Here are five tips for great results when learning how to create beats
These days, some of the most common questions that the guys in our stores and customer service team get asked relate to creating beats. The likes of J-Dilla took this seemingly small area of musical production and raised it to the highest level of art, changing the musical landscape in the process.
Nowadays, an army of aspiring producers want to learn this art, but when faced with a ‘blank page’, it can be difficult to know where to start.
To help, here are five tips to make the first steps a bit more straightforward, and the results a whole lot better.
Get the tempo right
It might seem obvious, but you really need to get the tempo in the right sort of ballpark before starting. Baffled? Okay, think of a fairly mainstream track that you know well. In pop, rock, hip-hop, dance, and just about any other popular genre, it will be written in 4/4 time. This means, simply, that it has 4 beats to every bar.
If you switch on the click/ metronome on your sequencer/ DAW/ MPC or whatever you’re using to work with, it will count out the beats of the bar, with an accent to signify the start of every bar. By imagining the beat or genre you’re aiming to create, you can adjust this until it plays at the right speed. Alternatively, play a track that you’re familiar with that is around the tempo you want your track to be, and use it as a guide when listening to the click.
Here are some ‘markers’ to give you an idea of the tempos of different genres…
- Hip-hop – between 70bpm and 110bpm,
- House music – between 120bpm and 140bpm,
- Drum and bass – between 160bpm and 180bpm.
Use the ‘2’ and the ‘4’
As always with music, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing things. However, if you’re learning how to put beats together, there are some things that will help you to understand how the most common types of beats work, and how to put them together. this is one such tip…
In most music written in 4/4 time, the beats will have a drum hit to start the bar (on the 1st beat or ‘1’), typically a kick drum, with snare drum type hits on the ‘2’ and ‘4’ (2nd and 4th beats).
So, it you’re putting together a beat, this is a very good place to start- drop a kick on ‘1’, and a snare on ‘2’ and ‘4’. (see above). Copy this up for 4 or 8 bars, and set it to loop over these bars. You can then start adding other elements around this simple framework.
Variety is the spice of life
Have a sense of momentum in music is essential, and variation is the key to this. At its simplest, having a variation on the 4th and/ or 8th bar works as a sort of turnaround. Try adding a few extra kick drum hits or snare hits in these bars. Alternatively, try removing all of the kicks, or all of the snares in these bars. These are just ideas, of course, but generally, these work very well…
Velocity is your friend
Velocity relates to how hard a note is played. When programming drums, this usually relates to the volume of each note. I cannot stress enough how important using velocity changes are to creating interesting beats.
If you’re using a DAW, try this as an example. Set a note grid of 1/16th notes, and fill a bar with hi-hat hits, or tambourine hits. Open up the velocity lane, and set all the note velocities to about 50%. Then, set the first and every other note to 100% (as above). Hear the difference?
Set them all back to 50%, then set the first and every third to 100%. It suddenly has an entirely different groove…
This importance applies to every drum hit- a few velocity tweaks can make all the difference.
Groove is in the heart
Nowadays, most software has a selection of groove-swing functionality. Put simply, this allows the user to add a more human ‘swing’ to programmed beats such that every hit is not perfectly on the beat.
Reason’s groove mixer is a great example, as is Ableton’s groove feature. The MPC’s swing feature is legendary. Listen to the examples below to hear what it does…
If you use these tips a starting point, finding your own methods, and your own sounds should be a breeze.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.