Hi-Hat Drum Samples – 2 Mistakes

2010 March 30

There are so many different-sounding types of hi-hats (or just hats) available today, and the range of drum samples that go along with them is also ever-increasing. Many people, when thinking about their favorite songs of the year, could probably tap out the snare and kick drum samples without thinking, but the hats? That’s another deal. You see, the hi-hat has resigned itself to be simply a supporting sound, backing up its big brothers, the snare and kick drums. This is not a bad thing, though.

The two ‘mistakes’ of hi-hat hip hop samples we’re about to look into are no the domain of the beat making novice, but are committed nearly just as much by so-called professionals these days.

The first mistake we will look at concerns the volume of hi-hats. There is definitely a battle of the loud out there, and we try to compress and tighten everything up, but the fact of the matter is we don’t need to do this for hi-hats. Hats are plenty loud as it is. Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans were pray to aerial monsters that let out sounds that share similar frequencies with hi-hats. We have developed a tendency to pick these sounds out quickly, so drop those hi-hat drum samples down a few decibels – your audience will hear them.

Mixing the hi-hats in a little bit lower is great practice – two or three decibels should do. Unless you’re going to ‘mix out’ these samples completely, you can go pretty low and still be sure that your audience will pick them up. Remember that for every six decibels up or down, the sound doubles or halves respectively.

The second mistake is about achieving authenticity with your hip hop drum samples… If you’re trying to establish your song as having a real drum part, do not make the mistakes that many others do. Let me give you an example: a constant closed hi-hat in the left channel plays once every 16th note, 16 times a bar, and on the third beat; we hear an open hi-hat that strikes at the same time. What is wrong with this? Well, just about every real drum set only comes with one set of cymbals to manipulate, and triggering a closed hi-hat so often and consistently demonstrates that the cymbals are firmly closed, and yet you also hit the open cymbal at the same time. This is physically impossible, so don’t do this if you’re trying to set a tone of authenticity in your drum beats. Dance tunes, on the other hand, often have two or three different types of hats playing simultaneously, and if it’s the electronic vibe you want to lay down, go crazy. If it sounds good, it’s all good!

You can learn a great deal using professional drum sequencing sample libraries and sets like EZ Drummer and BFD. These will show you the physical implications and deliver standard and advanced patterns that you can immediately digest and take in mentally, noting what works and what doesn’t work. Then apply what you learn to your own songs.

Do you want to make your own beats? Check out our how to rap freestyle guide.

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