How to play the hi-hat correctly?


Junior Member
Hello! I've been playing for a few years and I'm finally starting to give lessons. I need some input on how to play the hi-hats correctly.

My student is a complete beginner and I absolutely want him to have good fundamentals, I don't want him injured or with pain, so I have been researching a lot on technique. I just can't find the answers I need regarding the hi-hat, especially on if you should play more with your wrists or with your arms. Should you use more your arm or the wrist? What should the hi-hat height be? (I've found everyone just uses what they like) Is American grip ok or how you should turn your hand to hit them?

Of course, I know how to play the hi-hat myself. The thing is, it is quite complicated to look at yourself and figure out how to explain stuff correctly after years of having it learned for the first time. I also got injured recently and I've been struggling to find a comfortable sweet spot where it won't hurt my tendons. I've found that a "natural" mix of wrist and arm movement is comfortable for slow grooves and Moller might be good for fast ones.

Anyways, thanks for any advice you can give me!
Should you use more your arm or the wrist?

Depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Different stroke types are better for different volumes and tempos.

What should the hi-hat height be?

Comfortable. Out of the way of the left hand.
I will use my wrist and fingers fully dependent upon the sound I want. But moreover, the HH is an amazing instrument that requires much more technique than the other parts of a drum set IMHO. If you strike it close to the bell it is a much clearer higher sound than near to the edge. Both have their place. I try to play and also instruct students to play in two different spots if it is a straight eight-note ostinato. That way there is a groove produced without too much effort. In other words on all of the pulses the stick hits nearer the edge while on the &'s it hits nearer the bell. Once the student gets the skills needed to perform the right hand cross over with a groove, I then get them to switch hands have the left hand perform the HH ostinato with the same beats. But as for wrist vs hand vs fingers, think about more than just straight quarter or eighth notes, think about a pattern like 1e& 2e& etc. that will require fingers and bounce.
Well the height has to be comfortable for transition to snare-then angle that you mostly play-like some people dance on top and others cut into edge more-I do both and the dance around top -cause timbre changes. It's really about foot control-in open and close-and everything in between. Then you don't even need to hit to make it dance just popping it just right. There is really a lot to learn on how to cajole pleasant sounds from hats-it's my most favorite cymbal (why double pedal just doesn't have as much use because I love popping my hats in time). I'most wrist but use my arm to move stick around different places and different angles., and depends on music too because some music your arms act like a pendulum for momentum of song-others your wrist tapping dancing on it. If hats too high you cut into edge more than you like-it's a lot like angle for rim shots-depends on grip too.
There's lots of different ways to play the hi hat well. Different drummers will each prefer German, American, or French grip for different things. I'll say that I mostly play it German (my sticks actually don't cross at all, and not open-handed) except for one-handed sixteenths, which are more American. The main thing is to make sure the student can play a consistent rimshot backseat while riding the hats. Whether it's just not crossing the sticks or lifting the right hand a little on the backbeat to make room for the left hand. Other people just set the hats high enough where it's not even an issue.
Yikes.. so much to cover here. Start with basic HH position - I use the cymbal edge lined up vertically with the edge of the snare.. but it's ergonomics, body size etc.. main thing is to keep it in the zone so your stick doesn't miss the hats and worst case - miss and get caught under the bottom cymbal. Height is also ergonomics.. I'm 6'1" so I prefer them a bit high so I have lots of room for my left hand under neath.. but generally not so high that your elbow is elevated out of a natural position..
Stick target - which part of the stick to hit for different effects and what zone on the cymbal etc.
The best advice I can give is - check out Tod Sucherman's DVD or maybe Youtube.. he gives great examples of grooving the hats and using fingers and bounce to play effortlessly fast patterns etc.
If I was to start over from scratch as a beginner with the knowledge I have now, I would start with French grip, a bit of pressure to keep the hats tight, and get used to letting the stick bounce with very soft hands. For accents, rather than over-extending the wrist you use a bit of external rotation (thumb towards the front) or internal rotation (into a German position). But as a beginner, focus on constant, bouncing strokes to build good technique and a feel for letting the stick work and stay relaxed.

Source: 20+ years of bad habits, 3-4 years or so of trying to fix those bad habits