How To Stay On Beat When Rapping
Knowing how to stay on beat is so crucial for beginners in rap. It is the most skipped over, but the most important for developing and improving your flow. After listening to countless new Soundcloud raps, I realized there is a fundamental flaw that’s affecting rappers today. It definitely took me some time to learn these main principles for how to stay on beat. But they changed my sound for the positive.
So how do you stay on beat when rapping? Firstly, there are 4 beats repeated throughout the whole song. From start to finish. Beats USUALLY fall on 1-2-3-4. You count out 1-2-3-4 to any hip hop beat you are listening to. These 4 beats are the base blocks of the beat.
Secondly, there are stressed and unstressed syllables in the english language. For example: “Rapper” is two syllables. ‘RAPP’ is the stressed syllable and ‘ER’ is the unstressed. Placing stressed syllables on the 1-2-3-4 beats is considered staying on beat.
To test your skill level of this. Start counting out 1-2-3-4 evenly spaced. Then replace the numbers with single syllable words. Like: I-Rap-So-Good. Then repeat over and over. After this, replace the 2 and 4 with words that rhyme together. Like: I-Rap-So-Fat.
These are the fundamentals of staying on beat. But that being said, rap is about deviating from the beat and coming back to it. So you will obviously throw more syllables into the mix. And the words you choose will affect this. Sometimes you might skip landing a stressed syllable on the beat but then come back to it on the last syllable. This is the most important and fundamental technique of rap. And something a lot of beginners miss right out of the gate. There are many different ways to achieve this, and that’s what i’ll cover below.
How Do I Find The Beat?
The easiest trick to finding the beat of any hip hop instrumental is to count it out first. The best way to learn this in practice is to put on a metronome. Just go to Google and put on the metronome there. The first beat will be a bit louder than the next 3 and then repeat again. This can be sped up or slowed down. But just count 1-2-3-4 on each beat of the metronome.
Now that you’ve done that. Put on any instrumental of choice and count 1-2-3-4. This might become a little bit tricky as there are melodies and different sounds distracting you. OR some producers put beats in between these numbers to change it up. That being said, most of the time in hip hop you will find the kick drum on the 1 and 3 beats and the snare on the 2 and 4 beats.
Interesting fact: That’s where Boom-Bap comes from. The boom is the sound of a kick drum. The Bap is the sound of the snare.
How To Write Rap To A Beat
Rap works in 4’s. 4 beats in a bar. 4 bars in a quatrain. 4 quatrains make a 16 bar verse.
So if you want to write to a beat. Use the steps above to figure out the tempo and where the kicks and snares are. Once you figure that out you can start writing.
So when you’re writing you need to keep this 4 beat metronome in your head, and end your bars when the end of the 4 count is up. Then start a new bar. A rapper named Colemize created these cool rap bar sheets. Honestly, it’s a pretty cool visual way of seeing how your words can fit into the beat. Here is an example:
Bolded: The 1-2-3-4 Drum hits
So to explain how this bar sheet actually works.
Bold syllables are showing where the quarter note lands. In rap there are 4 quarter notes that make a complete bar. 1-2-3-4. Each of those numbers represent a quarter note. It’s just a way for us to visually see the timing in music. Every hip hop beat ever can be broken down into sections of 4 counts. So this helps us when dissecting flows and structuring things.
The italics are at the start of each bar shows something called “lead-ins”. Before the first quarter note of a bar hits it’s possible to throw in a couple syllables. A lot of rappers use this technique by second nature. Without even thinking about it because it’s natural part of rap we’ve all listened to our whole lives. So that’s what those are. Notice the italic lead-ins come before the first hit of the first quarter note of every bar.
How To Ride A Beat
Now that we have covered the basics of how to stay on beat. You probably want to advance a bit and see how you ride a beat with different types of flows.
To understand this, then stressed and unstressed syllables come into play. This is the dynamic that creates all hip hop flows everywhere.
There is natural rhythm in the english language. The rhythm comes from stressed and unstressed syllables. So for example:
“Rappin to beats”
There are two stressed syllables in this phrase and two unstressed syllables. The bold is the stressed part of the phrase and the others are unstressed. Generally when we speak we put a little more emphasis on certain parts of words. The same holds true for rap. And is the defining measure of how we shape our flows.
So use the previous steps to find the kicks and snares. A kick is a thud sound. A snare is a clap sound.
So if you break this down.
1 2 3 4
Rappin to beats
You can see that it goes stressed-unstressed-unstressed-stressed.
In order to ride the beat. You can continue this scheme of stressed and unstressed syllables. Or stay close to it.
Rappin to beats and im holdin it down
Walkin the streets with a notable sound
Now you can see its consistent. Stressed-Un-Un-Stressed-Un-Un-Stressed-Un-Un-Stressed
And then continued on from that point forward. This is how you ride a beat. But that being said there are so many different combinations. PLUS you can add little mixes of an extra stressed syllable or an extra unstressed syllable here and there to create some variety. And variety is the spice of life.
This is flow at it’s most basic. But there is so much room for creative maneuvering within the constraints of these “rules”. And i quote rules because there are no rules. But this the backbone of word rhythm on beat when rapping.