Tuning Hi-Hats: how, what, why?

whilst i totally agree that it is important to tune the hihats…
i now accept that it is almost completely confusing to me.

is there a fundamental frequency to be detected and then tuned to … the tone that the piece is in the key of? or perhaps a minor third a perfect fifth above … maybe tune them to emote a dominant seventh?

any help or general technique directions would be greatly appreciated…

I’m never that scientific on that one. Tune up and down by ear until it sounds good. :slight_smile:

If it’s a sample, I try not to go too far from the original tuning.



I’m not a specialist here so i can say wrong things, but I’m quite interested by this subject for a long time ago now…

Acoustic Drums or Electronic Drums ? I think the road i would take would not be the same. A good started point is to check how Jazz Drummers handle it. And notice they can’t change in the performance, that probably explain some huge configurations with more few prepared tuning sets… (that what I understand of it I’m not a specialist)

What we can notice is they tune their drums compared to each other, in the context of their set, the dynamic they’re after etc…

Then when it comes to electronic drums it’s unnatural recreation of the sounds, generally based on noise which not make things comparable to tuning acoustic drums… If we think of it it make sense on Electronic Kick, Toms, Congas, Snare… and more or less easy to Tune Drums (with a lot of possibilities with music harmony) then when it comes to bells, FM, Ring modulators, Noise… then we should probably have a real debate between musicians (as some already debate and critics for tuning the kick : anyway…)

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No maths here for me, I adjust them to the snare and clap to fit


re/ jazz drums, very cool mention! although i make electronic-tinged tunes, whenever the jazz radio starts playing on the tv during a quick channel-surf, 80 percent of the time, the jazz vibes somehow interrelate perfectly with the current tune-in-production.

re/ tune to snare, i was also going to ask about tuning the snare lol - but thought better of it, as too many questions sometimes result in a confusing array of reply options.

so yes. questions about tuning both hihats and the snare.
i’m moderately okay with tuning bass drums, thankfully.

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Some guidelines I ended with in this territory …

  • Generally we tend and must trust our ears at the end.
  • i think also there’s something interesting in in-Tune / out-ofTune exactly like assonance/dissonance creatively I mean (kind of everything in the right place)
  • it’s a good idea to think to everything as an ensemble (even in electronic music with noises)
  • Analyse base key for sound-design help me a lot (you pick a VST/Hardware, you listen drums, reverse-engineering you write every favourited note/key used to design the drums. it gives better starting point.
  • Studying Physical modeling synthesis to go further.
  • Tuning inKey first then Harmonically (from Chords, from Scale, or more scientific Fundamentals when pairing drums match the same key …) don’t know if it make sense and if it translate well there… (just check how eqing sounds is made for drums… it’s a very close approach finally)

More thoughts

Something interesting also is everything is related to mathematical patterns regarding harmony, it’s not only for music everyone know the golden ratio for photography or design… but it’s more than that. in fact we can use aesthetics & ratio in everything like web design with fonts for instance :

Ratio are Harmony and vice and versa (if you click on ratio you can see scale)

But : " breaking the rules " are also very important … :slight_smile:

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Most of us use electronic drums or samples but it’s sometimes helpful to think of a real drum kit when it comes to mixing good sounding drum sounds. While the kick and snare of a real drum kit are tunable, the hihat is not. They might try a different hardware hihat or different mic positions in the studio though.
I just tune my hihats till they sound good. They don’t need to be ringing at a specific note.


It really depends on the specific sounds, most hi hats and snares contain a large range of frequencies especially if they employ noise, so tuning them to a specific key may not be practical or even possible, if however they have a dominant frequency then of course you could tune that.


I usually tune the fundamental of kicks and toms with a tuner, but hats I just use my ears, I do change their tuning, but it doesn’t seem to me to be as important to be super precise as with the kicks and toms…

Occasionally I’ll tune toms by ear, never really bother with most other drum and cymbal sounds though, I think partly because I use a lot of machines without tuning (for example tr-606) and partly because most of the sounds don’t tend to have a steady dominant pitch, and partly because it does not really matter to me much.

I remember older Yamaha drum machines (RX range) tended to have a pitch option for drum samples, whereas Roland (TR range) drum machines tended to not, I mostly used Roland, so maybe it is just habit that I don’t bother much about it.

The toms are funny because they move through pitch, but I still tune them to where they sound closest to the note I’m looking for overall… Short quick kicks I don’t worry about but longer big ones I tune first with no sweep. Sometimes I need to adjust things a little after a I define the sweep.

It really depends on each individual sound for me, and whether or not I can hear a note in it… I even make variations of the same kit in different turnings…

I’m always playing guitar and synth and using certain scales and keys, for me it’s really important they harmonize well, doesn’t have to be the same root note of the key I’m in but at least a harmonizing note from the scale I’m in… I can hear clashing frequencies better using headphones…

Also I have no direct relation of drum kit patterns and OT pattern or live instrument riffs… I don’t build tracks.

I’m mix and match. I’m straight improv and just remember what the patterns are and completely interchange them with new and different material as I go… I might be jamming in F so I know my selection of F patterns or ones that don’t have fundamentals that I can use in that jam, other times I’m in A and I choose from a slightly different selection…

I guess you are talking about AR? I mostly use x0x sounds where such fancy options as pitch are not quite as comprehensive, if at all :wink:

Yes I like the mix and match approach too, can really give nice surprises/happy accidents!

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Yeah, talking AR… Love the mix and match, I have no fear of just selecting one of my patterns in the middle of a jam, and not really knowing exactly what it will sound like, but I have a good memory of them so I know it will work, and again I chose from a memorized limited selection of the key I’m currently in… I actually prefer to be surprised and excited about how things sound and evolve as I go, instead of knowing exactly what is going to happen. But again it’s not chaos because I’ve designed them all to work this way and I already know it will work even though I haven’t heard it yet…

i guess really it comes to the essentials of: is this hihat sounding enjoyable, by itself or in the mix? sometimes harsh works a treat … sometimes a smoother easy-on-the-ear approach is preferable.

on the subject of happy serendipities, as regards song making i’ve moved up in tempo from 87-105 bpm to the range of 108-118 bpm… so now trying out previous patterns on the Machinedrum (sequenced at a lower tempo) with new tunes-in-production (at a higher tempo) is yielding some enjoyable vibe interactions.

started thinking about how for some DJ’s, their natural progression begins in the Chill Room and then after mixing proficiently at lower tempo’s they are more prepared for the higher pressure and tempo of the Main Room.

anyway it is all too easy when talking about creativity to wax overly-lyrical.

cheers all for the responses, i will go and look at the suggested reading material quite soon.

I’m often in the 130’s, I like to dance and bounce… :smiley:


i am here to say it is actually quite possible to dance and bounce to 118 bpm :joy:

OK, your right, I guess it may be due to my love affair with caffeinated beverages and generally being outwardly hyper, even though I feel slow on the inside… Maybe other reasons, I don’t know… :joy::joy:

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well, there is something to said for the lower bpm’s as by default each 8th and 16th note “sounds” for a longer timespan, thus allowing a more detailed appreciation of the sumptuous character of the synthesized textures - similar to a wine enthusiast’s understanding and comprehension of a vintage cab sav, as it were.

and yet, i must admit, the higher tempo ranges do by their very nature offer a greater range of opportunities as regards rocking the house and fab festivals. thus, quite an attractive option to go for.

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