How to make hip hop beats

As the current ruler supreme on the music scene, hip hop’s meteoric rise can be traced to the advent of home computers, faster processors, and music software that gave the power of producing music to everyone who wanted it. Old school curmudgeons may not like it, but using digital audio workstations (DAW) to create beats is here to stay.

It makes sense – how many up and comers have the ability to outfit a studio with mixers, turntables, various instruments, and a soundboard? With a computer, headphones or monitors, and the right software, people can make music from just about anywhere. Why make things more difficult?

One thing rookies won’t be able to avoid is putting in the time to learn what makes a hip hop beat and, in turn, making beats of their own. That means understanding the roots of hip hop beats, poring over DAW tutorials, and gaining experience through practice, practice, and more practice.

A background in music will help – use those piano lessons your parents made you take in grade school – but isn’t mandatory. Software today can help you with chords and scales, but it will take time for you to understand why they are so important when it comes to creating beats.

What makes up a hip hop beat?

Unless you’re just interested in blowing out your parent’s speakers, there’s more to a hip hop beat than just a heavy bassline over and over. For a complete, well-rounded sound, you’ll need to add some melodies using different instruments. You don’t need actual instruments though, as your DAW should come prepackaged with enough virtual instruments to get you started.

This is where having a bit of music background can be helpful. This means more than playing the piano or plucking away at a guitar. Your background might consist of little more than listening to the genre for years and years. However, knowing some music theory will help when it comes to dissecting your favorite beats and making them your own.

Although there are variations, the tempo of a hip hop beat is around 75 to 100 beats per minute (BPM). Sub-genres of hip hop can speed up or slow down that tempo. For example, a trap beat can go well over 150 BPM. But bear in mind, the faster the BPM, the harder it is for rappers to keep up. The slower tempo allows an MC to experiment a little more while on the mic.

Beyond the tempo, beatmakers need to consider other elements of a hip hop beat. The most important part of the beat is the drum loop or sample loop. We’re looking for a BPM of around 80, so if you’re choosing a sample as a loop, make sure the BPM already matches that closely. If your hope is to release this beat for an audience, or even to sell it, you’ll need to get appropriate permissions. If you’re just practicing or learning how to make beats, there’s no need for that.

How to make hip hop beats using music softwareIf you’re going to create the loop on your own, then you don’t need to match BPM – you’ll just create the proper tempo from the start. Once the loop is created, chords are added to create a vibe for the beat. Here are where the different virtual instruments – percussion in particular – come in handy. Layer the chords over the drum loop to see how they sound together.

While the loop acts as the foundation, adding different effects to the chords will really drive the overall sound of the beat. If you’re just starting out, try several different instruments if for no other reason than learning how each sounds. Start making notes of what you like, what you don’t, and how each variation makes you feel.

When adding a drum line or loop, remember to stay as close to the tempo and key that you’ve already established with the loop and the chords. Once you have a little more experience, weaving in “off-key” elements may add points of interest. But that will take much more trial and error.

Snare, hi-hats, and kicks are all available on even the simpler DAWs. Like the instruments above, spend some time listening to what the DAW has to offer. Obviously, a more powerful DAW will have more options. You can also buy sample packs or drum packs to build out your library.

At this point, the beat is really taking shape. Now is the time to implement a bassline to help drive the melody. Hip hop producers don’t always have a bassline, especially if their drum loops are used as the bassline. Always include one when starting out – if nothing else, it’s good practice.

Finally, your beat needs a melody, especially on sections where the rapper or MC doesn’t have any vocals. If the melody is being played throughout the song, make sure it isn’t overpowering the vocals. When you’ve brought it all together, you’ve created a beat!

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to making hip hop beats. Without a background in music, it could take months to learn the most basic elements of music and more than a year before producing polished beats that someone might consider paying you for. Recording Connection has a better way.

Learn, Practice, and Perfect with a Professional

The Recording Connection Hip Hop and Beat Making Program will place you in a real-world studio, pairing you with an industry professional from day one. No matter your skill level, our program will explain music theory, help you create melodies, and learn how to mix and master your beats.

Externs learn how a studio operates, how to act while in the studio, and how the software and hardware interact with each other. Basically, if it happens in the studio, you’ll learn how to do it. But there are a few things you’ll need to really excel in the program.

Determination, responsibility, and a willingness to put in the time to make your dreams come true. Recording Connection will help give you the experience you need to make hip hop beats on your own but your success depends solely on you – nothing is guaranteed in the music business.

Ready to jump in with both feet? Apply today.

Get your music production certification and build your music production and audio engineering skills by learning with an industry professional near you.