The Anatomy of a Beat
An Instrumental, or more commonly known as a “beat”, is a piece of music that stands alone without lyrics or major vocalizations. A beat is collectively made of different instruments combing rhythm, melody, and percussion, there is no minimum nor maximum number of instruments needed for a beat to be considered whole. Furthermore, a beat can be reflective of a number of different musical genres and is composed and formatted entirely at the creative discretion of the producer. For the purpose of this description and how it pertains to your class I will explain basic production techniques and composition formats specifically related to Hip Hop beats.
Beat structure refers to the formation of your instrumental. A traditional Hip Hop beat is composed of 4 main components, the Intro, chorus, verse, and bridge. Although the Intro and bridge are optional they are strongly encouraged as they will add depth to your instrumental. In a standard Hip Hop instrumental there is 1intro, 1 bridge, 2-3 verses, and 3-4 choruses. The duration of a typical Hip Hop instrumental on average ranges from 3 to 5 minutes, this time duration depends largely on the Tempo at which your beat is set at. While making your beats you will become very familiar with a musical unit of measurement known as a “Bar”. A Bar is used to visually and audibly measure the length of one of the 4 main components previously mentioned and help organize the structure or your beat. Most music production software such as garageband will have Bar units already laid out to better assist you in structuring your instrumental.
The Intro (introduction) will always come at the beginning of your instrumental and is usually 4 to 8 bars long. Anything longer then 8 bars is too long. This is used as a build up for your song. As a creative tip when constructing your intro I would suggest you make it simple. What this means is do not expose all the elements of your instrumental in your introduction. By leaving elements out you will be adding to the build up of your beat and create better dramatic effect when revealing your chorus or verse.
A Chorus, often referred to as a hook, is the central focal point of your instrumental. The chorus will always repeat itself throughout your instrumental and will serve as a major component to refer to when structuring your beat. In a standard Hip Hop instrumental the Chorus is 8 bars long and exposes all the musical elements of your beat. As a creative tip i would suggest you not leave anything out when composing your chorus. Your chorus should exhibit all your instruments used, major melodies, and drum patterns. The chorus is the part of your instrumental that people often remember and it will reflect your creative ability to pair melody with percussion.
A standard Hip hop verse is 16 bars long and is located in-between chorus’. When constructing your verse I would suggest you keep your artist in mind and break it up into 2 parts. Keep in mind this is the part of your beat that will be heavily used by your artist, so it is best to keep it simple. During this part of your song lyrics will be the focal point and the music will be a supporting element. Subtle melodies, heavy bass, and strong percussion work best when constructing your verse. Breaking your 16 bar verse into two 8 bar sections is a good technique to assist in organizing small changes in your verse to avoid repetitiveness. For example, the first 8 bars of your verse will sound the same and the last 8 bars will slightly change in rhythm or melody adding more depth to your instrumental. As a creative tip I would suggest each verse in your instrumental to be slightly different from each other in structure to avoid repetitiveness. For example, you could take out instruments from one verse then re-introduce them in another , you could add different effects on different verses, etc…
A bridge is typically 4 to 8 bars long and is used to create depth in your instrumental. The bridge is usually located towards the end of your beat in-between the last verse and the last chorus (depending on how you arranged your beat). Often the bridge is very simple, sometimes even going with out certain percussions such as drums and snares. It differentiates from the intro however, by including either a new melody that compliments the already existing melody, a new instrument or sound, or a new effect not yet heard in the beat.
The Tempo refers to the speed at which your beat is played at. Another term for this is BPM (beats per minute). This speed is measured through numbers, the higher the number the faster the beat. Most Hip Hop beats range from 70bpm’s to 120bpm’s. The tempo of your instrumental is helpful when setting the tone for your beat. For example, if you were going to make a romantic beat you would want to set the tone by setting your BPM’s lower and slowing everything down as appose to making a dance song and setting your BPM’s higher and making everything faster for more energy.
Your instrumental will be collectively made of different instruments and will be reflective of your own creative production techniques and musical preference. You will have many choices when constructing your beat regarding instrument choice. Perhaps you want your instrumental to have a more classic or natural sound so you choose to use natural instruments such as strings, guitars, bass, snares, claps, piano etc… Or perhaps you want a more contemporary sounding beat so you choose to use synthesizers, keyboards, 808 bass drums, sound effects and textures etc… or perhaps you want a combination of both, the choice is entirely yours. However, because we will be making hip hop beats there are certain elements that are required, and that is a strong melody, a strong bass line, kick drum, snares and/or claps. When combined these specific elements make up a what we know and recognize as a Hip Hop beat.
When arranging the 4 key components of your instrumental you must decide if you want your chorus to come after the intro or if you want your verse to come after the intro. After you make this decision then everything else pretty much falls into place. For example, if you decide you want your chorus to come in after the intro then you know that your verse will come in after your chorus and every thing subsequent will fall in accordingly. Then all you must decide is how you would like to end your instrumental.