How to Make a Fast Hi-Hat Beat on Garageband

By Jason Savage
The hi-hat is usually used to reinforce and give character to drum passages.

The hi-hat is one of the five or six basic elements of the traditional drumset. Live drummers often make playing the hi-hat look easy, but many individuals who turn to digital audio tools to produce music find that recreating a realistic-sounding hi-hat line in a MIDI editor is a challenge. Apple's GarageBand, however, comes with some built-in software instrument plugins and other tools that facilitate the creation of hi-hat lines of any speed.

Open GarageBand. When the project selection screen appears, choose "New Project." Click on the "Piano" icon and then "Create." GarageBand will create a new project with a single software instrument (MIDI) track.

Open the "Track" menu and choose "Show Track Info." The piano track's track information pop-up will appear to the right of the arrangement area.

Click on the "Browse" tab to examine a list of software instruments available within GarageBand. From the drop-down menu, choose "GarageBand." In the list below the drop-down menu, open the "Drum Kit" menu and choose "Jazz Kit." GarageBand will load the jazz kit software instrument on the track.

Double-click within the jazz kit's track in the arrangement area. This will open GarageBand's piano-roll MIDI editor at the bottom of the screen. Because recording drum parts using a MIDI keyboard in real time is nearly impossible to do well, even for experienced players, it is generally better to create drum parts by hand in a MIDI editor such as this one.

Locate the three hi-hat sounds in the MIDI editor. On the left-hand vertical edge of the MIDI editor, there is a visual representation of a piano keyboard. Hover the cursor over the keyboard and scroll down until you come to the key labeled "C1." By default, the closed hi-hat sound will be located at the F# above C1, the pedal hi-hat will be located at the following G# and the open hi-hat will be located at the next A#. Click on those keys to hear the hi-hat sounds.

Create a basic hi-hat rhythm. Hold the "Command" key to turn the mouse cursor into a pencil icon for inserting notes in the MIDI editor. The MIDI editor is basically a grid: the horizontal axis represents time and the vertical axis represents pitch. Click on the first box corresponding to the closed hi-hat sound. A MIDI note will appear. By default, it will be a quarter note in length. Release the "Command" key and click-hold on the right-hand end of the note. Drag to the left to shorten it. Shorten it to sixteenth-note length. It should completely fill a single box on the grid.

Create three more closet hi-hat notes in the subsequent three boxes. You will now have four sixteenth note closed hi-hat sounds that will play in sequence when you click "Play."

Create a single open hi-hat sixteenth note to follow the four closed hi-hat notes. The open hi-hat is found at the A# above C1, two black keys above the closed hi-hat sound. The sequence will now be four sixteenth note closed hi-hat sounds, followed immediately by a single sixteenth note open hi-hat sound.

Create three more closed hi-hat sixteenth notes to follow the open hi-hat sixteenth note.

Click "Play." The hi-hat sequence will play back. You will recognize it as a very common hi-hat line heard in numerous genres, from rock to salsa.

Click within the arrangement area and drag across all the notes you've created to highlight them.

Open the "Edit" menu and choose "Copy."

Press "Command-V." GarageBand will paste a copy of the sequence next to the original. Press "Command-V" as many times as you like to lengthen the hi-hat line.

Speed up the track to your desired pace by opening the "Track" menu and choosing "Show Master Track." The master track -- which controls the overall volume, tempo and key of the project -- will appear above the MIDI editor. Open the drop-down menu in the master track's track header and choose "Master Tempo." Adjust the project's overall tempo to your desired speed. GarageBand can play tracks back at up to 240 beats per minute (bpm).

About the Author

Jason Savage has been a freelance writer since 2005. He has authored technical and procedural documents for a variety of clients, while his journalism and fiction have appeared in "Monday Magazine," "The Pedestal" and other publications. Savage holds B.A. in English and a B.F.A. in music.