Exploring Fifteen Funky Groove Embellishments

When we consider using our hi-hat foot in grooves, we often think about it in terms of anchoring straight time, and 8th notes, quarter notes, or upbeats are usually utilized to do this. For a lot of drummers, though, the hi-hat foot can get neglected and might be the most difficult limb to work on. This could be because it’s thought of as less applicable than the other three limbs—other than when practicing double bass. In this article we’re going to explore some cool ways to apply your hi-hat foot within grooves beyond anchoring simple time.

We’ll start by substituting the bass drum with the hi-hat foot in an ordinary groove. Exercise 1 demonstrates a typical funk groove with a syncopated kick pattern. In Exercise 2, the last two bass drum notes are replaced with the hi-hat foot. Try to play the hi-hat notes with the same conviction and pocket that you’d give the bass drum. Since we’re using our hi-hat foot, play your ride hand on a stack or cymbal.

Another excellent application for the hi-hat foot is one of Chris “Daddy” Dave’s signature concepts: using it as the grace note of a hi-hat fl am. You can play Exercises 3 and 4 on the same pair of hi-hats. Also, try resting a tambourine on top of the hi-hats for a jangly, delayed effect.

In Exercise 4, we’ll check out a quintuplet shuffle that’s based on this flammed hi-hat idea. I’m not sure Dave is thinking about this groove as quintuplets, but check him out playing this idea on the Robert Glasper Experiment’s “Dillalude #2” from Black Radio Recovered (The Remix EP).

Next we’ll apply a familiar bass drum rhythm to our hi-hat foot. In Exercise 5, we’ll explore permutations of one of my favorite bass drum rhythms, which is inspired by Erykah Badu’s “My Life” from the album Mama’s Gun. The four-on-the-floor kick rhythm really makes this permutated hi-hat rhythm pop. Exercise 6 embellishes this bass drum pattern.

Now we’ll explore some ideas that are similar to anchoring straight time with your left foot. However, we’ll apply that hi-hat anchor into groupings of three and five 16th notes.

In Exercise 7 we have a bar of 6/4 with every third 16th note played by the hi-hat foot. It’s phrased in a bar of 6/4 so the hi-hat pattern can resolve completely back to beat 1. This particular example starts the hi-hat foot on the “e” of beat 2, which is my favorite of the three positions we can start this rhythm from within one beat.

To keep things simple while playing odd hi-hat foot patterns, we’ll play a paradiddle groove with the hands. The bass drum lands on all four different 16th partials throughout this phrase. And to get a feel for how the left foot pattern works, try beginning the hi-hat grouping on the other two 16th-note starting positions: beat 1, and the “&” of beat 1.

In Exercise 8, we’ll make this concept more musically applicable. Chop off the last two beats so we’re left with a 4/4 groove. The hi-hat foot will mostly play every third 16th note, although there is an extra 16th-note rest as the phrase repeats back to beat 1.

Exercise 9 utilizes the same idea of a four-on-the-floor groove with a funky hand pattern. However, this time we’ll play a grouping of five 16th notes with the hi-hat foot starting on beat 1. As mentioned previously in Exercise 4, you should explore all the different starting points of this hi-hat rhythm throughout the pattern.

Exercise 10 cuts the pattern down to 4/4 with an embellished bass drum pattern, this time starting the hi-hat rhythm on the fourth 16th partial of beat 1.

Let’s also combine two of our previous ideas and apply them through a variety of permutations, feels, and embellishments. By combining groupings of three and five, we can create a pattern that fits evenly in 4/4. We’ll start with consecutive groupings of three, five, five, and three 16th notes, which also create a musical palindrome.

Exercise 11 sets up a framework to explore our new hi-hat rhythm using a 16th-based train feel with a kick on beat 1 and an accented snare on beats 2 and 4.

Next, in Exercise 12, we’ll shift the hi-hat pattern forward by an 8th note and replace the train feel for a tight 16th rhythm on the ride or cymbal stack. This one sounds best slightly swung.

In Exercise 13, we’ll push the previous pattern forward by one quarter note to explore more of a driving stack pattern in 8th notes. Dig in and make this groove drive.

Exercise 14 embellishes our ride pattern and adds ghost notes on the snare. Note that the final hi-hat note is splashed, and make sure to wait until the “&” of beat 1 before closing it. Let that hi-hat splash hang over the barline. This beat also sounds best while swung.

In Exercise 15, we’ll embellish the previous kick drum pattern to create interplay with the hi-hat foot. Just as in Exercise 14, make sure to swing this one pretty hard. Channel your inner Brian Blade or Jack DeJohnette.

Now that you’ve explored how to be more expressive with the hi-hat foot, spend some time incorporating these ideas within your favorite beats. As soon as I unlocked this skill in my own playing, it started appearing in all sorts of fun and unexpected ways.


Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications.