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Basics of Beatmaking

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In today's lesson, we are going to over how to use samples to create beats. We're also going to touch on some of the fundamentals of rhythm so you have a general understanding of how to begin to put things together.

The Browser and Channel Rack

The first two parts of FL Studio that we are going to cover are the browser and channel rack. These two windows are where you are going to access your audio files and samples and sequence them.

The browser is the window on the left side of FL Studio. Here you can find important sources on your PC like samples, project files, soundfonts, VST’s, etc. It’s most commonly used for dragging audio samples (like drums and effects) into your playlist or channel rack. It has a number of options at the top for organization and size – it will benefit you to look through these options to familiarize yourself with the features and hotkeys! It also has 3 tabs at the top which organize your content. These 3 tabs are:

 All: Where you can find audio samples you have dragged into your browser for use. Here you can also find project files, presets, MIDI, soundfonts, effects, and more.

 Current Project: Where you can find relevant tools for your current project (never would have guessed, right?). This includes your undo history, patterns (‘initialize song in current position’ settings), mixer effects, and generators (aka VST’s).

 Plugin Database: A list of your installed VST plugins, from effects to generators and Image-Line to third-party.

Note: Finding sample/audio packs online is a great way to expand your library. Expanding your options for drums, effects, and audio samples will allow you to produce in more styles and genres. You can search online for free ‘gimmie’ packs to start, buy drum kits and sample sets on websites like ‘loopmasters.com’ or ‘image-line.com’, or even ‘legally’ acquire content from friends (or in this case, Torches Academy, of course). However, ALWAYS be sure that the site is secure, and never download anything that looks suspicious.

If you acquire some of your own samples and drums off the interwebs that you’d like to use, simply drag the folder from your PC into the browser. Before you drag the folder in, be sure you have it in a place on your PC that it can remain indefinitely. FL Studio will look for the folder in that location every time, so if you move it, FL will not be able to locate your samples and you will have to repeat this process.

Once you have ‘shopped’ through your drum library, it’s time to drag some samples into your channel rack. The channel rack houses the step sequencer, where you can arrange drums to make beats. If this is your first time using FL, it’s important to allow yourself to explore some rhythms and have fun with the process before we dig into making beats with intent and direction. You may want to start with a kick, a snare (or clap) and a couple high hats or percussion instruments.

Here, I’ll throw you a few beats that will work well. Put this lesson on pause, and go ahead and try some of these out!

Hopefully listening to some of these beats gives you a general idea of how rhythm is sequenced. It's important to make sure you create your rhythms and beats with intent, and try to avoid 'spam-clicking' notes in frustration or confusion. Less is usually more.
When you're making beats, it's also important to understand what your tempo is. In FL Studio, your tempo indicator is located in the top tool bar and looks like this:

If you've just opened FL Studio for the first time, it should default to 130 BPM. BPM stands for beats per minute - it is how we measure the speed of a song. You'll notice as you experiment with more and more genres of music, that many times genres will fall into certain BPM/tempo ranges. Experiment with your tempo to find the right 'speed' for your beat - often times just changing the tempo can make huge impacts on the feel and mood of your track.

Building and Understanding Rhythm

Now that we have a basic understanding of how to draw things in, let's talk about rhythm theory itself. To make great beats it’s important to create with intent and direction. It’s easy when you’re starting out to find yourself randomly clicking notes into the step sequencer, only to find a jumbled mess of samples that doesn’t really feel or sound like anything.

The best way to start making great beats with intent and direction is by identifying the different types of notes. Today we will look at whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes, with our ‘time signature’ being 4/4 (meaning one bar is 4 quarter notes - there are other time signatures that we can explore later). These notes get their names from the amount of space in one bar that they take up. To explain further, in the picture here I have one 4/4 bar to work with. One bar consists of 16 blocks in the step sequencer. You are not limited to just 16 blocks, but going over will change length of your bar.

Below I will show what each type of note looks like if I draw them in the step sequencer:

Whole Note

Half Notes

Quarter Notes

Eighth Notes

Sixteenth Notes

See how a quarter note divides the bar evenly into four, and an eighth note divides the bar evenly into eight, etc.? That’s where each type of note gets its name.

We typically count rhythm by counting to four – 1, 2, 3, 4, and repeat. The 1, 2, 3, and 4 are also referred to as the ‘on’ beats (and are counted as quarter notes). Notice how in FL Studio, the on-beats (which would be the first block per color) are color coded from a blue hue to a red hue. This can also help you stay grounded in your song. It’s important to understand the ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ talk because I might refer to certain beats as such later in the lesson.

In fact, there is actually a way of labeling every step in the step sequencer if we were to say it out loud, which I will just type right here:

1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a

I know this may look and sound confusing, but it’s important because if I wanted to dictate these notes to you pictured on the left here, I could say, click in the ‘& of 2’, followed by the ‘a of 4’. Also, when you say them all in order out loud, it flows easily off the tongue (the ‘a’ is pronounced as an ‘uh’), which makes faster tempos still possible to vocalize quickly. This is the old-school way of dictating rhythm.

Last but certainly not least, it’s also important to know where and what the metronome is. A metronome is a tool that clicks in a quarter note pattern (the downbeats - 1, 2, 3, and 4). This can help keep you grounded within the structure of the time you have established with your tempo. This can really help for beats that may not have a good point of reference instrumentally. The metronome can be found way up at the top of your FL screen and it looks like this:

Especially in the learning stages, it's always good to make beats with your metronome on to ensure your rhythm is not escaping into any weird or undesirable places.

So! In summary...

Understanding rhythm is important, but you will really develop your sound by listening to other music and studying what other artists and genres do. Never be afraid to take notes about rhythmic themes and patterns. Do your homework, get that metronome on, familiarize yourself with the types of notes, create with intent, keep it simple, and practice every day!

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