The Hi-Hat

The hi-hat is one of the central pieces of the modern drum kit. Much of its use is in keeping time and carrying the rhythm. The hi-hat is essential a pair of cymbals, mounted on a vertical rod, that can be made to come together or apart using a foot pedal. The two cymbals are mounted so that they come together at a slight angle, so that when they first touch, they only do so at a single point. This is to allow air to easily escape as the hi-hat closes.

A standard drum kit, set up for the right-handed drummer, places the hi-hat stand to the front left of the drummer. The hi-hat is then played with the right hand and left foot.

The Origin of the Hi-Hat

The first precursor of the hi-hat, i.e. a foot controlled cymbal, was a small cymbal mounted on the rim of the bass drum, and hit with an arm attachment of the the bass pedal. This instrument was called the ‘clanger’.

The next development in foot controlled cymbals was the ‘snow shoe’, which appeared in 1928. This device was floor mounted and was made of two cymbals sandwiched between a pair of hinged boards. To play it, the drummer would insert a foot into shoe straps attached to the top board and step on to clash the cymbals together. A spring would assist in pulling the cymbals apart. The ‘show shoe’ provided more freedom of expression than the ‘clanger’, but soon gave way to the ‘low boy’, also called the ‘low hat’.

The low-hat was the direct predecessor of the hi-hat. The low-hat was similar to the hi-hat, but rested only a few inches off the ground, and therefore could be played only with the foot.

It is uncertain who was the first to think of extending the low-hat up, and consequently inventing the hi-hat, but much credit for its development is attributed to Barney Walberg of the Walberg & Auge drums accessory company, which was a top supplier of hi-hat and other drum hardware until the 60s.

Papa Jo Jones, who played with the Count Basie Orchestra, is considered the first great hi-hat artist.


  1. Mark 26. Jul, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Actually, as the story goes; Chick Webb who was somewhat deformed and very short, used to reach down and play on the "sock cymbals" with his sticks and always got huge ovations for his ingenuity. One night at the Savoy, there was an inventor in the audience who approached Chick after the performance and suggested that he may be able to build something that would raise the cymbals so that they could be near the snare drum. It was this crude invention that made way for the new instrument. During these times, rich people were often referred to as "Hi Hats" for the stove pipe hats that they wore with tuxedos. The bandleader looked up at the new gizmo and called it a hi hat because Chick was already the featured member and "who do you think you are…blah, blah. Nice Hi Hat…" The name stuck and before long everyone had to have one and this is when Mr. Walberg started developing them on a mass basis.
    Mark Adams

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