Playing the hi-hat with a continuous, one-handed 16 note pattern seems to a crutch for many young players on drum set. Most drummers have an opinion on how this pattern should be played, but in reality it all comes down to the vibe and feel of the tune—there is never really just one way to play something.

In this lesson we create a one-handed 16 note groove on the hi-hat and explore the typical sonic changes you should be able to apply.

This month, we delve deeper with specific sounds for the snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat and ride cymbal within a specified groove. If you are still struggling to overcome bad habits by not knowing what to fix, putting together those limb exercises with the sound exercises in this month’s lessons can help. Certain sounds and grooves may be easier or harder depending on your experience, but no matter your skill level, try to focus on the sound and the feeling you wake to evoke within the groove.

Start with this simple one-bar pattern. The bass drum should be played strong and full but in a relaxed manner. Use the butt end of your stick and play on the center of your snare drum for a warm and full sound.

The hi-hat will be creating our changes in feel. Start with the hi-hat playing fairly quiet even 16 note (unaccented) with the tip of the stick on the top of the cymbal (Ex. 1). Pay attention to any tension or inconsistency.

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 1

Next, add accents on the hi-hat in an eighth-note pattern with the accents produced by playing with the shoulder of the stick (Ex. 2). Make sure to economize your arm motion when playing this hi-hat pattern.

Take notice of your time feel—are you ahead of the beat? One way to fix this is to mentally project the oncoming change in accent pattern allowing yourself the chance to make the smoothest transition possible from groove to groove.

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 2

Now only play an accent on every downbeat (Ex. 3). Again, play the accent with the shoulder of the stick but also take a small amount of pressure off of the hi-hat pedal. Check out your time feel now—are you ahead? Behind? Recognize and make the necessary adjustments. Your focus is on maintaining the integrity of both the groove and your sound.

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 3

Next, move the accent to the upbeats (Ex. 4). This may expose independence issues between your hi-hat and snare drum back beat. Again, check in with your time. Stay focused.

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 4

Now, play all sixteenths on the hi-hat as strongly accented notes (Ex. 5), taking a minimal amount of pressure off of the hi-hat pedal will help create a thick and heavy sound. You will first want to make sure that you do not strike the hi-hats with a tense arm. While there is an implied tension created from the sound the and feel of the groove, you must remain as relaxed and in control as possible.

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 5

Once you have exhausted all of these hi-hat variations move on to changing up the snare drum sound. First, pick a hi-hat pattern to start with (Ex. 6 has accents on the upbeats). Next, create a 2-bar pattern by moving from the snare drum to the floor tom on beat 4 in the second bar of the pattern. This will put the focus on your ability to pivot from the snare to the floor tom without any degradation of sound.

drum lesson
Ex. 6

Another variation can be to pivot between cross-stick and center snare (Ex. 7).

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 7

Switching the focus now to bass drum variation and the possible effect it may have on your groove and sound, add some syncopation to the pattern (Ex. 8).

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 8

Finally, sprinkle in a few open hi-hats here and there (Ex. 9). Pay extra attention to the open hat on beat 4 of the second bar of the pattern as there may be a tendency to jump the gun ever so slightly to beat 1 of bar 1. Shoot for accurate note placement while remaining relaxed.

Drum Lesson hi-hat sounds
Ex. 9

I hope this lesson has helped you in your journey to becoming a better drummer. Remember that groove is job #1 and fundamentals are always where to begin.

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.