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Introduction to Different Size Top/Bottom Hi-Hat Cymbals

Introduction to Different Size Top/Bottom Hi-Hat Cymbals

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Hi-hat cymbals are a crucial component of any drum set, providing rhythmic foundation and dynamic accents. While traditional hi-hats consist of two cymbals of the same size, experimenting with different size top and bottom hi-hat cymbals can yield unique sounds and playing experiences. This guide explores the various aspects of using different size top/bottom hi-hat cymbals.

1. Understanding Hi-Hat Anatomy

Hi-hats consist of two cymbals mounted on a stand, with the top cymbal (top hat) controlled by a foot pedal to open and close against the bottom cymbal (bottom hat). The interaction between these cymbals produces the characteristic “chick” sound. The stand typically includes a clutch mechanism that allows the drummer to adjust the tension and gap between the cymbals, influencing the sound and feel of the hi-hats. Modern hi-hat stands may also feature adjustable tripods and tilting mechanisms to accommodate different playing styles and setups.

2. Benefits of Different Size Hi-Hats

Using different size hi-hats can enhance your drumming by offering a wider range of tonal possibilities. Smaller top cymbals can provide a tighter, more focused sound, while larger bottom cymbals can add depth and sustain. This combination allows drummers to achieve a balance between articulation and resonance, making their playing more versatile and expressive. Additionally, mismatched hi-hats can create unique sound textures that stand out in a mix, adding a personal touch to your drumming style.

3. Common Size Combinations

Popular combinations include a 13-inch top cymbal with a 14-inch bottom cymbal, or a 14-inch top with a 15-inch bottom. These setups can create a balanced mix of crispness and fullness. For example, a 13-inch top with a 14-inch bottom provides a bright, quick response with a solid “chick” sound, while a 14-inch top with a 15-inch bottom offers a fuller, more resonant tone suitable for various musical genres.

4. Sound Characteristics

  • Smaller Top Cymbal: Produces a brighter, more articulate sound with quicker response. This is ideal for genres that require fast, intricate hi-hat patterns, such as funk and jazz.
  • Larger Bottom Cymbal: Adds a fuller, more resonant tone with increased sustain. This combination is beneficial for rock and metal, where a powerful, sustained hi-hat sound is often desired.

5. Playing Techniques

Different size hi-hats can influence your playing techniques. For instance, a smaller top cymbal allows for faster, more intricate patterns, while a larger bottom cymbal can enhance open hi-hat sounds. Drummers can experiment with various foot techniques, such as heel-up or heel-down, to achieve different dynamics and articulations. The choice of stick and striking area also plays a significant role in shaping the hi-hat sound.

6. Genre Suitability

  • Jazz and Funk: Smaller top cymbals are ideal for these genres due to their quick response and bright sound. They allow for precise, intricate patterns that are essential in jazz and funk drumming.
  • Rock and Metal: Larger bottom cymbals provide the volume and sustain needed for heavier music styles. They deliver a powerful, cutting sound that can penetrate through dense mixes and loud environments12.

7. Mixing and Matching Brands

Drummers often mix and match cymbals from different brands to achieve their desired sound. For example, pairing a Zildjian top cymbal with a Sabian bottom cymbal can create a unique tonal blend. This approach allows drummers to combine the best characteristics of different cymbals, resulting in a more personalized and versatile hi-hat setup.

8. Custom Hi-Hat Setups

Some drummers prefer custom setups, such as using a crash cymbal as a bottom hat for a more washy sound. Experimenting with different combinations can lead to discovering your signature sound. Custom setups can also include using effects cymbals or stacking multiple cymbals to create unique textures and sounds.

9. Adjusting Hi-Hat Stand Settings

The settings on your hi-hat stand, such as the tension and tilt, can significantly affect the sound and feel of different size hi-hats. Adjusting these settings allows for fine-tuning your hi-hat response. For instance, increasing the tension can make the hi-hats more responsive and articulate, while decreasing it can produce a looser, more open sound.

10. Notable Drummers and Their Setups

Many professional drummers use different size hi-hats to achieve their distinctive sounds. For example, Max Roach was known for using a 15-inch top cymbal with a 14-inch bottom cymbal, creating a unique blend of tones. Other drummers, like Dave Weckl, have experimented with various combinations to find the perfect balance for their playing style



Experimenting with different size top/bottom hi-hat cymbals can greatly expand your drumming palette. By understanding the benefits and characteristics of various combinations, you can tailor your hi-hat setup to suit your musical style and preferences. Whether you’re aiming for a tight, articulate sound or a fuller, more resonant tone, the possibilities are endless with different size hi-hats. Embrace the experimentation and find the combination that best enhances your drumming expression.

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