truly good hi-hat pattern comes from a mix and match of all the techniques I described here. Rolls, slides, velocity shifts, and pitch shifting all go into creating a great hi-hat pattern. It is your job to decide which of these techniques, and how many to add to your beat.
Remember that hi-hat samples can be extremely obnoxious with high frequencies and repetitiveness. Make sure your hi-hats are not too loud in the mix and make sure they are not cutting too hard through the harsh high frequencies. If needed, add a high-cut filter using an EQ that will lower the harsh frequencies that are frequently present in hi-hat samples. Make your EQ look similar to this diagram.
Hi-hats are the driving factor of your drum pattern. Remember this and use it to your advantage when arranging your beat. A good arrangement has variation in energy and dynamics throughout the track and adding and subtracting your hi-hat pattern can be a great way to enhance these aspects. Taking away your hi-hat pattern will lower the energy of the track to be brought back in later.
There are many methods to creating the “perfect” hi-hat pattern, but in reality, there is no such thing. Combining techniques can create an enhanced energy in your patterns, but every beat is different and no hi-hat pattern is going to work for every single beat. As a producer, your job is to feel the vibe of your melody and drums, then fill some gaps with hi-hats as you see fit. While a beat can be made by a hi-hat pattern, it can just as easily be ruined by one. Consistent practice is the only way to create perfect hi-hat patterns every time.
In summary, here’s how to make a hi-hat pattern:
- Add hi-hat rolls
- Utilize pitch shifting
- Change the velocity of some notes to add emphasis
- Experiment with some hi-hat slides
- Put them all together!
Written by Jake Tompkins