51 posts categorized "Beatmaking Practice"

October 06, 2014

To Loop, or Not To Loop Individual Sounds?

Prolonging Sounds May Be the Answer to the Question

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


When it comes to modifying individual sounds, there's one common question: Should you loop individual sounds? Here's my take: I rarely loop any individual sounds, hits or stabs, other than maybe a snare that I want to give a roll-effect to. Instead, what I do is, I aim to "prolong" sounds by duplicating (copying) them, and then either splicing them together or layering them (programming them) to play either as: (a) slightly overlapping sounds; or (b) as blended (layered) sounds with different beginning/start and end chop points, and with each sound having a different velocity and/or volume level.


When I make beats, there's two fundamental concepts of arrangement that I may use. For some beats, I try to approach arrangement and structure as closely as possible to how a typical 1970s era groove (soulful rhythm section) would have been arranged. In keeping with that, the only way a sound can be extended and/or looped in a traditional live band setting is through the actual playing and prolonging of the notes (sounds) of particular interest. The other concept of arrangement that I use is more along the lines of a mid-1990s era, up-front drum programming. So for me, when it comes down to it, the looping of individual sounds in beatmaking is actually more about the prolonging of individual sounds, not the looping of them. And, therefore, when I want to prolong or sustain a sound, I opt to use more natural techniques to achieve that effect.


Let me be clear, there isn't anything particularly wrong with looping individual sounds. But I often find that the looping of individual sounds can often sound more artificial. This can make the overall beat sound unbalanced or overly modified, usually devoid of feeling and a nice swing. Also, for me, I've always felt that the looping of an individual sound limits its spacing and "fit" within a beat. That is, once a sound is looped to itself, it's "sound potential" (what the sound could be) is capped and locked into a burdensome loop. In other words, the loop of the individual sound can cause the sound to stand out throughout the beat in a way that does not necessarily compliment the beat.


For example, let’s say you have a saxophone phrase and you want the last quarter of it to repeat. There’s two ways to do this. One way to do it is, you loop the part of the saxophone that you want to repeat. This gives you the sample with its tail end looped to itself. Consider for a moment how that would sound….


Another way to repeat the last quarter of the sax phrase is to duplicate the original sax, then use the two samples — the original and the duplicate — together. What you do is chop the last quarter from the original sax, then chop the duplicate down to ¾ of its duration, essentially leaving only the last quarter of the original saxophone phrase. At this point, you can play the repeat of the last quarter of the sample—wherever you like in the arrangement, not just at the end of the saxophone phrase, because you’re not locked into the looped version of the sample. Note: By using this method and technique, you play (arrange) each sampled phrase in a way that feels more real and less synthetic, artificial, or contrived.


Still, all of this having been said, there are some occasions where looping an individual sound is helpful. For instance, let’s look at that same hypothetical saxophone phrase. What if you didn’t want to use the entire phrase itself; what if you just wanted to use it to make sax sound-stabs? In that case, chopping the sample down to small stabs and looping them can be helpful, depending, of course, on how you intend to use the stabs. For example, you could loop a sax-stab so that it rumbles, then you could combine that rumbling sax-stab with another sound stab. The possibilities for sound-stabs, from everything to texture to variance to vibe to feel, is endless.


Bottom Line
When deciding upon whether or not to loop an individual sound, always consider the overall feel of the beat that you’re working on. In most cases, duplicate an individual sound first, then combine it with it’s original. This will often put you closer to the sound that you’re going for. But if that doesn’t work, sure, you can also loop the part of the sound that you want to repeat (or give off a chorus effect, etc.)


Also, remember that merely looping the end of a phrase does not necessarily give the feel of the phrase repeating naturally. Think of a guitarist repeating the same riff over and over. Now think of that guitarist prolonging one part of the riff before he returns back to the riff’s beginning. Imagine how this human loop sounds; imagine the feel, nothing artificial! Incidentally, this is a great guide to use when thinking about chopping down lengthy phrases or multi-bar measures.


Finally, as beatmakers, we work in a world of electronic music production, wherein we can program EMPIs (Electronic Music Production Instruments) to do things that a human can’t. In some ways, this is an advantage, in some ways, it’s a disadvantage. Either way, we shouldn't deliberately sacrifice a human feel and sensibility just because production technology presents us with endless possibilities.

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The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 05, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 6

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still as always, I invite discussion. So any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

The Bar-Kays - "Humpin'"

Kick and snare at 0:00-0:04 mark. Break at 0:07-0:09 mark. Another break with organ over the top at the 1:11 -1:14 mark.


Bernard "Pretty" Purdie - "Funky Donkey"

You can never go wrong with drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie's stuff. Here, on "Funky Donkey" you kick and snares at different tones and velocity as well as heavy, airy reverb. Everything fromm 0:00-0:09 is great.


Rufus Thomas - "Do the Funky Penguin"

Kick, snare, and break from 0:00-0:07 mark; open hi-hat at 0:08.


Ohio Players - "I Want to Be Free"

A classic joint worth listening to in heavy rotation. But for the purposes of drum sounds, check: Crash snare to open the cut, then a drum fill, tom toms: 0:01-0;05; kick, snare, hat at 3:28.


Dennis Coffey - "Scorpio"

0:00-0:02: quick snare and tom fill; 1:08-2:00: kicks, snares, long breaks.

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The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

May 17, 2014

BeatTips Beat Breakdown: The Game - "Old English," Produced by Hi-Tek

Crafted Like a Horror Flick Score; Groove Engages with Its Slow-Tempo Urgency

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

I was confused upon my first listen of "Old English" (Doctor's Advocate, 2006) by the Game, produced by Hi-Tek. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't comprehend how well put together the song was. It was haunting — figuratively and sonically. Nothing that I had previously heard from Hi-Tek prepared me for such a wonderful, powerful piece of music.

The beat is centrally characterized by the groove. First, you're welcomed by this milky smooth, deadly bass line. A measure perhaps better served for a suspense sequence in a horror flick, the bass movement that Hi-Tek goes with here is nothing less than sinister and instantly haunting. No doubt the bass line was played live originally, but I have a strong suspicion that Hi-Tek sampled it and "worked-it-over."

Then, sticking with the horror-flick theme, Hi-Tek paints in this three-note organ arrangement that crawls up the spine of the beat. Rather than over-playing the organ, a mistake most likely made by even the best beatsmiths and those inclined to overproduce, instead, Hi-Tek lets each stab sustain itself. With its singular tonal impact, it's clear that he saw fit not to corrupt its nature. Because of this, each stab of the organ — masterfully agreeable in pitch and mood with the bass — makes the bass line seemingly maneuver from side to side, weaving the groove in its own sort of rhythmic spell. And for added accentuation, Hi-Tek throws in what appears to be a sampled guitar phrase that fades at the end. (Like the bass line, I'm convinced that he sampled the live guitar phrase and worked with that.) He follows the guitar accentuation up with a desolate, spaghetti-Western style whistle.

For the drumwork, Hi-Tek sets out to remind you, in case you've forgotten, that this isn't a movie score, but instead a beat...in all of its defiant glory. His use of a short-truncated stomp-kick bookends all of the action, while the rim-shot snare knocks on the "2 & the 4" like a count down. And for the hi-hat, a difficult decision for many, here on "Old English" Hi-Tek uses a brushed half open hi-hat, which he floats politely across the entire arrangement — no gaps, no stutters, or drops.

As for the rhyme, Game (formerly the Game) rightfully so dives in for a story-style rhyme. Even though the groove is slow and steady, Game takes on the tempo and works in double couplets, i.e. four-bar rhyme schemes (abab acac). Finally, the hook, song by Dion, drags across the instrumental measure more like a cautionary tale than a hook on a hip hop/rap song.

The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

April 11, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 5

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still as always, I invite discussion. So any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Mike James Kirkland – “Together”

Two different snares, nice tom, closed hat, and kick at the 0:00-0:06 mark. Also, take a listen to the bass line. Listen for how it moves, less complex, like a soft accompaniment. Great modelt/lesson for how to build less complex or "busy" bass parts (support bass) for your beats. And, of course, this is a serious soul joint.


Marva Whitney - “Get Together”

A funk staple and popular cut amongst seasoned collectors. Not just that, the drum sounds on this record are undoubtedly in the drum sound libraries of many early '90s beatmakers. I built a couple of different snares from the snare that I initially sampled off of this cut. At the 0:00-0:06 mark: kick, snare, hi-hat, open hat, and break.


Smoked Sugar – “My Eyes Search a Lonely Room For You”

Far as drum sounds, the only thing to catch on this cut are the toms at the very opening, 0:00-0:02. Still, an introduction to Smoked Sugar is a good thing. Remember, all music is a gateway to more music.


Lafayette Afro Rock Band – “Hihache”

For its opening break, this Lafyette Afro Rock Band cut is one of the most well-known breaks amongst funk aficionados and vinyl collectors. The break itself has been sampled a lot, and has shown up in a number of songs over the past 20 or so years. But take the break apart, and what you have is a true drummer’s delight—19 seconds of open drum-hits! At the 0:00-0:19 mark, snare (at least 3 different velocity flavors), kick, hi-hat, open hat, closed hat. And the break works as an added bonus, as it serves as a great drum pattern practie session. I used to practice recreating this opening drum break using the same sounds and different sounds. And note: I practiced making the break with time correct on and off to help develop my sense of time and my overall drum programming/arraning skills.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

January 21, 2014

Using Multiple Drum Sounds for Movement, Depth, Texture, Variation, and Masking

There Are a Number of Different Creative Uses for Drum Sounds and Drum Sound Arrangements

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

With the bevy of quantize (time-correction) features, plug-ins, and effects available in today’s EMPIs, the temptation is to over rely on them, especially when it comes to creating movement, depth, texture, and variation. But the truth is, there are a number of different ways to generate movement (particularly swing and shuffle) and to add depth, texture, and variation by creatively using multiple drum sounds. The key is to know and understand the different types of layering and arrangement schemes and the results that they’re likely to produce.

Working with Two or More Kicks for movement, texture, and knock
One of the most common methods for adding knock (a hard, dominate drum pulse) is to layer together two or more kicks. But this isn’t the only effect that two or more kicks layered together can produce. Two layering techniques that I frequently use are “punch and boom” and sound fattening.

Punch and boom scheme
The punch and boom scheme refers to a two-layer kick scheme involving a punchy kick in tandem with a boom kick. The effect achieved can be anything from a booming kick that punches through, to a rounded boom with prolonged sustain. Typically, this scheme involves layering a standard sounding kick over an 808. But even here, you’re only limited by your imagination. For instance, any kick, especially a sustained 808, can be adjusted in the sound envelope. Adjustments in, let’s say, the attack of each kick allows for even more stylistic customization.

But the punch and boom scheme is not only for creating unique sounds and texture, it can be used to create movement as well. When layered, the boom “moves” the punch. That is to say, the effect of the layering of the two kicks is that it increases the combined span of the kick sound. This means, even though there are actually two kicks present, they represent, in effect, one sound. And the manipulation of the sound properties of each kick (separately) effects the combined sound property of the two kicks together. NOTE: whether you use this layering scheme during the making of a beat or not, you can save considerable time by simply making the kick before hand. For example, I have a kick called “PB Kick”, which stands for “Punch Boom”. Whenever I’m making a beat that I think calls for a punch/boom layer effect, I just use my PB kick, and adjust its velocity and/or ADSR to the specific beat that I’m working on.

Important note about ADSR: Every sound (dynamic tone) has three components: attack, sustain, and decay. Taken together these three components (parts or dimensions) are known as the sound envelope. (I should also point out that I like to extend the definition of sound envelope to mean: the entire span—from start to go—of a sound.) With regards to synthesis techniques — synthesizers/samplers — there is a fourth component, release; taken together these four components are known as the ADSR envelope. When you modify or remove any one or a combination of these ADSR components, the sound’s properties change, rendering an array of different effects. Thus, it’s important to understand what each component within the ADSR envelope represents, if you’re to modify them in ways that best serve your beats’ arrangements. (In The BeatTips Manual, I discuss the ADSR and drum arrangement in even greater detail.)

Also, you should note that while there are various ways to blend/mix a punch and a boom, one general idea to follow is that the boom should remain at a low velocity and the punch should be light on the high and high-mids.

Sound Fattening
Sound Fattening refers to a two- (or three) layer kick or snare scheme wherein a weak or shallow kick or snare sound is fattened or rather “beefed up”. Often, like with the punch and boom scheme, sound fattening layering techniques are usually done to create more knock. However, this is not why I typically fatten up sounds. Instead, I use a sound-fattening layering scheme whenever I what my kick in the drum pattern to be more out in front, particularly when the volume of the non-drum sounds is too low. Think of a the effect of a louder break-beat inspired drum pattern. I also use this scheme when I’m thickening up a sample (part or whole) or the entire texture of beat. For instance, if I fatten up a sample or non-sampled sounds and I want the drums to match the weight and texture, I’ll fatten up the drums as well, or a I might just fatten up specific parts of a primary sample or the non-sampled sounds that make up the core groove.

Multiple Drum Sounds Arrangements

Syncopation is a mainstay in beatmaking. But lesser known is the many different ways in which drum sound arrangements can effect everything from the swing to the overall feel of the beat. For example, using the same hi-hat at two different pitch levels and filtered/EQ’d differently — one high, the other low — can push, shuffle, or pull a beat, depending on the actual hi-hat arrangement and other sounds within a beat.

Drum sound arrangements can also be used to mask gaps in sounds, loop-glitches, and pitch-shifts. Furthermore, they can be used to effect the feel of the tempo without actually changing BPM settings. This is especially helpful, as it’s an alternative to using quantize features to fix or correct unwanted blemishes. Personally, I try to avoid quantize features because I like my arrangements to be blended and cut together as natural as possible, something akin to a DJ cutting, mixing, and blending different sounds and rhythms together. This, plus other techniques and customized — NOT STOCK — drum sounds, help me maintain my own style and sound.

Below I have a included a beat that demonstrates some of the schemes and effects that I’ve discussed earlier in this tutorial. I recorded the beat to play through for about 40 seconds with all of its elements, 8 tracks, then for specific elements to drop out so that you can hear the changes and the immediate effect that each dropped element has on the beat. This way, you can reverse engineer the beat and get a better idea and understanding for why I added particular drum elements and structured the arrangement the way that I did. The 8 tracks include: kick, snare, hat 1 (“hat X”), break (primary sample), hat 2, clap, bass-stab (boom), and a tambourine.

Particular things to listen for:
How the clap alternates where it hits.
How hat 2 seems to play quarters, but there's never a fourth hit in the sequence.
How the tambourine shadows hat 2.
How the bass-stab (boom) fattens the front of the primary sample, giving it a rounder sound and thus sustaining its effect.
How hat 2 and the tambourine layered together shuffles the beat along, which creates a great pocket to rhyme in.
How "hat x", which is something like a crash, effectively represents a change.
How all of the variation gives the beat one solid texture and nice depth.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

"Cut 1013" - Produced by Sa'id

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

December 24, 2013

BeatTips Tutorial: 1-Bar/Fast-Tempo Arrangement Exercise

Working Backwards from Faster BPM Settings Broadens Understanding of Probable Beatmaking Arrangements

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Coming up with fresh new arrangements and precise tempos can be a difficult thing to master. So I came up with a practice exercise that helped me conquer that challenge. I call it the "1-bar/fast-tempo arrangement exercise," and here's what you do.

First, establish a blank 1-bar sequence at an up-tempo, something like 110-120 BPM. Start/record the sequence and play a snare on the “2” and the “4” (second and fourth beats in the bar measure). After that, play a hi-hat in quarters, i.e. 1-2-3-4. Note: Because of the speed of the tempo, the hi-hats will actually move faster than true quarter speed at a slower tempo (e.g. low/mid 90s BPM).

Now, as a patterns emerge to your liking, pull back on the tempo (decrease the BPM setting) to see how everything is turning over. By “turning over” I mean how things land in the arrangement when the sequence reaches the end of the 1-bar measure and “turns over”—loops back to the beginning. [Editor’s note: The BeatTips Manual contains a more detailed discussion of “turn over” rates and “loop points.”]

Benefits and Goals

This practice exercise will help you in a number of different areas.
In regards to sampling, in particular, sampled phrases, it will help expose the full potential of a lengthy sampled phrase, giving you an increased understanding of how sampled phrases can be paired down or extended.

This practice exercise will also help you develop new drum frameworks and approaches to different types of drum patterns. It will also help you further strengthen your sense of time.

Bottom Line
Working backwards from faster BPM settings allows you to hear and explore the range of a given sequence.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

October 01, 2013

Don't Over Do It

"Less is More" Rings True More Often than Not

By James Halton (Uh-Oh)

One thing I have noticed through the years with beatmakers of every level: they are trying to do too much. The phrase that always comes to mind for me is, "Less is more." It rings true in just about every art form, and making beats is no exception. Whether you are composing a non-sample-based beat or a sample-based one, it is very easy to "overdo it".

To avoid over doing it, the best thing to do is to try only use sounds and arrangements that work. Never add anything just for the sake of adding something. If an added element doesn’t compliment the music already there, don’t add it. And even if it technically works, a lot of the time you still don't need it. Less is more! For example, I have a very bad habit of overusing cymbals. Whether it’s a crash cymbal, reverse crash cymbals, or even rides, I tend to overdo it because I believing doing so gives my beats a more epic, full feel. Sometimes it’s needed and does help. But a lot of the time, I realize that the beat doesn’t suffer when I the added cymbals. So more often than not, the additional cymbals aren’t needed.

I see a lot of beatmakers who make keyboard type beats overdo it with instruments with, such as synths, strings and other sounds. There is a point where enough is enough. Just because you can layer in another sound on top, does not mean you should. But while both non-sample-based and sample-based beatmakers are guilty of overdoing it, my main emphasis is on sample-based beats.

A lot of beatmakers who are new to the art of sampling, will try to overdo it with the chops. In 2013, chances are if you are attempting to sample something, it’s sometimes safe to assume that plenty of others have tried sampling it themselves. This inspires a lot of creative competitiveness, but this also leads to many people getting carried away, especially with the number and type of chops. Sometimes a loop is going to be better than a sloppily thrown together sample arrangement of multiple chops that sort of works.

The key thing to remember in this regard is that you set the mood of the song as the producer of the music. You set the mood!. As a producer, your job is not to outshine the vocalist; you’re there to compliment them. You want to give them a soundscape they can easily express themselves on, without stepping on their toes. So for example, do you really need all of those kicks? Is it necessary for your groove? Same with snares, and hi-hats. Less is more! Just set the groove. Put yourself in the mind of the drummer. He has two sticks. Can he realistically use a crash cymbal, a hi hat, a snare drum, and a tom all at the same instant? It is good to work at keeping it as simple as possible. Sure, you can always add more. But when you’re hours into something with layers and tons of sounds, it’s a lot more difficult to go back, to the beginning and simplify it.

Editor’s note: For a deeper examination of this issue, see “Quality Parameters: Use the Right Ingredients, But Don’t Overcook the Beat,” located in Chapter 6 of The BeatTips Manual

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

August 22, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

Early Funk From Obscure, Little-Known Band

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

One of the things that makes digging for "new" music so exhilarating and rewarding is the fact that you never know exactly what you're going to discover. Even if you're searching within a specific genre of music, the sheer number of recordings that may exist is staggering. And when it comes to funk music—particularly early funk, ca. 1965-1974—, the recorded output of music runs deep. A fact that's further made even more impressive when you consider the number obscure and lesser-known early funk bands who made only a few recordings during that time.

Bobby Boyd Congress certainly fits the category of "obscure" and "lesser-known" funk bands. To my knowledge, the only recording of the band is a 1970 self-titled album that they recorded in France. (You ever notice how France has always maintained a deep reference for quality American music, especially musics in the black American music tradition?) Still, I'm convinced that Bobby Boyd Congress, a quintessential New York funk band, made more recordings in or around New York City at the same time. Therefore, I believe (I gotta believe!) that somebody somewhere has something else of this superb funk outfit. And as long as I'm "diggin'," I won't give up trying to find it.

Finally, I'm compelled to mention that several months ago, a music professor (someone whom I hold in great regard) asked me about the relationship between the drum patterns of modern beatmaking and that of those of the early funk music typified here by Bobby Boyd Congress. Specifically, he believed that the relationship was less apparent in beatmaking in the early 1990s. I strongly disagreed. As I pointed out to him (and in my book, The BeatTips Manual, I show the link in greater historical detail), it was precisely the drum patterns of funk songs like Bobby Boyd Congress's "Dig Deep In Your Soul" that pioneering beatmakers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock drew their inspiration from.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

April 11, 2012

BeatTips Tutorial: DSS Beatmaking Exercise

A Sequencing and Structure Exercise that Increases Your Understanding of Arrangement

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

To increase my understanding of arrangement in beatmaking, over the years I've come up with and practiced many different exercises. In this article, I want to focus on one specific arrangement exercise that I do that involves the development of core sequences.

DSS (Duplicate Sequence Structures), the name I gave to this exercise, deals with duplication and experimentation of sequences. That said, the aim of this exercise is to better understand how to build 8-bar (or longer) structures. Why 8-bar structures you might ask? Well, for me it's simple. When creating "songs" in the Song Mode of my MPC, I prefer to deal with 8-bar sequence blocks rather than 2- or 4-bar sequence blocks, particularly because it allows me to better manage any changes (e.g. bridge, breakdown, embellishments, ect.) that I might want to add to the arrangement of the final beat.

Before I continue, I should note that I have in the past (and sometimes still do) literally written down the schedule of exercises for any given practice session (this is very helpful). For instance, whenever I wanted to practice DSS exercises, I would simply write a note to myself like, "DSS, 1hr." This way, whenever I was due to practice for the day (or week), I wouldn't sit down just to make a beat. Instead, I'd set a practice plan of action, then I'd naturally segue into actually making (completing) at least one new beat or more.

All right, on with my DSS exercise...

step 1

I began with a 2-bar sequence of music. Something fairly simple, just a drum framework and some non-drum elements. Please note: Whether I'm practicing with a sampled-based or synthetic-sounds-based beat doesn't matter, because I practice this exercise universally.

Step 2

Having settled upon a 2-bar sequence, I'll duplicate it to give me 4-bars of music. Then, I copy that 4-bar sequence into three "unused" new sequences on my Akai MPC (4000 or 60), essentially setting up three separate "beat starts" or rather "shell beats," all with the same 4-bar structure.

Step 3

I duplicate each 4-bar structure, giving me three "shell beats" (just sparse grooves) of 8-bars each.

Step 4

I work on each "shell beat" one at a time. For the first "shell beat," I'll add in one new musical element. This could be anything, an elongated sound stab, a brief keyboard phrase, a sample of a break of some sort, whatever I'm feeling might work at the moment. But here's the key: No matter what add-on element I choose, I add a modified version of that very same element to each "shell beat."

Step 5

I make modifications to the drum frameworks of the "shell beats." Usually, I leave the drum framework of the first "shell beat" as is. But I always change, in some fairly noticeable way, the drum framework of the 2nd and 3rd "shell beats," making modifications that better match up with the added elements.

Step 6

I build each 8-bar "shell beat" out to fully developed beats, and I listen to each beat to see which one has the tightest, gut-moving feeling—the one that moves me the most. Usually, what happens is that I end up using one of the "developed beats" for the verse section, the main part of the song; and I use another one of the "developed beats" for the hook section, the featured part of the song. If the remain "developed beat(s)" is (are) decent, I'll strip it down to 4-bars and use parts of it as an intro, bridge, or extra change that I add to the final beat.

Final thoughts

Using this exercise, I'm able to better capture the core groove that suits my style and sound. Also, this exercise really helps my timing, and it sharpens my overall understanding of and approach to creating drum frameworks. Finally, I should note that my DSS exercise has always come in handy on those occasions where I used to have beat block.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

February 12, 2012

When and How to Use Time Stretch or Pitch Shifting

Clarity on Oft-Misunderstood Timing Concepts

By CASTRO BEATS and AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

In a TBC (The BeatTips Community) thread about drums, core TBC member Castro Beats offered up a great breakdown of the differences between Time Stretch and Pitch Shifting. Below is Castro's post, followed by my reply.
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I personally use Time Stretch when I'm doing Post production work (sound FX for movies) because it helps keep timing/pitch, but that's the only time I really use time stretch/elastic audio. My "time stretching" is typically done on the MPC by Up pitching or down pitching whatever I have on the pads to meet a certain length or just change the sound. The only difference is that this isn't really time stretching because it speeds up or slows down what you pitch. In Pro Tools/Cubase nowadays they have things like elastic audio, so you can create warp points (just like Recycle/Ableton) and it is able to adjust the loop to the tempo you set without changing the pitch. Depending on how far you go up or down with the tempo, the loop you're stretching could sound right or real choppy. You might apply the elastic audio rhythm to a track in pro tools and be very pleased, till you pull the tempo down far enough that the kick happens then a second later the hi-hat etc.

Now that that's explained, (I did so so everyone can understand what the difference is between time stretch and pitch shifting), Recycle has a similar but different style of time stretch. It's more of "expanding the tails of your slices" then time stretching, because when you throw a sample in Recycle and create slice point and put it into a program like Reason, it uses the now longer tails to compensate for tempo adjustments. It doesn't change the pitch it just helps match for timing in the event that you do alter the tempo. I only use that for two reasons, 1) corrective 2) the extended tail sound is cool. I personally want to hear the pitch alter the speed of the sample in most cases, not necessarily keep it at it's original tempo. The flip side of the time stretch is that it works the other way too. Instead of stretching the tails, you can make the slices super tight by shortening the decay and turning the stretch to 0%. If you play the whole loop it will sound choppy, but the individual hits will sound on point.

The way the MPC pitch shifts is great because if you have ever tried to do this in pro tools, you know that you can only go so far or do it so much before the sound is now destroyed and riddled with artifacts. The MPC and programs like SoundHack do some of the illest pitch shifting handsdown, and that is how I handle my drums to fit. I have used elastic audio/warp point features before for samples and other things, but it's more in moderation then anything else. I don't like the idea of the tempo controlling the sample/sound like Patch Phrases. That is a really good feature, the Patch Phrasing on the MPC, but it's only really useful when using the whole loop, something I don't typically do. On the MPC I can pitch something down by -36 and be able to use it without it syncing to tempo. As far as making it sound unnatural, yes and no. If you timestretch then you can get it to sound like that same loop is being played at a slower/faster tempo. Which up to a certain point will sound very natural. But when you pitch shift, things can be slightly bigger/smaller hit depending on +/- pitch. If you do it excessively it can become a whole new sound which is something I totally support doing. I feel that Pitch Shifting should be applied to slices, and time stretching to loops. If you're looking for natural you might as well sample an actual drum kit. Since I actually mic'd up a drum kit and did that, I can tell first hand that while those "real" drum sounds are great, specifically the smaller percussion (tambs, hats etc), it can become real "Eagles" sounding. Not much character, but definitely it's own sound.

In short, there is a huge difference in time stretching and pitch shifting. I like to pitch shift for creative purposes, and time stretch for corrective purposes. At present I am good enough at chopping samples that time stretching is just a "dusty tool" in the toolbox as I find slicing/pitch shifting more effective for what I am doing.
—Castro Beats
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Here's my reply

Castro,

Excellent breakdown! Bravo!!!
I particularly like your explanation for when, how, and why you use pitch shift and time stretch: "...pitch shift for creative purposes, and time stretch for corrective purposes;" and "Pitch Shifting should be applied to slices, and time stretching to loops."

I certainly see the advantages to this approach. I'm sure that you probably even have found some ways to use time stretch creatively as well...
For me, I've practically never used time stretch on loops. I have, however, used it on various sounds that I wanted to elongate and sustain, but that's about it.

One reason that I try to avoid time stretch, and instead rely more on tempo, is because of control. Part of my approach—especially when it comes to sequencing and arranging—is to try and *control* all of the musical elements that I use, in a way that encourages me to rely on my DJ background. Time stretch is certainly a great tool, and you're are absolutely right, as far as correction goes, it can smooth out sound flaws and time issues.

When I went through my experimental phase with time stretch, I learned how to drag faster tempos and push (shuffle) slower tempos. However, I also soon figured out how to do the exact same thing, by doing things like modifying the tempo; re-recording certain sections of the drum framework with timing correct turned off; inserting elongated sound-stabs where the timing wasn't quite right, etc.

Thing is, I never want my drums to sound perfect, I just want them to move and feel the way I envision. Also, I should mention that at the time when I was experimenting with time stretch, I didn't know if I was on the right course or not. I just knew that I didn't like relying on time stretch as some others did. Then I spoke to DJ Premier about it, and he told me the instances in which he liked to used time stretch. Since I was already using it similar to how he described his use of it, I continued my move away from it, as my drum frameworks had already taken on the sort of swing and shuffle that I like. Even still, if I'm making a beat and I believe that time-stretching something will be useful, I won't hesitate to rock with it.

—Sa'id

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