What is a Hi-Hat Cymbal?

June 14, 2023

Beginner drummers might ask a frequent question: What is a hi-hat cymbal?

A hi-hat is a percussion instrument consisting of two cymbals and a pedal, which are placed on a steel stand.

It’s a component of the standard drum set used by drummers across various styles like pop, rock, blues, and jazz.

Let’s find out more about this essential part of the drum kit.

The components

Unlike other cymbals that come as a one-piece instrument, a hi-hat cymbal is a pair of cymbals mounted on a metal stand so that the cymbals face each other.

The hi-hat has two different parts: the top and the bottom cymbal.

The bottom cymbal remains stationary and is attached to the stand.

The top cymbal is attached to a rod which allows it to be pressed down onto the stationary bottom cymbal by using the foot pedal on the stand.

The hi-hat cymbals are usually made from a bronze alloy that often contains 80% copper and 20% tin, and sometimes silver. They are usually lighter in weight than the ride or crash cymbals.

what is a hi hat cymbal

The sound

The hi-hats can be played by striking the cymbals with one or two sticks or just by opening and closing the cymbals with the foot pedal without striking the cymbals.

Creating rhythms on the hi-hats with the foot alone enables drummers to use both sticks on other drums or cymbals.

Different sounds can be created by striking “open hi-hats” (without the pedal depressed, which creates a noisy sound nicknamed “sloppy hats”) or a crisp “closed hi-hats” sound (with the pedal pressed down).

The distance between the top and bottom cymbal matters—longer distances produce more volume, while shorter distances produce less volume.

The location

Most drum kits consist of three cymbals: hi-hat, crash, and ride.

The hi-hat is the smallest of the three, usually located on the left side of the setup and is usually the most frequently used component on the kit.

The hi-hat cymbal is placed next to the snare drum, on its left side, so it can easily be reached with the left foot, while the right foot is reserved for the kick drum pedal.

what is a hi hat cymbal

The history

When you ask, “What is a hi-hat cymbal?” you probably have in mind a modern version of this percussion instrument.

However, drummers used several other methods to create a similar sound in the days before hi-hats. The oldest was called a “clanger” and consisted of small cymbals mounted onto a bass drum rim and struck with an arm on the bass drum pedal.

Next came what was known as a “shoe,” which were two hinged boards with cymbals on the ends that were clashed together.

Finally came the low-sock, low-boy, or low-hat, which employed an ankle-high apparatus similar to a modern hi-hat stand, activated by pressing a pedal.

A standard size was 10 inches, some with heavy bells up to 5 inches wide.

Drummer Papa Jo Jones began playing on the two cymbals that would become known as the hi-hats in the late 1920s.

Many people believe that the famous drum company Walberg and Auge invented the earliest hi-hat stand in 1926. However, others say this honor belongs to jazz drummer William “O’Neill” Spencer.

The elevated cymbals allowed drummers to strike them with sticks, opening up a whole new world of music, and the drum set began to take on a shape more familiar to current drummers.

How do you choose a hi hat cymbal?

When choosing a hi-hat cymbal, there are a few key characteristics that will affect the pitch and sound of your cymbal. 

First, the size of the cymbal matters—the smaller that hi hat is, the more bright and crispy its tone will be.

If you’re looking for a bright and crisp tone, go with a 13″ or 14″ Hi Hat. If you’re looking for a dark and warm sound, go with a larger cymbal like 15″.

You’ll also want to pay attention to weight and how the cymbal is made. Typically, thinner cymbals (and those made from heavier metals) will produce more sustain, while thicker ones (made from lighter metals) will have a shorter sustain.


The hi-hat is the cymbal above all others that most people, even non-drummers, are familiar with. It’s a percussion instrument consisting of two cymbals and a pedal, which are placed on a steel stand.

The left foot controls the opening and closing of the hi-hat cymbals by pressing on a pedal attached to the stand. This allows you to create different sounds by adjusting how much space there is between the two cymbals. 

It’s a fairly simple instrument to learn. It is usually the first to be taught to drummers when they begin their formal training, which makes it a solid starting point for beginning drummers.

Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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