Developing Your Hi-hat technique

A few months ago, I started this series of articles to develop our coordination with the left foot on the hi-hat cymbals.

In the previous lesson, Developing Your Hi-Hat Technique: An Introduction To The Third Voice, I gave you an introduction on the use of the hi-hat as another voice for comping and solo phrasing.

This time, we’ll be expanding further on the same concept. If you’ve followed the previous lesson, you may have noticed we only worked on 8th note phrasing. For this lesson, we’ll start working with 8th note triplets.

As I said before, the concept of the third voice started developing mostly in the post-bop era. Drummers like Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, to name a few, took the basic concept and developed it further.

Removing the hi-hat from its primary function of time-keeping opened up a new door for drum-set language to expand.

Having the hi-hat float around within the tempo creates a more linear and flat time-feel.

Meaning, the bouncy swing feel with that heavy two and four is smoothed out, producing a flattened pulse in which the metric is not so obvious.

Another effect of moving the hi-hat off of its primary timekeeping functions is to hide the downbeat from the listener.

To the untrained ear, hearing it on the upbeats is disorienting; imagine a rock drummer displacing the snare drum from two and four to the upbeats of two and four, People are going to get lost, and no one is going to be able to dance.

In jazz, the hi-hat is the backbeat, and when it is removed, it does precisely that: It breaks up the time feel and makes jazz less danceable, but rhythmically more interesting.

So, let’s begin. As in the previous lesson, we are going to start with some preliminary coordination exercises:

Exercise 1

The first phrase we are going to work on is a one beat phrase, which has become one of those jazz drum-set idioms. The orchestration makes it sound very Roy Hayne-ish or Elvin Jones-ish. It is a great one to get us started.

The main goal is to get familiar with playing that little triplet phrase on all the beats of the bar, while we keep a steady jazz ride pattern on the right hand (or left if you’re lefty).

If you checked out the previous lesson you know what to do. If not, here are the steps again:

  • 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.

Exercise 2

For Exercise 2 we are going to modify the first phrase by taking the first note out. So, we are going to play the second and third note of the triplet, keeping the same orchestration as the previous exercise.

This phrase I would also consider another jazz drum-set idiom. If you listen to any of the Coltrane albums with Elvin Jones on it, you are going to hear this phrase a few dozen times.

Again, for this exercise, we are going to follow the steps described above.

Exercise 3 

At this point, we should be comfortable playing these two little phrases on any beat of the measure and have resolved any coordination issue that may have arose.

So it is time to mix them up using some of the phrases we worked on in the previous lesson and the vocabulary you may already have using the bass and snare drum.

I’ll give you some examples of the phrasing I use in my playing. I’ll be combining the third voice concept using 8th notes and 8th note triplets.

Here you have eight short phrases that you can learn and use in your playing. You can also use them as an example to create your own using the third voice concept.

Remember to share your thought or ask any questions in the comment section below. Or if you wish, you can reach me at any of my social media profiles (INSTAGRAM or FACEBOOK).

30 Stepsto Better Jazz Playing

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