Want to make your own beats in the comfort of your own bedroom? Maybe you want to start producing beats to help out other artists, make their dreams come true, and in turn, see your own dreams come true? Here, guest-blogger and producer Daddynervs offers a guide through the first steps you need to take to start building your own beats.

How to Make a Beat

What is a Beat?

The word ‘beat’ can mean a lot of things, but in the production world, it usually means ‘instrumental’, so a song without any vocals, and it’s this that we’re going to learn to make. Most beats have a tempo between 70 and 100 BPM (beats per minute), are around 2 to 3 minutes long, and include a simple chord progression. Because beats are usually fairly straightforward, you can pack a lot of variation into the arrangement of the drums and percussion using tricks like hi-hat rolls, where you play with the pitch (how high or low it sounds) and panning (how far left or right it’s placed in the stereo image) to fire off a spurt of hi-hats played quickly one after the other, some with a different pitch and some spreading left or right.

Where Do I Start?

These days, it’s easiest to start on your computer. This is referred to as ‘in the box’ production and to do it you’ll need the following:

  • A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). This is production and recording software like Cubase, Ableton, Studio One or Logic.
  • An audio interface (also known as an external sound card)
  • A set of studio monitors (these are speakers designed for mixing so have a neutral sound)

It can also be useful to have some of this gear handy as well, so you can start adding custom sounds to your beats for that all-important personal touch:

Now you have everything you need to start making beats!

Tip: a USB microphone is an audio interface and microphone in one. You can also use a field recorder as an audio interface and recording microphone to go.

What’s Next?

The simplest (and cleverest) way to start is with a loop of 4 or 8 bars. A loop is a short snippet of music that keeps ‘looping’ back to the beginning and repeating. You can start by building a looping chord progression of 3 or 4 chords, like C, Am, F, and G. If you find this a little hard, spend a little time on YouTube and find some videos about chord progressions to help you out. You’ll also be able to find plenty of DAW tutorials. In any case, you can play chords in with your MIDI keyboard or if you don’t have one, you can just fill the MIDI notes in. Play around with notes to find a chord progression that works, and once you’re there, you can try adding a few notes an octave higher up – this is your melody and will add to the feeling of the track. Make sure to try varying the length of notes by making the MIDI-notes longer or shorter. When you’re just starting out, you’ll need to let yourself experiment and play around before you hit on what sounds good. Just keep going and you’ll soon develop a feel for it. Remember: you’ve got to be brave before you can be good.

808 & Kick

If you’re into hip-hop beats, you’re probably already familiar with the 808 kick (whether you know it or not). The 808 kick isn’t just a kick, but a bass note layered over a kick, so that the bass and kick are played at the same time – a method that we’re going to use here. There’s probably an 808-bass in your DAW already, or you should be able to find a tutorial about how to make one using one of your VSTs. Once you’ve found your 808 bass sound, you can add any kick that you like. Look for a fast kick that will compliment your 808 bass.

Once you’ve found your kick, it’s important to give it as much ‘room’ as the 808. You can do this by turning up the ‘attack’ of the 808, so that the kick has room to hit clearly and the sounds don’t interfere with each other. Using side-chain compression is also a good option for giving your kick the room it needs. When you use side-chain compression, you’re making sure that whenever the kick strikes, the 808-volume is automatically lowered and then slowly brought back up. Almost all of the compressors that came with your DAW will have a side-chain function.

It’s also essential that your 808 is in tune with your chord progression. If you’ve already added your chords, then use the root notes as a guide for your 808 bass-line so that it definitely fits with them. So if you used a C, Am, F and G chord progression, you can follow the chords with C, A, F, and G bass notes. Once done, you should have a loop with a chord progression and a little melody while the kick and 808 fill out the lower frequencies, and because the 808 takes care of the bass, you don’t need to add a separate bass.

Drums & Percussion

Your beat is not quite done yet! Now, you can start looking for a snare drum or a sound that can serve as a snare, like a clap or rim-shot. Play around with different sounds to see what feels right. You could even record your own sound – strike a match or hit a pot or pan. You have masses of freedom when it comes to picking your snare sound.

Another important element is the hi-hats and open hi-hats. First, find a short hi-hat sound and add it to your loop on each beat, then find an open hi-hat and add this to the offbeat. If you don’t know what I mean by ‘offbeat’, then try counting along to the beat like this:

One and Two and Three and Four and…. (etc.). The offbeat falls on every ‘and’.

To make a hi-hat roll, place a number of hi-hats one after the other with a length of 1/16th or 1/32nd. Try it out with three hi-hats at first to hear the effect it has. Then try varying the volume and pitch to see what that does. While hi-hat rolls sound great, try not to use too many. You want to make good music, not cricket soundscapes.

How Do I Make My Beat Unique?

You can add your own unique flavour to your beat in countless ways. The simplest way to find out what your unique flavour is, is to keep making beats. Making and adding your own custom-made sounds also helps, which can be a little bit daunting if you’re just starting out. So, it might be smart to start by just picking out some beats that you love, and that you know work, and making your own version of them to learn how the beat was put together and why it works. So you could make some Drake-style beats, for example; seek out the same kind of sounds that were used – so similar hi-hats and kicks and so on, and then try to build a beat that you think would fit Drake’s style. So it would sound like Drake, but it would also have your sound to it, as if you’re actually making the beat for Drake. When it comes to making unique beats, you need to find your own signature sound since it’s this that makes all the difference. Keep practising and learning and don’t forget to ask people for feedback. You’ll only get better, beat by beat.

Have you made a few beats already? Post a link below and offer each other some feedback!

See Also

» Snare Drums
» Complete Drum Kits
» Drumsticks
» Drum Triggers
» All Drums, Percussion & Accessories

» How to be a ghost producer to raise capital for your career
» 5 reasons why you are not a full-time producer yet
» Improving your music career with 5 daily habits
» What’s The Best DAW For Beginners?
» FL Studio for Beginners: How To Use This Popular DAW
» What do you need to produce music?
» Help! My MIDI keyboard isn’t making any sound!

Guest Blogger Daddynervs

Originally a pianist, Daddynervs started producing film music in 2016 and by 2020 had finished building his own home studio so that he could offer affordable music production services. Daddynervs composes music for films, clips, and adverts as well as beats and instrumentals for pop, hip hop, RnB, soul and funk. On top of that, he gives lessons in playing the piano, guitar, and in studio production. You’re never too old to learn!

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