From the December 2016 issue of DRUM!  |  By Brad Schlueter

Most of us treat our hi-hat foot like a socially inept designated driver we brought to a wild party, by completely ignoring it until we absolutely need it. Since 95 percent of our job is to play grooves, and most of those involve our hi-hat, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little more time getting the most out of it?

drum lesson practice pad workshop

For this workshop, we’re going to incorporate our hi-hat foot into grooves, fills, and solos. I’ll offer tips for beginners, but even if you’re a pro, there are a few exercises here guaranteed to challenge you, too. We’ll focus on practical applications of these concepts, because if you never use it on a gig, you’ll never really own it. I’ll also note how several great drummers have used some of these techniques along the way.

If you play some double bass, you’ll have a leg up on your single bass drumming colleagues, since you’ve already developed some of the extra strength and coordination needed to play these patterns.

Let’s get started.

Pea Soup

When opening your hi-hat in grooves, it’s important to develop a consistent open sound, followed by a crisp closure. This is known among drummers as “pea soup,” because of the phrase’s onomatopoeic nature. One of the best ways to improve your left foot in practical grooves is to work on the following hi-hat patterns. They should reveal any inconsistencies quickly so you can address them. Due to space limitations, I’m providing just a few examples of these beats, but you should work through dozens of variations with each type of pattern to develop the coordination you’ll need to play most songs. If you’re just starting out, try using fewer hi-hat openings before attempting these patterns.

(Tip: Leave at least a .75″ opening between your hi-hat cymbals. This will let your left foot travel enough to get a loud chick, while working your muscles more than a narrower opening will.)

In Ex. 1, your right hand plays eighth-notes as you close the hi-hat on every quarter-note, which creates openings on all the &s. Ex. 2 is a pop music staple: a four-on-the-floor dance groove. You can add whatever snare and bass drum combinations to it that you like, but there’s no reason it has to remain easy (just try Ex. 3, for instance).

The next three patterns in Exs. 4–6 are similar to the previous ones, except your hand now plays only the &s. However, the next batch of grooves in Exs. 7–9 are more challenging, since the hi-hat closes on all the &s. It can take a while to become comfortable with the foot coordination, so be patient.

Exs. 10–12 remove half of the hand pattern and leave only the opening and closing ostinato. You’ve probably begun to realize that there are lots of possible hi-hat patterns to explore, such as Exs. 13–14.

This last pattern in Ex. 15 may seem strange and impractical, but it was actually used in a song I had to perform at a worship service. The openings create a polyrhythmic two-over-three feel against the underlying triplet rhythm. The coordination needed here may make you feel like you’re going to fall off your throne! (Tip: Hit the open notes a little harder than the other notes to help them project.)


Body Metronome

Many of us struggle to keep our fills and beats at the same speed. One way to improve your time and overall musicianship is by using your left foot as a “body metronome.” True, tapping your foot won’t be as accurate as an actual metronome. However, practicing while playing steady eighth- or quarter-notes with your left foot will help identify those awkward transitions where you rush or drag, and is ideal when using a real metronome isn’t convenient.

Try playing fill combinations or soloing while keeping time on your hi-hat, as in Ex. 16. This is not only a cool challenge, but offers some musical benefits, too. If you leave pauses in your soloing, maintaining a hi-hat keeps the momentum going so it doesn’t sound as if you’re stopping to think of what to play next. It will help your bandmates feel any tricky phrases you play and hold everybody together. It isn’t easy to do, but the extra independence you’ll develop between your feet will be well worth your efforts. (Tip: At your gigs, notice any hi-hat patterns that are awkward, or spots where you stop ostinatos, so you can shed those more.)

When practicing this way, pay attention to how you feel. Moments of tension or excitability may make you rush, so try to stay relaxed and listen to how transitions from one idea flow to the next.

Finally, turn on your metronome to fine tune everything. (Tip: It’s often easier to begin with busier hi-hat patterns, like eighth-notes, before attempting sparser patterns that require more control and awareness of the underlying pulse.)

For an even greater challenge, try splashing the hi-hat with your toe. It will help develop your ankle and shin muscles while making the hi-hat pattern more audible. Advanced players can also try using the heel-toe splash technique. Splash the hi-hats together by dropping your heel and quickly raising your toe, then rocking your foot forward to close the hi-hat with the ball of your foot. Don’t be discouraged when first trying this. This technique takes a bit of work to acquire a consistent sound and even note spacing, and can take years to master.


Crash Cymbals

Splashing your hi-hat is very useful in snare drum march patterns to emulate a marching band’s crash cymbals (marches are also common in Dixieland and praise music). A simple way to get started is to splash the hi-hat whenever you play your bass drum, but in Ex. 17, we splash the hi-hat on count 4.


Faux Reverb

Have you ever heard an ’80s power ballad where there’s a cavernous reverb explosion every time the drummer hits the snare? You can emulate a subtler reverb effect by splashing your hi-hat on your rim-clicks, backbeats, and even your tom hits in fills, like you see in Ex. 18. This won’t be as dramatic as that ’80s effect, but it’s a useful technique while recording or playing ballads, where a splashed hi-hat can be heard. Ex. 19 also shows how this technique can be a useful way to emulate shout chorus crashes at low volume jazz gigs.

Subbing Out

Not unlike the way a drummer will drop a bass drum or two into grooves and fills to act as a “third hand,” you can do the same thing with your hi-hat foot. Ex. 20 is a perfect case in point: Steve Gadd’s pattern in Paul Simon’s song “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” In this classic, second-line march, Gadd plays a linear groove that incorporates his left foot brilliantly.

So let’s adapt Gadd’s idea for a backbeat-style linear groove. The first half of Ex. 21 retains the pedaled hi-hat notes, and then duplicates them in the second half, creating the pattern 1 ah and 3 ah. We also add backbeats and fill-in the rest of the bar with hi-hat notes. Once this ostinato is grooving, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to add the two bass drum notes in Ex. 22, since your feet play together on 1 ah.

If you look closely, this next example of hi-hat substitution may seem like a misprint, because there are no open hi-hats indicated. The idea here is to play grooves alternating a struck hi-hat with a pedaled one, only without creating that “pea soup” sound. To do this, you have to hold your foot down until after you’ve struck the hi-hat, then quickly lift and close it. This is a very challenging technique and nearly impossible at faster tempos, which is why I’ve only seen mind-boggling players like Vinnie Colaiuta pull it off. The beat in Ex. 23 starts slowly and uses eighth-notes. The next groove in Ex. 24 is a slow, funky ballad. And the last pattern in Ex. 25 reverses the order and starts by closing the hi-hat, which lets us play a very short open hi-hat with a double-stroke leading into the last rim-click.

Another hi-hat substitution is to pedal it to begin a triplet followed by two right-hand notes played with a stick on the closed hi-hat. You can also use this idea with other rhythms like thirty-second–notes. The groove in Ex. 26 shows how to use it in a typical pop rock feel. Next, we use the idea in a reggae groove in Ex. 27. Finally, we incorporate it into a linear-style pattern in Ex. 28.


Steve Gadd Shuffle

There are a number of ways to play a shuffle, but Steve Gadd’s version is one of the tastiest. The concept is to use your left foot to play the last partial of each triplet while your right-hand plays quarter-notes on the hi-hat or ride.

To learn this, we first isolate the right hand and left foot in Ex. 29, since they create the ostinato we will use. Next, we play a rim click on the backbeats and bass drum notes on the quarter-notes in Ex. 30. This is similar to a double bass shuffle, only with your foot playing the hi-hat instead of the slave pedal. Once you’re comfortable with the coordination, you can apply the idea to more syncopated grooves, like the one in Ex. 31. This same concept can also be applied in jazz to add a spicy embellishment when comping or playing fills. The ostinato in Ex. 32 places the hi-hat on all the ahs, while playing the traditional ride cymbal pattern on top of it. Finally, we add ghosted snare and light bass drum notes in Exs. 33–34 to make this trick even trickier.


Quadratic Equations

If you use a double bass pedal, “quads” were probably one of the first things you learned to do with it. A strict quad is played “two over two” — in other words, two notes played with the hands followed by two with the feet (RH LH/RF LF), though the term is also loosely used to include patterns that have four, six, or more notes played with the hands before a pair of bass drum notes (RH LH RH LH/RF LF, and so on).

Exs. 35–37 show how you can adapt double bass quads and play them with your left foot on the hi-hat. Whenever the hi-hat is played, it may sound like you’ve put a rest into the fill, since hi-hat notes are so much quieter than the drums. This creates some interesting sounding syncopated fills, like those in Exs. 38–39. Ex. 40 shows how you can also apply the same quad approach to create tricky sounding triplet fills.



Waltzes aren’t as popular as they once were, but even if you don’t currently need to play a waltz, it’s a useful groove to have in your toolkit. Waltzes usually have the hi-hat foot supporting the underlying groove. Some waltzes have the hi-hat foot on counts 2 and 3, but for this introduction, we’re going to begin by placing the hi-hat just on beat 2, much like Max Roach did in his classic drum solo “The Drum Also Waltzes.”

Ex. 41 is pretty bare bones, but should help you become comfortable counting and thinking in 3/4. This groove can be used for songs like “Amazing Grace” or any other “straight” waltz. Ex. 42 adds a ride note to the pattern to turn it into a jazz waltz. Try counting in triplets (1 & ah, 2 & ah, 3 & ah) to make sure you put the new ride note on the third triplet partial of the second beat. The groove in Ex. 43 adds another left-foot note on the ah of count 3. This isn’t easy at first, but it’s a great sounding groove that doesn’t require much embellishment, and implies a two-against-three polyrhythmic feel. Our last pattern in Ex. 44 adds a ghosted snare on the ah of count 1.


Poly Waltz

You can create polyrhythmic waltz beats by opening and closing your hi-hat on every other note to create a two-over-three feel. Bass drum notes divide the measures into halves while the hi-hat openings divide it into thirds. Add a snare on count 3 and you have a cool way to play in 3/4 that definitely sounds more rock than waltz, as you see in Ex. 45. Ex. 46 doubles up on the kick pattern for a heavier feel.


Multi-pedal Ostinatos

You can make some absorbing grooves by moving your left foot back and forth between your hi-hat and the slave side of your double pedal. Our first multi-pedal ostinato in Ex. 47 has your bass drum playing a gallop pattern while your hi-hat foot plays on every e. The groove in Ex. 48 is trickier, since your feet phrase in groups of six notes, six notes, and then four notes. The final MPO in Ex. 49 takes the gallop pattern from Ex. 47, and uses it in a triplet grid, creating a complex, polyrhythmic feel.


Hi-Hat Overriding

This final groove is a cyclic displacement that progressive rock icon Gavin Harrison calls “overriding.” The idea is to play two (or more) rhythms that aren’t evenly divisible into each other, over one another, until they resolve. In Ex. 50, we superimpose a three-note repeating hi-hat pattern over a groove in 4/4. It takes three measures for this pattern to come around, and as it does, it constantly shifts against itself, creating an interesting beat with challenging coordination.

Some of these patterns may not seem completely practical, but they all will help you gain coordination, confidence, and skills that can enhance the musicality of any groove you choose to play.