From DRUM! Magazine’s January 2018 Issue | By Andy Ziker
Purportedly coined by ’70s era R&B drummers, pea soup is an ideal onomatopoeia for the sound made by striking an open hi-hat and then closing it. However, it doesn’t begin to describe all of the possible open hi-hat nuances. In fact, when you examine the techniques that produce these sounds, you can see why the hi-hat is by far the most expressive part of the kit.
Pushing down with your foot on the pedal affects the sustain of each open note. Applying different amounts of pressure to the footboard determines how much the cymbals resonate off each other (from closed to sloshy to wide open). Playing heel-up or heel-down provides varying amounts of control over long and short notes. Accessing different parts of the stick — tip, shoulder, or from-tip-to-shoulder — changes the sound, as does allowing the stick to bounce off the surface or not (the latter is called a dead stroke). Targeting different parts of the hi-hat, from edge to bell, also makes a timbral difference. Finally, the distance between cymbals (set by the hi-hat clutch) and the tilt of the bottom cymbal (adjusted by a spring-loaded screw beneath the bottom cymbal) are two other important factors in helping you dial in your sound.
Beginning with the novel approaches forged by Papa Joe Jones in the ’20s and ’30s, drummers have used open hi-hat for a variety of functions, including timekeeping, building tension, changing texture, and lengthening phrases. Throughout the years, hardware has improved so much in quality and design that it lets us play faster and more accurately. It seems that we’re now limited only by our imaginations, although coordination can be a big hurdle to overcome, too, especially since contrary motion is involved. In other words, your bass drum foot and/or stick often come down as your hi-hat foot comes up, and vice versa.
The following exercises are designed to help you through these coordination challenges and introduce you to a number of ways to open the hi-hat in diverse musical situations. While it’s always a good idea to work out rhythms through counting, beatboxing (vocalizing the patterns) will also be very helpful. Pay close attention not only to where the openings land, but also where the hi-hat closes (symbolized with an “X” below the bottom line of the staff). Each exercise here is written in two-measure phrases, but feel free to expand these to four or more measures by combining ideas found here, or by making up your own.
It’s time to put on your game face, turn off that iPad, and begin to stir the soup.
Eighth and sixteenth openings are by far the most common in today’s music scene, and are unobtrusive ways to change timbre and expand phrasing. In Ex. 1, make sure that the hi-hat closes at precisely the same time the bass drum hits and the stick strikes the closed hi-hat. In the second measure of Ex. 2, a sixteenth-note on the snare occurs during the open hats on the 3 and the 4 &. This can feel uncomfortable, so make sure to take it slow at first. In addition to striking the hi-hat with the stick as the hi-hat closes, you can also close the hats with foot only (Exs. 3 and 4).
Combining eighth and sixteenth openings all within one phrase makes pea soup become the main course (Exs. 5 and 6). The listener’s attention is drawn more to the sound of open hats and intermittent bass drum support than to the rest of the groove.
Bernard Purdie’s work on the Aretha Franklin tune “Rock Steady” popularized opening the hi-hat on the & of 1 and the & of 3 (Exs. 7 and 8). Artists such as Average White Band and Jane’s Addiction have used this magical formula to funk up their songwriting.
Eric Kretz of Stone Temple Pilots is known for creating a legato effect with the hi-hat. In tunes such as “Big Empty,” he produces sustained sounds by lifting pressure off the footboard for either a quarter-note or longer. Ex. 9 shows the overlapping nature of this kind of technique (beat 2 in the first measure) and demonstrates how you can open the hats on the offbeat for a quarter-note duration (the & of 3 in the second measure). In Ex. 10, the hi-hat remains open for two consecutive eighths (beat 3 in the first measure) and five eighths in the second measure.
The idea of placing open hi-hat on each offbeat is no longer specific to disco, as it’s become commonplace in rock, funk, reggae, ska, and hip-hop. A continuous open hi-hat pattern provides an anchor, allowing for playful interaction between bass drum and snare. The first measure of Ex. 11 is a typical alternating sixteenth-note disco pattern with open hats on each offbeat, snare on 2 and 4, and four-on-the-floor kick. In the second measure, additional notes on the snare provide rhythmic interest. Ex. 12 also uses additional snare hits, including ghost notes, and involves a unique pattern on the bass drum.
Carter Beauford uses on-the-beat open hats as part of his groove-making toolkit. (Listen to “Too Much” by the Dave Matthews Band at 1:31). Audiences are so used to hearing offbeat hi-hat that the opposite sound can be a refreshing change of pace, especially during improvisational passages. The coordination involved in Exs. 13 and 14 is similar to that in Exs. 1–4, but the backward vibe requires some recalibration between the limbs. It’s important to stay relaxed and keep your hand and foot motions as consistent as possible.
On The One
Opening the hi-hat on beat 1 — made famous by James Brown and his funky legion of drummers — gives the audience and the band itself something to hang onto, even if followed by a slew of syncopation and displacements. Exs. 15–17 are organized to show the three most common ways to lay it down on 1: a duration of either one quarter, one eighth, or one sixteenth. Notice how pea soup exists at the beginning of each measure in Exs. 15 and 17, while it occurs every other measure in Ex. 16.
Roger Taylor of Queen has turned short hi-hat openings played alongside snare backbeats into one of his signature licks (Exs. 18 and 19). This effect changes the sound of your snare by raising the perceived pitch and thickening the tone.
Playing time with your lead hand on the ride frees up your other hand to interject timely open hi-hat jabs. In Exs. 20 and 21, the left foot stomps out consecutive eighth-note chicks, and the openings occur between those in sixteenth-note spots. In Ex. 20, the interjections are independent from the flow of the groove. Ex. 21 encourages an exploration of two footboard techniques: heel up on the ah of 2 and heel down on the & of 4.
Playing anticipations — hits that precede beat 1 — is a concept spawned from jazz drummers setting up and executing rhythmic figures, and one that has spread to rock and soul. Playing an open hi-hat on the ah of 4 might be the funkiest way of delivering anticipations (Ex. 23).
Open hi-hats within a rhythmic flow — here with bass drum support — really bring out the accent because of the combination of high and low frequencies. In Ex. 24, alternate sticking occurs between open hi-hat and snare, while in Ex. 25, paradiddle combinations help us maneuver around the drums. Note: Pea soup supported by simultaneous bass drum is referred to as a bark. Try it and see if you get any reaction from your pets.
Exs. 26 and 27 are inspired by iconic bassist Jaco Pastorius playing drums on Weather Report’s “Teen Town” (from the album Heavy Weather). The combination of two sixteenths on closed hat and one eighth on open hat creates a samba-like feel and sets up low-end bass drum contrast. Try combining these exercises to create four-measure phrases.
In Ex. 28, the hi-hat (pea soup in two sixteenth-note groupings) formulates a 4:3 polyrhythm (shown with brackets) against a four-on-the-floor bass drum and snare backbeat. In Ex. 29, four-note combinations of eighth-note triplets (beginning with open hats) delineate a 3:4 polyrhythm.
Stewart Copeland of The Police is known as the top innovator in using three- and four-stroke ruffs and five-stroke rolls to lead into open hi-hat punctuations (Exs. 30 and 31). Though Copeland mostly played these as single strokes, it’s fun to experiment with the sticking. For instance, the four-stroke ruff starting on the (4) & of the first measure in Ex. 30 could be played LRLR, RLLR, or RRLR, so that the final note ends with the lead hand.
Before the existence of the hi-hat, drummers used two hands on a suspended crash. The lead hand played time, while the off-hand choked the cymbal on 2 and 4. With the advent of the hi-hat stand, the left hand then became freed up to comp and play backbeats. Having the footboard rise up on the last triplet of 2 and 4 allows for an authentic sound (see hi-hat in Exs. 32–34). Ex. 32 involves four-on-the-floor bass drum and swung eighth-note comping on the snare, while Exs. 33 and 34 employ snare and bass drum comping.
Flat flams between open hat and snare, followed by closed hi-hat and bass drum, is a great way to liven up your grooves and fills (Ex. 35 and 36).
In the following half-time shuffle groove (with a nod to Bernard Purdie, Jeff Porcaro, and John Bonham), tiny openings occur as a byproduct of bouncing the left foot on the hi-hat pedal (Ex. 37). You may need to give this exercise some time to sink in.
“Purportedly coined by ’70s era R&B drummers, pea soup is an ideal onomatopoeia for the sound made by striking an open hi-hat and then closing it.”
Open hi-hat works well to separate groupings of notes, an important aspect of odd time playing. The 7/8 pattern in Ex. 38 is inspired by Bonham’s “The Crunge” (a Led Zeppelin song actually in 9/8). Here, openings split seven eighth-notes into groupings of 4 + 3.
The tamborim is a small frame drum and one of a multitude of instruments in samba school drumming sections. The hi-hat in Ex. 39 emulates the sound of the tamborim part. You can clearly make out the four-note pattern if you take a look at the & of 2: closed hi-hat with stick, closed hi-hat with stick, open hi-hat with stick, close with foot only.
From the inception of the hi-hat, splashes have been a staple in timekeeping, comping, and adding texture. Two splash techniques are featured here: In Ex. 40, the openings are continuous; in other words, they close, but only momentarily before opening again. In Ex. 41, the splashes occur on 2 and 4 and close on 1 and 3.
Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers is the master of open-on-open playing, in which you start on sloshy hats and open them up even further (here, symbolized with an “o”). There are two ways to execute this technique: 1) Return back to sloshy hats after opening further (Ex. 42), and 2) After opening further, completely close the hats and then return back to sloshy hats (Ex. 43).
The technique in Ex. 44 involves opening and closing the hi-hat in a continuous flow of sixteenths. The coordination involved is extremely challenging. Be sure to avoid flamming notes between the open/closed hi-hat and snare/bass drum.