Tuesday, April 18, 2017

High hats

I've quite often written about music and instruments in this blog, but it only struck me today that there's hardly any mention of music in any of the four books I've written. Odd, since I'm a musician as much as a writer. (And so, it turns out, was Robert Louis Stevenson: he wrote over a 100 pieces of music, as well as playing the piano and flageolet - a kind of recorder.)

Anyway, here I am writing about music yet again in this blog. 

High hats, (or hi-hats, or even hihats) are the common names for a couple of cymbals set in opposition to each other on a stand, with a pedal operated by the drummer's foot. Why they're called high hats I haven't been able to find out so far, but no doubt if I left the question open someone would be able to tell me. 

They haven't always been called high hats. Wikipedia explains: Initial versions of the hi-hat were called clangers, which were small cymbals mounted onto a bass drum rim and struck with an arm on the bass drum pedal. Then came shoes, which were two hinged boards with cymbals on the ends that were clashed together. Next was the low-sock, low-boy or low-hat, pedal-activated cymbals employing an ankle-high apparatus similar to a modern hi-hat stand. A standard size was 10", some with heavy bells up to 5" wide.

It doesn't look as though they were ever on the ground, in spite of their being called shoes or low-sock, low-boy, or low-hat. Plainly the drummer wanted to keep them at a reasonable eye-level. But these earlier names are as delightful as high hat (which is another name for a snobbish person, based, presumably on the idea of the snob wearing a top hat). My favourite is low-sock. There's something evocative about this: did drummers wear short, short socks at some point, as a part of their uniform? Perhaps not. Maybe their socks slid down with all the effort of using nearly every limb to play their varied instruments? Who knows. 

The interesting thing is the way the names rise up the scale, as it were, from shoes to low-sock to low-boy (the mind boggles) to low-hat to high-hat. As though these double cymbals were gradually going from being some lower-class symbol (ho, ho) to joining the upper cut. 

Whatever the source of the name you can find more than one high hat at guitarcenter.com.
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