So you are ready to make a beat.
In this article, we’ll explain why creating a beat is a great place to start producing music, and how to make your first beat.
What is a beat?
In music production, a “beat” is a compact rhythmic idea. It’s like a short composition made by blending various instruments and sounds together.
Think of a beat as a musical snapshot, a quick glimpse of creativity. It often consists of a repeating pattern, like a loop, and serves as the foundation for a song. Different sounds, like electronic or traditional instruments, create the rhythm and melody in one place. So, a beat is essentially a small, but impactful, piece of music.
The complexity of your beat is completely up to you. It could be super minimal and just contain drums. It could be really developed, and include synthesizers, samples, bass, keys, or any other sounds you’d like to include. That’s the beauty of it – the world is your oyster!
Why making a beat is a great place to start production
Making beats is a great way to start producing music for many reasons. You can focus on making isolated rhythms and melodies without having to compose full songs. This can be especially reassuring for newcomers, and a great exercise for seasoned musicians as well.
It’s also great for learning about and practicing, tempo, time signatures, and arranging tracks. Once you’ve honed your beat-making skills, you’ll find it much easier to tackle more complex musical compositions down the line!
You’ll need a DAW
A DAW is software that helps you make music by editing and arranging audio and MIDI data. Think of it as your digital playground where you’ll bring your musical ideas to life. You get a useful set of tools to combine instruments and add effects. You can also compose, record, and mix your beats all in one place. It’s the essential tool in your music production toolkit.
Now, the question arises: which DAW should you choose? The good news is that there are many choices for different preferences and skill levels. Many DAWs offer free trial versions, allowing you to get started without any financial commitment.
When choosing a DAW, think about things like your music style, how you work, and your budget. Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro, and Pro Tools are all popular choices with unique features. Check out our detailed article on DAWs for a complete guide on choosing the right one for you.
If still indecisive after scouring the internet, pick one you think looks great. After all, you might be staring at it for a while!
Once you’ve chosen your DAW, it’s time to get started. Follow the setup instructions from the DAW’s manufacturer. Most DAWs offer tutorials and online resources to help you get acquainted with their interface and functionality.
Set tempo and time signature
After launching your DAW, it’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed. Let’s start by taking it step by step to ease into the process.
First, look for the tempo or BPM setting in your DAW. You’ll typically find it at the top of the interface. Set the tempo to somewhere between 80 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). This establishes the speed at which your music will play and sets the foundation for your beat.
Next, keep an eye out for the time signature, which you’ll also find at the top of the screen. It should read “4/4.” by default. This means you count each bar in four beats. This rhythm is the easiest to follow.
Think of it as setting the pace for your musical journey. Starting with a steady beat and a common time signature like 4/4 gives you a stable and familiar structure. It’s like setting a strong musical base, so you can build on it easily.
Drum patterns and programming using MIDI
1. Create a MIDI Track:
You can do this usually by right-clicking on the project or finding the relevant shortcut for the DAW.
2. Choose a drum kit
Select a virtual drum kit or drum instrument in your DAW. You can use stock drum sounds for this.
3. Open the piano roll:
The piano roll is a grid where you can see notes represented as rectangles. The vertical axis represents pitch (notes), and the horizontal axis represents time.
4. Program drum hits:
In the piano roll, draw or click in MIDI notes to represent each drum hit.
Kick Drums: Kick drums, often referred to as just “kicks,” are the heartbeat of a beat. They provide a foundation, delivering a punchy, low-frequency thump. Think of them as the driving force that sets the tempo and groove for your music.
Hi-Hats: Hi-hats add a crisp and rhythmic element to your beat. On a real drum kit, when you strike them, two cymbals come together. They make a “chick” sound when closed and a sizzle when partly open. Hi-hats contribute to the overall groove and can add nice detail.
Snares: Snares provide the sharp, snappy sound that punctuates your beat. They’re responsible for the distinctive “crack” or “snap” you hear in many musical genres. Snares add a dynamic layer to your rhythm, enhancing the overall texture and feel of your beat.
- Place kicks on beats 1 and 3, and snares on beats 2 and 4.
- Add hi-hats on every eighth note
Using drum samples
Drum samples are recordings of individual drum sounds, like the ones described above. If you feel confident, you can use these to create a more detailed rhythm. To do this, create an Audio Track instead of a MIDI track. Next, choose the samples you want and drag them into the project. You can then move them around and use them to layer up your beat.
Add some synths
1. Choose a virtual instrument:
Follow the same steps above to add another MIDI track. Then, choose a virtual instrument or synthesizer. This instrument will produce the sound for your chords. Common choices include piano, electric piano, or synths. These are ‘musical’ sounding instruments and will add melody to the beat.
2. Choose the MIDI editor
Access the MIDI editor or piano roll for your MIDI track. This is where you’ll input and edit MIDI notes to create chords.
3. Select a root note:
Decide which note will be the root of your chord. This note will serve as the foundation for your chord progression.
4. Create your chord:
- Add 3 notes into the piano roll:
- Place the root note (e.g. C) at the starting point.
- Add a note that’s four semitones (half-steps) above the root (e.g. E).
- Add another note seven semitones above the root (e.g. G).
- This sequence of notes (C-E-G) forms a C major chord.
- We can copy and paste the chord on the piano roll. Then we can drag it up or down to make a different chord. This adds variation. An easy method to try is to use your keyboard arrows to move it 2 semitones up or 2 down.
Add some heavy bass
1 – Choose a bass instrument:
Once again, add a final MIDI track then select a bass instrument. We want to add bass to help support the beat with depth and weightiness.
Find some examples of songs with a lot of bass here.
2 – Open the MIDI editor and add in the notes:
- Simply play the same root notes as the chords you used earlier.
- Move them around laterally and shorten or lengthen them by dragging the notes.
This creates a complimentary rhythm that the bass line occupies.
Make it feel human
Takeaways & next steps
- Using reference tracks is an essential part of the mixing process.
- They give you a benchmark for your own mix
- Studying and applying elements from reference tracks can improve your mixing skills.
- Always use the same speakers and environment as your mixing setup
When choosing reference tracks, find ones that have the sound you want and use them as a guide. Use multiple reference tracks, and use tracks that you know very well.
In this post, we’ve also shared 5 famous reference tracks. These are widely used, but this list should not limit you.
Continue to listen out for mixes that have the sound you want and use them as reference tracks. Create a library of your favourite reference tracks. Use them in your mixing projects. They will guide you as you work.
Browse around our website for more detailed information on our online mixing and mastering service.
We offer a variety of different mix options as well as customized selections so you can specify exactly what you need for your tracks.
Give life to your music with MixButton!