Open vs Closed Hi-Hat Cymbal: A Complete Guide

Hi-hats are made from two cymbals positioned together on a stand which are controlled using a foot pedal. The hi-hat can either be in an open position, or a closed position which affects the sound of the cymbal.

When the hi-hat pedal is pressed down, it will be in a closed position so the two cymbals will be touching which produces a shorter sound compared to an open hi-hat which has more sustain. The closed hi-hat is used most of the time, whilst the open hi-hat is used as an accent.

Sound Difference

An open hi-hat has a lot more sustain compared to a closed hi-hat. This means that the sound produced when the cymbal is hit will last for longer when the hi-hat is open compared to when it is closed.

When the hi-hat is in the open position, the two cymbals are not touching each other as they are roughly 1″ apart, which means they have more space to vibrate freely. This allows them to vibrate for longer when hit so the sustain is increased.

Conversely, in the closed position, the hi-hat cymbals are not able to vibrate as freely because the movement is restricted as the cymbals are touching each other. Hence, the sound of a closed hi-hat is short and sharp.

When to Open and Close the Hi-Hat

The closed hi-hat position is used the most and the open hi-hat position is typically only used as an accent. The music denotation for an open hi-hat is an “o” and to close it again is a “+”.

It is most common to use an open hi-hat as an accent on:

  • &4
  • &2 and &4
  • Every &

How to Open the Hi-Hat

To open the hi-hat, the pedal should be allowed to lift up. The most common technique to do this is do rock back on your heel and push it downwards into the back of the pedal allowing your foot to lift up at the front. This is known as the “heel down” technique.

This avoids moving your foot too dramatically which could cause you to lose your rhythm and allows you to easily open the hi-hat by ensuring the pedal lifts up. It’s best to rock your foot instead of moving your entire leg up and down because this would be too slow.

Hence, this is the preferred approach by many drummers when opening the hi-hat on the 8th note.

An alternative approach is to lift the heel up quickly which will essentially cause the entire foot to lift up very briefly, meaning the pedal will be lifted for a short amount of time. This can be used if opening the hi-hat for a 1/16th of a note as it is a quick process.

It is not usually a good idea to us the “heel up” technique when opening the hi-hat for 1/8th note as this means your heel is lifted for a long time which can throw your balance off.

To summarise:

  • Opening the hi-hat for an 1/8th note in length (or longer) – use the heel down technique
  • Opening the hi-hat for a 1/16th note – use the heel down or heel up technique (depending on preference)

Which part of the stick should be used on the hi-hat?

Most drummers use the shoulder of the drumstick (just below the tip) to hit the hi-hat roughly halfway between the edge and the bell of the cymbal. However, it is perfectly fine to experiment and try hitting the closed hi-hat with the shoulder and the open hi-hat with the tip of the stick, or vice-versa.

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I’m here to share with you my passion for drumming, as well as some tips and tricks for choosing and making the most out of your drum kit and accessories. Whilst I play primarily on electronic drum kits, I love all things drumming and hope to share this with as many people as possible!

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