hi-hat cymbals

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Title: demo: hi-hat cymbals; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The hi-hat cymbals is a metal concussion idiophone created in the United States of America. It is a freestanding component of most drum/trap sets (see detail photo and the separate entry for drum set), a primarily mechanically-operated pair of concussion cymbals that is also directly struck (using a variety of beaters) by the performer--both of these sound production methods, concussion and percussion, are combined into a single technique for this instrument. The drum set is used primarily by jazz and popular music drummers, and wherever these idioms of music have spread around the world the hi-hat cymbals can be found performed by both amateur and professional musicians. The hi-hat can also be called for in percussion ensemble works either as an independent sound source or as part of a drum set (see Mixed Percussion Ensembles).


There are two essential components to the hi-hat cymbals: the two identical, thin, domed plates made of bronze (a copper and tin alloy, sometimes including some silver) that are the actual sound source; and the complex mechanical stand atop which the cymbals are mounted. The pair of cymbals pictured here are 13 inches in diameter and they are mounted on the stand so that their open faces face one another. Due to the general vessel/dome shape of each plate, it is actually their thin, broad rims that come into contact and that vibrate with the greatest energy. Each cymbal has a hole drilled in the apex of its dome that allows it to be attached to the stand. The stand is basically a spring-action, pedal-operated piston with a sliding rod inside its adjustable vertical tube. The bottom cymbal is affixed face up to the top of the stand’s tube, the top cymbal face down to the sliding rod. When the pedal is up there is a small gap between the rims of the cymbals, when it is pressed down the cymbal rims clash together.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The hi-hat is usually situated to the left of the seated drum set player so that its pedal can be operated with the drummer’s left foot and the top surface of the top cymbal is within the reach of the player’s hand-held drumsticks. The concussion facet of the instrument is operated with the foot pedal, which is used to clash the upper, moveable cymbal against the lower, stationary one. A variety of other articulations and timbres are achieved when the player strikes the upper cymbal with a pair of sticks (hard or brush) while manipulating the position (open or closed) of the two cymbals with the foot pedal.


The immediate precursor of the hi-hat cymbals was the floor cymbals, basically a hinged pair of wooden jaws with a small cymbal nailed to each and held open with a spring. It was placed on the floor and operated by one of the drummer’s feet. A more sophisticated design, originally known as the Charleston stand and similar to the instrument pictured here, was first introduced in 1927 by the Walberg and Auge Co. of Massachusetts and quickly became a standard component of the drum set.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

________. 1984. “Cymbals.” NGDMI v.1: 529-532.

Brindle, Reginald Smith. 1991. Contemporary Percussion. London: Oxford University Press.

Holland, James. 1978. Percussion. New York: Schirmer Books.

Montagu, Jeremy. 2002. Timpani and Percussion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Robinson, J. Bradford. 1984. “Drum set [drum kit, trap set].” NGDMI v.1: 612-613.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: North America

Nation: United States of America

Formation: cosmopolitan (Euro-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.142 idiophone--cymbals: vessel clappers with everted rim are struck against each other

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - with concentric contouring

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: concussing - direct with intermediate mechanism

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


13 in. diameter

Primary Materials





HH 13”

Entry Author

Roger Vetter