The hi-hat drum samples available today are as varied as they are popular. With basically every kick drum and snare combination, you can find a hi-hat working away in the background, patient and contributing throughout a song. The effect of a hi-hat cannot really be measured, but suffice it to say that your favorite songs would sound a lot different without the hi-hat (or simply hat) patterns supporting the main acts.
The two ‘mistakes’ of hi-hat hip hop samples we’re about to look into are no the domain of the beat making novice, but are committed nearly just as much by so-called professionals these days.
The first mistake concerns volume. The role of the hi-hat drum samples is often overstated and overemphasized by many expertly arranged songs. The human ear, it is claimed, has gained a perception of the frequencies that hi-hats occupy throughout evolutionary stages. Apparently some aerial predators made noises that had the same frequencies, and we can therefore hear it above its actual volume.
Mixing the hi-hats in a little bit lower is great practice – two or three decibels should do. Unless you’re going to ‘mix out’ these samples completely, you can go pretty low and still be sure that your audience will pick them up. Remember that for every six decibels up or down, the sound doubles or halves respectively.
The second mistake that gets a lot of attention in audiophile circles regarding hi-hat drum samples is the lack of authenticity in songs. If you’re developing a MIDI track for a rock song and decide to include, say, a 1/16th constant hi-hat pattern throughout every bar, you need to be wary of the possibility of other instruments to play off this constant hit. Your drummer should not be hitting the hi-hat, snare, tom and cymbal all at the same time, as this is practically impossible to achieve with two and even three arms if that came along. So aim for an authentic pattern, especially if you’re producing rock tracks and other genres where the ability to replicate the sample track in a live setting is a necessity. If, for instance, you’re making a dance track, the realness can be toned down a bit or completely dismissed, as there is a general acceptance in your listener that this is all made on a drum machine or sequencer. So you can really go wild here and not worry about those rules.
You can learn a great deal using professional drum sequencing sample libraries and sets like EZ Drummer and BFD. These will show you the physical implications and deliver standard and advanced patterns that you can immediately digest and take in mentally, noting what works and what doesn’t work. Then apply what you learn to your own songs.