How to make beats: The Basics

There are many people out there who want to make music but don’t know how to start doing that. If you are one of those then this article will help you. So you want to start making beats and don’t even know what software and hardware devices you need. All you have is your computer or laptop. It is not so difficult to set up your bedroom studio for making beats. I will give you some tips how to start with the minimum budget.

Digital Audio Workstation

When I started to make music first thing I did was downloading and installing audio software on my PC. Today there too much beat making software for music producers and it is easy to confuse yourself while choosing the right one. Firstly we need Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). There are tons of DAWs on the music production market nowadays so you can choose any. Here is the list of modern audio workstation software that many producers use around the world: FL Studio, Cubase SX, Ableton Live, Logic, Pro Tools etc.

Most hip-hop producers (even the top industry producers) are using FL Studio digital audio software. You can download the copy at flstudio.com. I recommend you to use FL Studio as the starting point of your music production journey. It is very easy for beginners to understand how digital music works with FL Studio. After that, when you become more experienced you can try to use more complex DAWs.

FL Studio

First of all, you need to learn how FL Studio or any modern DAW software works. Just type in something like “Fl studio for beginners” on Youtube and you will find too many video tutorials for beginners.

Now let’s talk about ingredients that every modern DAW should have.

VST Plug-ins

Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is a software interface that integrates software audio synthesizer and effect plugins with audio editors and recording systems. VST and similar technologies use digital signal processing to simulate traditional recording studio hardware in software. Thousands of plugins exist, both commercial and freeware, and a large number of audio applications support VST under license from its creator, Steinberg.

VST plug-ins can be divided into several categories.

Sampler is an electronic musical instrument which uses sound recordings (or samples) of real instruments sounds such as piano, guitar, drums, percussion, strings etc. Sometimes you can even use synthesizer sounds which were sampled from the real synthesizer. Most of the time samples recorded in .wav format and should be located on your hard drive. We will talk about samples and how to get it later in this guide. FL Studio has its own integrated sampler that is very useful for drum or other “one-shot” samples. But for melodic instruments such as strings or piano, it is better to use Native Instruments Kontakt 5 sampler. You can find some hip-hop samples (drums) on the internet. Just type in something like “free hip-hop samples” in Google and you will find tons of sites.

Synthesizer is a musical instrument which creates sound by generating audio waves using oscillators and filters. Most popular synths in hip-hop production are Sylenth 1, Omnisphere, NI Massive, Serum, Gladiator etc. But FL Studio has some nice integrated synths such as Sytrus or Harmor.

Two most popular and used effects are delay and reverb (or reverberation). Delay creates some copies of your source sound and more known like an echo effect. This effect you can hear when you shout in the forest for example. Reverb adds ambience tail to dry sound and you can hear that effect in large empty room or hall. Reverbs and delays are must have effects on the vocal track but these effects are very useful in general when you want to create some ambience in your mix.

Mixing and mastering plug-ins
There are tons of plugins which were created for mixing and mastering purposes. EQs, compressors, limiters, sound clippers etc. Each of these plugins are often times used when sound engineers (and producers) want to clean and fat sound of songs they work on. For newbies, it is not easy to understand how each of this plug-in works but at this time you should not dive into the details.

Now let’s imagine you learned some basic principles of using audio software and you can make stupid simple hip-hop beat like “Boom boom bap, boom boom bap”.

It is time to talk about hip-hop beat structure.

Hip-hop beat structure

Vertical structure
All the beats you ever heard have several parts such as rhythm (drums), bass, melody and/or chord progressions. Rhythm and bass are most important in hip-hop music. Sometimes you can even hear the tracks without any melodies at all. Just drums and bass. That’s how hip-hop was invented.

I recommend you to start making your beat from creating vertical structure. You can start from drums or melody it does not matter. After you make the first pattern (drums for example) then try to add some more elements: bass, chords, synth, rhythm (percussion) etc. At the end, you will have the complete loop. Now it’s time to make the full track(or beat).

Horizontal structure
Each song or the beat can be divided into several patterns: intro, verse, hook(or chorus), bridge and outro. Your beat should not be boring, nobody wants to listen to that beat. Just drag and drop your patterns and try to make your beat more interesting. Start you beat from just one pattern: chords or melody, then add some other patterns such as drums and bass. The hook is the most “fat” part of the song so often times all your patterns should be there. Read more about it in my Song Structure post.

Music theory: simplified

Now it’s time to learn some basic music theory: notes, scales, chords progression. There are many videos on Youtube which can help you to understand how music works. However, for beat making it is not essential to know music theory very well. Just simple things such as scales and chords. Most of the hip-hop songs use a Minor scale because Major one sounds very “happy”.

Ok, now let’s talk about octaves and notes. Each octave has 12 semitones. On your keyboard, there are 7 white keys and 5 black keys. Each step from note to the nearest note is semitone. But when you try to create the melody with all 12 keys it will sound weird, why? Because each melody (or chord progression) should be in key. So we know that most songs in hip-hop are in minor scale. Then if you can’t play the piano I suggest you use only A-minor scale. Because when you use A-minor scale you should play only white keys from A to A(next octave). So A,B,C,D,E,F,G – only white keys. Just try to play some random white keys and you will hear that it is easier to find right note for your melody. You can even try to play chords touching only white keys and this will sound good.

In conclusion, I want to say that it is not so easy to explain all aspects of making music in one article but I hope my tips will be useful for those of you who don’t even know where to start from. I am making music for more than 15 years now and still on my learning curve and I think that it is impossible to know everything in music.