Playing Hi-Hats Live, MIDI Keyboard, or Drum Machine,
Playing your hi-hats live can always bring interesting results to your beats. This is because it gives the beat a more human-like feel to it. This human-like sound is very sought-after in the hip-hop MPC world.
The sound a lot of people go for is called swing. It gives the beat the feeling where it’s off beat, yet on beat, and has a catchy, jerk, in-and-out feeling to the beat.
Velocities with Live Hat Playing,
Velocity in any sound is very important for catchiness, dynamics, and impact. By playing your hats live, this is exactly what you are doing! You are allowing for different velocities in your hats, as it’s hard to always play the sound at the same level.
Even after I play my hats live, I will head into FL Studio‘s piano roll, and even edit the velocities a bit more to get the feeling I’m going for. Because, again, velocity has a huge impact on the beat, especially with hats (and piano!).
Try this Out
Play your hats on every step, so every 1/8″ note. You will quickly find this is bland, and robotic sounding.
Simply adjust a few of the velocities to quickly add some more flavor into the beat. The more you adjust, the more creative your track is going to sound.
In addition to the velocities, layering your hats is a great technique as well!
Make your Hats Sound Like Shakers,
A cool trick, which I use often, is selecting a hat you like, and then playing it with two different keys, one up an octave, and one as the root. For example, playing C, and D# on the piano keys.
This alone, gets your hats more shaker like, and most importantly, fills up the beat quite nice! The instruments have a big part to make the track sound full and catchy, but these little hats, that don’t get as much credit as they should, have very close to as big of an impact on the beat, as your instruments.
Now, in the video, I showed playing the hat consistently throughout the beat, on the 1, 2, 3, 4. (See Image):
What I like to do is take that second hat, lower it in volume, and put it up a key. This makes the hats bounce a bit, gives it a bit of that side-chain effect, and overall, gives your beat more flavor than just a consistent hat being played at the same velocity and note.
Playing Melodies with Hats,
Apart from just putting the the second hat up a key, have you ever tried playing melodies with your hats?
There are times, after I get a drum loop going, I will attempt to play hats all over my keyboard. Depending on the hat’s sound, and the style of drum beat, you can get some real creative results.
I also find that having a bit of foundation going on inside your beat, will help before applying this. In other words, maybe add in some instruments, a bit of a percussion loop etc, then attempt playing your hats over the keys. (If it’s not working, try a new hat, or attempt it again with a percussion sound! — This works great for originality over your beats).
Last Minute Thoughts About Playing Live Hats,
Overall, playing your hats live will give them a more human-like swing to your beats. This changes up the velocity, which is huge! — Also, while playing live, then going in to edit your notes afterwards can always bring interesting results! Since there is usually a bit of latency, notes get placed in the wrong places, but hey! — It might sound good “by accident” ;). Keep in mind, velocity is a huge part of your sounds, and not just with hats!
Hope this has given you some ground work to keep pushing through!
Super Hat Mini Series,
Beatstruggles had a short little series on hi-hats. In case you missed it, check out the Super Hat Mini Series post!