Do you get irked whenever you hear a successful producer proclaim: “and I didn’t even know any music theory”? Say they’re telling the truth (usually, it’s far from the truth), so what? Not everyone is going to be a natural, and just think, how good would those same producers be if they had bothered to learn music theory. Right here, right now, Guestblogger Daddynervs tells us why every producer, even humble beat producers, should arm themselves with some good old fashioned music theory – and what music theory actually is.

Why Every (Beat) Producer Needs to Know Music Theory

What is Music Theory?

To keep it simple: music theory is something that describes how music works, how it all fits together and why it all fits together. Since people think it’s just to do with being able to read notes, we might as well start there. The beauty of being able to read and write music notation is that it presents another way of playing around with music. And if you’re already familiar with MIDI notes, then you already have an insight without even knowing it. You should already know what tempo and measure means, and you should know what chords are and so on. In music theory, all of these essential details can be written down in a very specific, universal way – which is well worth delving into, and a great place to start is with this blog about the C-major scale right here.

Why Every (Beat) Producer Needs to Know Music Theory

What do producers need to know?


At the very least, you should know the tempo of your beat. This is simply notated in BPM (Beats Per Minute). Why do you need to know this? The BPM matches up with the number of milliseconds (see the image below) and the length of your track, so a 60bpm track, for instance, has 60 beats per minute – so that’s one beat every second. A single second is 1,000 milliseconds (ms) long. So, at a tempo of 60bpm, one beat lasts 1,000ms. This is worth knowing because it allows you to fine tune your delays and reverbs with surgical precision – pretty handy if you don’t want to hear a long trail of delays at the end of the track – I know you know what I mean.

Note Lengths

Next to the tempo, it’s worth knowing about different note lengths. For example: 1/1, ½, ¼, and also ¼ triplet, or dotted. This has everything to do with how you notate the music, or rather, how you add the MIDI notes and how long each note is held for. For more information about tempo and note length, see the blog Rhythm, Music, Tempo & Measure.

Reading Music: Rhythm, Tempo & Measure

Also handy…

Then there’s the arguably more important detail of knowing which key your track or beat is written in. We’ll talk about this in more detail in a minute!

Why Every (Beat) Producer Needs to Know Music Theory

Why bother knowing the key?

Because you work in the music industry and you want to progress! That’s why. You’ve managed to build a network of artists that have bought beats or tracks made by you, and maybe you start working with a new artist who asks if you can add a 16th stutter effect to the track you’re working on. If you don’t have any clue what they mean, then you risk losing a valuable client. Having more in-depth knowledge of what you’re doing is simply professional and will save you a load of time in the long run. There’s a good reason why memes like the one below exist. Don’t be a cliche!

Why Every (Beat) Producer Needs to Know Music Theory

How do you figure out the key of your track?

The voice of any vocalist will have a specific range: bass, tenor, alto, or soprano (see the image below). To pull as much intensity as you can out of the track, you need to be able to make the most of your vocalist’s range. This means that you might need to shift a track from the key of C major to the key of G major. Of course, you need to know what this actually means and how to do it. A really good tip for this is: please forget about the transpose button. This button only warps recorded audio and will lead to bad results. So, if an artist isn’t buying your beats because they’re written in the wrong key for their range, then write something in a different key. An artist will immediately be able to hear if something will work for them or not, so try to vary the key you work in and learn which vocal range will suit it!

Why Every (Beat) Producer Needs to Know Music Theory

“But I make beats for rappers. They don’t sing!”

Guess again! Even a rap vocal falls into a specific key. Whenever we speak, or make any sound at all, for that matter, sound waves are formed and these sound waves have a specific frequency, and guess what – any specific frequency will correspond to a specific key. So, when working with a rapper, you’ll need to be able to figure out what key they rap in. The key shouldn’t sit too low for the performer, and definitely not too high either, which will force them to start kind of ‘speak-singing’ if it’s not right for them.

For more information, see this blog about the major scale.

So, do I need to go back to school?

Yes and no. You can simply integrate music theory into your workflow. Just pause for five or ten minutes every time a question arises and look up the answer so you immediately know next time. Say you’ve recorded a piano track but the BPM in your software isn’t matching the BPM of the piano riff. How do you figure out the right BPM so you can match them up? In your software? Online? Etc. You can also find the answer in music theory. Basically, the more you start being aware of music theory as you work and the more you keep adding bits and pieces of knowledge to your arsenal as and when the need arises, the more natural the process will get. This will only make you much better at your job.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Benjamin Franklin

I really hope that you now feel fully motivated to nail some music theory and use it in your production work. Let us know the last thing you learned about music theory, how easy or hard it was to get to grips with and how it helped your work in the comments below!

See also…

» MIDI Keyboards
» MIDI Controllers
» DAW Software
» Microphones

» Finding the Chords Yourself & Figuring Out the Song
» The Pentatonic Scale: Easy to Learn
» Major & Minor: Hearing and Understanding the Difference
» How to play basic piano chords
» Chords: Theory and Chord Symbols
» Reading Music: Rhythm, Tempo & Measure
» Learning to Read Music: The Minor Scale and Keys
» Learning to Read Music: The C-Major Scale

Guestblogger 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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