I suck at hip hop hi hats. Please help

I mostly go for boom bap/lofi and I usually just phone-in something boring and turn it down. Not just hats, but the upper half of the kit… cymbals, tambourine, sleigh bells, whatever, I suck at it.

It isn’t just me, I hear a lot of lofi with the hats buried under the lpf. And it really wants that fine grained pulse to communicate looseness. Boom bap in general is reasonably healthy, and sometimes tends to have a tighter beat. But when it isn’t played tight, I hear lots of groove in the hats and so on.

Even when I hear it, I just don’t grok how it’s done. (I could copy the patterns, but I like to do dense variations dense with ghost notes and interact with what the rest of the kit is doing.)

An example of the kind of beat I end up with, without the hats:

If you were hoping to critique my hats, imagine generic lofi swung eighths. They were removed for a reason (see below.) I do like that overall groove, but if I focus on them I can’t stand what I’m hearing. (I’m less critical of others’ work because: because.)

Any pointers would be good. Technical is good, I have patience for theory and I’ll go for a deep dive if its on offer. Words, videos, examples, whatever. I’ll even entertain book recommendations.

Finally, that clip has the hats removed in case anyone feels like using it to illustrate techniques.

I’ll do a book recommendation: The breakbeat bible by Mike adamo. Totally focused on hip hop drums with a number of sections devoted to hihats. You won’t regret going through it and programming all the example breaks.


Thanks, I’ll give it a go.

IDK. I think the simple 1234 works on that. Like your sound!

But if you want that more shuffle-y feel you could do some variations of:
“and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4” with the “ands” ghosting and the 1234 accented.

1 Like

The way I do hihats for my hiphop tracks is based on the way I learned to do them on my old mpc: either quantised or unquantised, often with a level of swing (depending on the feel I’m going for), and always!! with velocity variations among the hats. The mpc has the great 16 level function, but elektron machines can also do this with parameter locking different velocity or volume per step.

I can’t stress this last point enough: hihats come alive when you can vary the velocity and timing per hit. This helps make em sound more subtle, but still present without being too robotic.


I think you will find a lot of answers and resources here:


Thanks! Yeah, it’s not too bad when the hats are simple on this one, but I do want to get into more intricate patterns, and particularly using more of the kit.

I’m also trying to leave space in my beats (partly because I use the DN sometimes and want it all on one track, and partly because I do like spacious beats.) These two aims are in tension, I realize. Right now when I try to leave space it ends up sounding more stilted than loose to my ears.

I have a feel for this with kick and snare, but when I do it to hats I never feel like I have it right. Sometimes it comes out acceptable and I settle for that. Other times I give up and map an LFO to dynamics, just so I won’t notice annoying patterns in the hard/soft notes.

I think it’s because they run the full pulse and I have a hard time picking out function. Kick/snare/clap all serve functions I can identify in relation to one another. I’ll probably work out the dynamics once I’ve gotten my head properly around function.

FFS, you’re right. I was so preoccupied with trying to decide which forum to post in, this completely evaded me. I really should have just made a post in that thread. At least I didn’t go completely off the rails and make it a mission brief to add hats to my beat. Anyway, thanks for pointing that out.

1 Like

you can accomplish a lot with swing and shifting of notes. the hihat a little later.
also swing on the 8th notes and then also swing on the 16 notes.
you can also play with the swing and shifting of the kicks and snares to complement that.

In the latest book on J Dilla there is a lot of stuff about drums and swing and shifting of notes. Very interesting.

1 Like

No worries mate, I just mentioned it because there is a lot of great stuff in there! There can never be enough hip-hop threads :sunglasses:

1 Like

From someone who is not a “real HipHopHead”, but listening to various Hip Hop since the mid 90th:

Hip Hop did not get better, when they started to increase Hihat-pattern-compexity (at least for my ear).


I’m in the exact opposite situation. My hats usually sound good. Everything else sucks!


Typical drummer answer here. I recommend playing along with tracks that you think are good/ have good hats. Don’t bother recording at first if you don’t want to, just try to mimic what you’re hearing. You’ll get a good sense of how they should feel in a track and how the dynamics vary. It might be the long way around (or maybe not) but it will probably be the most holistic approach.


In my experience good hip hop hats require two things:

  1. Two different sounds for up and down beats. This can be done through different velocities, filter cuttoffs, samples, whatever. But I feel like my favorite hi hat patterns have distinct tick and tock sounds, kind of like a clock.

  2. The whole pattern (not just every other 1/8th or 1/16th is pushed backwards/forwards relative to the rest of the pattern.

IMO the types of hi hats you hear from folks like Dilla/FlyLo/Knxwledge/Kaytranada, etc are less about “swing” per se, and more about velocity and shift timing. A lot of times what you are perceiving as swung notes are actually straight 1/8th or 1/16th notes (i.e. swing = 50%) them backwards or forwards in time. That’s not to say the typical “push every other note backwards” approach doesn’t have it’s uses (it’s great for your good ol’ fashoned boom bap) but when people are talking about playing “drunk” or “in the pocket” or “off the grid” they’re usually just playing straight notes behind the beat.

MPCs have a parameter called shift timing which makes this effect really easy. But if you’re working with samples you can adjust sample start to add “air” to the front of your samples, which will have the same effect. It’s a little more difficult on Elektron boxes, typically I’ll just copy/paste trigs, or use my forearm to select all 16 trigs and then adjust from there.


Also play with decay and filters next to velocity and timing, keep it loose! And pick a nice hihat sound :wink:

1 Like

It’s not specific to hip-hop, but I found this video to have a lot of good suggestions for humanizing hats on drum machines.


I hear something like a
In my head for something beyond 1/8ths

*> shift:extra swung
= open hh if you like
t trip for last one or two hits turnaround

Straight grid type hats can work well with shifty kicks and snares or vise versa

Q note downbeat different sound for footpedal can work nicely too

Nothing wrong with driving 8ths and repetitive velocity patterns, throw a few hits off for more live sounding dynamics, throw in a few low grace 16ths as leading notes if desired

1 Like

Too true. I was thinking more people would also see this if it was part of that thread, but I am getting some excellent responses.

Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t say one way or another is better. I enjoy both and want to be able to produce both. I sort of expect I’ll train up on complexity until I can do everything I want, then relax down to very sparse patterns for the most part.

I feel dense, it took me until the end of qr9000’s comment to register what was being said here. This is important information! I’ve probably been told this a hundred times by now and just never got it. Thanks for finally getting it through my skull.

Yeah, I have tried most of these. That OG doom examples in the video kills me tho. (I think they probably did that because it was surprisingly often that two things would make the same sound at basically the exact same time. And that would have been loud if not for the pitch variation.)

Yeah, this helps. There is some obvious structure here. I think I know why I’ve been missing it, too.