In the following, I want to show you some techniques to use when programming hi-hats for Trap music. At the very end of this post, you will find a free download with a few trap hats inside.
To get started we make a simple beat with just the kick and the snare. When it comes to trap music and especially the hi-hats, its all about division times to create a nice groove. In most beatmaking videos you see that producers spend a lot of time in their software’s piano roll editor changing up division times to get the groove they want. Let’s look at that first.
Straights & Triplets
You can set your division time quite easily in the piano roll. In Ableton you can access the division time if you right click in the piano roll window. A contextual menu will appear, in which you can change the grid.
I hate starting with a blank canvas, so first I usually just fill in a 1/16 note repeat for the hihat.
Back in the days you would have been done with programming your hi-hats – haha! Maybe you would add a bit of swing to make the beat feel more organic. But since the Atlanta music scene took over the hip hop world by storm, the people stepped up their hihat game and straight 1/16s aren’t cutting it anymore. So now lets start changing up our division time to get a cool groove.
In the beginning I’m changing the hats to a triplet at 1/24. This creates a cool little stutter effect right before the first snare hits. In the middle I go a bit faster with 1/48 only to do the opposite and go to a slow division time to get that drag out feel you know from drake’s tracks, say 1/12, at the end of two bars.
This is starting to sound a lot more groovy all of a sudden. Now all this is trial and error and depends a lot on your track and the feel you want to achieve. It’s ok to go back and forth until you get it right. Let’s listen to what we have so far:
Now that we’ve got the basic pattern down, let’s tweak it to give it more depth and make it sound more interesting! We’re going to make a few subtle changes to it and what we want to end up with is something that sound more like this:
Varying the velocity on the notes makes the beat sound less robotic and programmed. You can draw the velocity in by hand if you feel like. The place in Ableton to do this is the row of little red lines below your piano roll, but there’s another option to achieve the same effect in no time at all. Under Midi Effects you find the device Velocity, which you can set up somewhat similar to the settings shown below and you’ll get a nice randomized velocity in your trap hats pattern.
Next we’ll introduce a pitch change which is also used in a lot of trap music these days. What you do is add another Midi Effect in Ableton – it’s called Pitch… duh!
Once its on your track, you can vary the pitch by drawing in automation lines. Below I simply dropped the pitch at the end of the two bars by a few semitones.
Pan Left & Right
Panning your hats from left to right can add even more movement to your tracks. I’m not saying you want to do that all the time, but if you have a minimal drum beat, you can really add some depth and detail with this.
This can be done by hand of course, but guess what: in Ableton there’s a device for that. This time we look in Audio Effects and choose Auto Pan. I like the Slow & Steady preset to start with. Don’t choose a too short rate – if your hats are panning too quickly you’ll make your listeners feel dizzy! I like a setting of 1.5 bars. Uneven bars or triplets are nice, because they dont end with the end of the bar, so they feel less repetitive.
Trap Hats Conclusion
All these are little techniques you can use to up your hi-hat game. None of the above is a rule or clear guideline though. I’m just trying to give you options. So give them a try and find settings that YOU like.
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