Jazz Drum Hi-Hat Technique

In jazz drumming, The use of the hi-hat cymbals has evolved throughout the years. In the early years, time feel was mostly played on the hi-hat, instead of the ride cymbal. Or on the snare drum, ala New Orleans styles, and in this case, the drummers would step on the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 to help mark the tempo.

The bebop era opened up the set. The ride cymbal became a significant player in the timekeeping business while the hi-hat helped underneath by accenting beats 2 and 4. The snare and bass drum (two voices) would create the improvisational conversation.

It wasn’t until later in the bebop era and during the post-bop era when drummers started to experiment with the left foot as another voice (the third voice) to create phrases.

Drummers like Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, to name a few, took the function of the hi-hat cymbal to the next level.

It went from being just a timekeeping tool to becoming another source for the melodic and rhythmic development of the comping and soloing drum set language in jazz.

Nowadays, using the hi-hat cymbals or third voice as part of the comping and soloing language, is standard practice for every modern jazz drummer in the scene.

In this lesson, we are going to start working on some coordination exercises to get you started on using the third voice.

Let’s start with our preliminary exercises:

Basic Coordination Exercise 1:

For this exercise, we are going to focus on getting familiar with playing the hi-hat on all the upbeats, while we keep a smooth and consistent jazz ride pattern on the right hand (or left if you’re lefty).

  • The next step is to combine the different bars. For instance: Bar (A) + Bar (D) or Bar (B) + Bar (E).
  • You can make longer phrases, like 4-bars phrases. For example: Bar (A) + Bar (D) + Bar (B) + Bar (C).
  • Also, you can combine two or more bars into one bar. For example the First half of Bar (A) + Second half of Bar (D) 

Once you get comfortable playing these exercises, I would highly encourage you to add the “four on the floor” which means to feather the bass drum on all four quarter notes.

Now let’s add a second voice, the snare.

Basic Coordination Exercise 2:

In exercise 2 we are adding a snare hit in the downbeat right before the hi-hat. So, if you did the previous exercise, you should be fine doing this one.

We are going to follow all the same steps we did in exercise 1.

  • We are going to combine bars in two bars and four bars phrases,
  • We can combine several bars into one bar. 
  • We can add the “four on the floor.”

Finally, let’s combine all these exercises with vocabulary we already know, and put it in a more musical context.

I’ll give you some of my favorite phrases:

These are phrases I use in my playing; you can learn them or take them as an example of what you can do with all the exercises above. Be creative.

In future lessons, I’ll expand and give you more ideas on how to improve your coordination and strengthen your left foot. I’ll also give you more ideas on how to create more language for comping and soloing using the third voice.

If you have any question about the lesson or want to share your thoughts please do so in the comment section below. Also, if you wish to reach me directly, you can always go and follow me on my social media profiles (Instagram and Facebook) and hit me with a message.

30 Stepsto Better Jazz Playing

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