Understanding the main differences between open and closed hi-hats and ride cymbals can help add a realistic element to your productions. Hi-hats and rides are both cymbals, and they are both used to play steady musical patterns, though their tonal characteristics are what separates them.
Hi-hats are made out of two cymbals that sit atop one another on a stand. Closed hi-hats occur when drummers press the pedal down. Ride cymbals are typically the largest cymbals in standard drum kits and are usually placed just above the floor tom.
Come dive in as we explore the difference between these primary cymbal types and how we use them.
Holding down steady rhythms
Accenting certain spots within steady rhythms
Soft, crispy, percussive
Holding down steady rhythms with a more ‘open’ feel
Washy or ping-like depending on where it is hit
Accenting musical transitions
What is an open hi-hat?
To create an open hi-hat, we use the attached pedal. When hi-hats are open, they make a sizzling sound that helps them to cut through the mix. Drummers use open hi-hats to accent specific rhythms.
It’s unlikely that a drummer will continuously play an open hi-hat over and over again unless they are playing something incredibly aggressive.
We often hear open hi-hats in house music on the 2 and 4 of the beat, such as those in the 1993 Hardrive classic, “Deep Inside.”
What is a closed hi-hat?
Drummers typically play closed hi-hats to create steady patterns throughout a track. Closed hi-hats form a variety of sounds when closed.
You can get a soft, crispy, percussive tone that sounds like a ‘chick,’ or you can get a muted, metallic sound. The tonal characteristics depend on the size of the cymbal and the materials used to manufacture them.
Lighter hi-hats will produce a bright sound while heavy hi-hats will have a dark sound.
You can hear a great example of closed hi-hats in Tame Impala’s “Is It True.” You can hear Kevin Parker playing steady eighth notes on closed hi-hats throughout most of the song.
What is Ride Cymbal?
They are very similar to hi-hats in that drummers use them to play steady rhythms. While hi-hats tend to have percussive characteristics, rides shimmer with sustain. On average, ride cymbals sit around 20″, though they can get up to 26″ or more.
As for the sound of a ride, it all depends on where you hit it. The bell of a ride, which is the small bit around where the cymbal is mounted, produces a bell-like ping when hit. If you want to create more percussive rhythms with little sustain, the bell is a great place to start.
The bow of the cymbal is a much more familiar sound, which can sit softly in a mix or carry loads of intensity depending on how hard it is played. Thinner ride cymbals produce bright, washy sounds while heavier and thicker ride cymbals are much darker.
One great example of a song with tons of ride cymbal is “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd.
What is Crash Cymbal?
Crash cymbals are typically the first type that comes to mind when mentioning the word cymbals, and they are often used to accent particular parts of a song. They are incredibly loud and explosive and can range in size from around 8″-24″, making them one of the most versatile cymbal types around.
Similar to rides, you will get brighter sounds with thinner crashes and darker sounds with thicker crashes. In most standard kits, you will find crash cymbals above the snare or adjacent to the high tom.
While there are examples of crashes in just about every song with drums out there, we’ll use “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones as an example. You can hear the crash every time the chorus kicks in.
How It’s Made?
The cymbal-making process is divided up into three parts:
The casting process begins by filling casting pots with boiling water so that when they pour the melted bronze inside of them, the bronze “pucks” don’t get stuck. Once the pucks have cooled off a little bit, they are put into the oven and rolled through a pressing machine. They will repeat this process depending on how thick they want the cymbal to be.
Once the cymbal has the right thickness, they will press the bell of the cymbal by putting it into a hydraulic pressing machine. Lastly, they will wash the cymbal and drill a hole so that it can be placed on a cymbal stand.
Next up is the hammering process. The hammering process is a crucial part of a cymbal’s creation. The shape and sound characteristics form depending on the hammer size, the way the hammer hits the surface, and the number of strikes used.
Lastly, the cymbal goes to the finishing process, where it is milled, polished, and stamped. The thickness and shape of the cymbal depend on how it is milled. The cymbal will spin rapidly while various chisel-like tools carve the cymbal’s surface. After it has been milled, manufacturers will polish it to remove dirt and dust.
As a final touch, the manufacturer will print their logo on the cymbal before sending it off to consumers.
Origin Of The Cymbals?
Cymbals date way back to ancient times. They are some of the oldest percussion instruments around. It is said that representations of cymbals were found in 7th-century B.C. paintings from Larsa, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Armenian Highlands. Historians believe that the introduction of cymbals in Asia didn’t occur until the 3rd of 4th-century A.D.
They were often associated with rituals or other types of religious worship. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the Saracens brought cymbals to Europe, where they gained popularity in southern Italy.
How To Use Crash Cymbals In Music Production Effectively?
One of the primary ways that music producers use cymbals is an impact element. We often place cymbals at the beginning of new sections or when large drops come in, as they help tell the listener that the piece has transitioned. Make sure to keep crash cymbals relatively quiet in your mix. It is pretty surprising how big of an impact they can have, even when they are pushed back in a mix.
There is nothing worse than getting blasted with sharp, trebly crashes when your mix is turned up.
Of course, you can also get creative with crash cymbals by reversing them. This technique has been around since the days of tape when engineers would splice sections with crash cymbals and feed them back into the tape machine in reverse. In modern production, we hear reverse cymbals all the time, as they help foreshadow transitions or create building tension.
How To Mix Your Hi-hats?
There are about a thousand ways to mix hi-hats, though we like to keep it pretty simple by employing a few things:
- High-Pass EQ
- Transient Shaping
Before you get into shaping your hi-hat, we recommend hi-passing it to get rid of any unnecessary low frequencies that made their way in during the recording process. Note that if you are using programmed hi-hats, this may not apply. When you roll off the low end, the bright natural qualities will stick out more, giving you less inclination to boost down the line.
Begin by hi-passing around 100 Hz and move your cutoff up until you hear the fundamentals begin to change, then roll it back. In most cases, you should be able to roll off up to 300 Hz, especially if the mix is pretty busy.
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To add some excitement or space to your mix, we recommend panning your hi-hats to the sides. Plus, a panned hi-hat will give the impression of an organic drum set, as typical kits have hi-hats placed to the left or right of the player. A good starting point is about 50% away from the center. Listen to your mix and see what feels right. If you pan your hi-hat away from the center, try to make sure that there is a sound on the opposite side to support its activity.
If your hi-hat is lacking energy, you might want to use a transient shaper to give it a bit more attack. Do this with caution, as the last thing you want is for your hi-hat to sound too abrasive. On the other hand, if your hi-hat sounds a little too spitty, you can pull the attack back a little bit to tame the transients.
On the other hand, transient shapers can be used to reduce bleed from the room or other instruments around the hi-hat. For example, you could roll back the sustain on a transient shaper to trim the hi-hat tail to get rid of the sound of the snare, which has crept its way into the recording. The overall result will be a mix that sounds more balanced.
De-Essing is often used to remedy vocals that have problematic instances of harsh consonants. However, de-essers can be used to remedy harsh high-frequency instruments as well. Let’s say that you have a hi-hat sound that is feeling a bit abrasive, though you don’t want to E.Q. out any of the good stuff around 5-10kHz.
Instead, you could use a de-esser and adjust the parameters until you are pulling out the offending frequencies. De-essers are far more transparent than static E.Q.s as well.
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Tyler Connaghan is a producer, composer, and engineer based in Los Angeles, CA. He studied music for two years at the University of Southern California before landing a job at Killingsworth Recording Company, where he currently produces music for television and film.