Rap And Hip Hop Beat Making Theory

This is a guest post by Marcel van Ling from Hot Beat Store, and a follow up to our beginners guide on how to product music. This lesson is more advanced. You can write for this site too.
Learning To Produce Hip Hop InstrumentalsRap, Hip Hop and R&B beats are important for recording artists, and not hard to find on the internet. If you do a Google search for ‘hip hop beats’ for example, you’ll get hundreds of websites offering them for your use.

Beats, or instrumentals as they’re also known, are musical arrangements without the vocals. Because of their popularity, there are a lot of producers making rap beats. This however doesn’t mean there’s no space for you in the music production market. As you can imagine, the quality of these instrumentals vary very much. Some are at a very high quality, while others are extremely poor.

For a lot of amateur rappers and singers, this is not a big problem. For musicians who are making money from their music and want to take things to the next level though, many require higher quality beats. These high quality beats are often made by professional producers with years of experience who know how to make a decent mix.

The structure of your instrumentals are important. If you want to make your own hip hop beats or just want to know what goes into them, this article is the one for you.

Equalization – The Basics Of What You Need To Know

First of all, you have to understand the basics of equalization. According to Wikipedia:

Equalization (British: equalisation) is the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components within an electronic signal.

In humans, the range of frequencies we can hear is usually said to be 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz). In other words, the human ears are sensitive to sounds in that range. To make it somewhat easier, we can divide this spectrum into four frequency bands: 1: the low end, 2: the mid-lows, 3: the mid-highs and 4: the high end.

As we grow older, we tend to hear fewer high ends. If you’re less sensitive to some frequencies, you should keep that in mind when you’re mixing. Don’t boost frequencies that are already in the mix too much. If you want to make beats professionally, it’s a good idea to test your ears to find out if you have any hearing problems.

Instruments And Their Frequencies

Frequency Of InstrumentsThere are a lot of instruments used in rap and R&B beats, all of which have a different sound. This is because the characteristic sound of an instrument is made out of different frequencies. This is called the timbre of the instrument.

A bass guitar or bass synth has a lot of energy in the low frequency band, i.e. 80 to 160 Hz. An acoustic guitar has most energy somewhat higher, around 200 to 300 Hz. Keep in mind that all instruments have a ground-note with lower and upper harmonics. So a violin has most of its energy around 200 to 400 Hz, but this instrument has a lot of upper harmonics that creates its characteristic sound. Because of this, these upper harmonics are very important.

Take a look at some frequency charts before you start choosing instruments and mixing. These charts are very useful for beginners. A good idea is to pick one or two instruments from every frequency band to create a nice balance. You can use the following instruments for the different frequency bands:

Low Frequency Instruments:

  • Kick.
  • Sub Bass synth.
  • Bass synth.
  • Bass guitar.
  • Lower keys of a piano.
  • Bass strings.

Mid-Low Frequency Instruments:

  • Snare.
  • Cello.
  • Organ.
  • Piano.
  • Guitar.
  • Electric Piano.
  • Synthesizer.

Mid-High Frequency Instruments:

  • Violin.
  • Viola.
  • Trumpet.
  • Upper keys of the piano.
  • Flute.
  • Synthesizer.

High Frequency Instruments:

  • Hi-hats.
  • Cymbals.
  • Chimes.
  • Synthesizer effects.

If you have a frequency chart, you can look up frequencies for all the instruments you want to use.

Now that you know these frequencies, you can use this knowledge to separate them from each other, and properly equalize everything. Try to boost the frequencies that are important for that instrument to get a better sounding instrumental.

Don’t cut frequencies, unless you need to get rid of problems in the mix (But you might instead want to thing of using other instruments instead). Ears tend to be more sensitive to boosting than cutting. By doing some balanced equalization, you will get more definition for each instrument used in your beat. This will result in a better separation of your sounds. A better separation means a cleaner sounding song.

Sorting You Panning And Using Reverb

Now that you have done proper equalization, you can further separate the instruments of the beat by panning them and adding reverb. Try to visualize the beat in three dimensions, and give all instruments a position that fits well.

Panning Music:
Panning music is where you make the sounds interchange from one speaker to the next, or make it only appear in one speaker or the other. For example, if you may only hear a sound in one speaker, but you can make it pan and go to the other speaker. When producing a beat, you can make it so it pans as far left or right as you want. Surround sound systems especially take advantage of this feature.

Panning Music SpeakersYou want the lows, for example the kick and bass, in the middle of the mix. The human brain can’t calculate the direction of low sounds because of its long wavelength, so there is no point panning them left or right. On the other hand, you can place the claps or the snare slightly out of the middle to make room for the rapper or singer.

Don’t place too many instruments in the middle that have the same frequency as vocals. For these instruments, there are some nice doubling effects you can use to create a good stereo image. There are a lot of stereo effects and tricks you can apply, so experiment with them till you get the right sound.

Use reverb to place any required instruments in the back, and further away from the listener. The more reverb you apply, the further away the instrument will sound. You can also use equalization to bring instruments closer or further away. The human ear is very sensitive to speech in the range of 300 Hz to 5000 Hz, so if you cut those frequencies you will bring that instrument more to the back.


Using compression is very important, as a compressor takes the peaks out of the mix. Sound levels that exceed a certain (Bad) threshold are flattened out by the compressor. You can also use compression as an effect, for example think of the pumping effect which is often used in dance music.

Play around with the settings of the compressor, and listen what it does to the overall sound. You can really make your rap beat come to life with proper compressor settings, so see which levels work best for your mix.

Make Your Own Hip Hop Beats Theory Conclusion

These are some basic mixing techniques you can use when producing beats and instrumentals. Keep in mind though that these are not hard set rules, just guidelines. You can apply it to all different kind of beat genres like R&B, Hip Hop, New School, Underground, and many more. It takes a lot of experience to create masterpieces, but even the greatest producers started with nothing. Have a nice time mixing beats.

About The Author:

Marcel van Ling finished the School for Audio Engineering (SAE) in 2005, and has a lot of experience as a musician. He produces R&B instrumentals and knows a lot about music production software and music theory. Listen to examples of his music on his website HotBeatStore.com, where you can buy rap beats. You can contact Marcel by sending him an email: info (at) mosound.nl.

16 thoughts on “Rap And Hip Hop Beat Making Theory”

  1. i already have an idea of mixing a rap instrumental, and now ur articles has enlighten me more.. i really apreciate 4 taking ur time out to spread this message to up and coming producers like me… God blessing to us all in this musik industry..

  2. I’m glad we could inspire you mardcore, keep up with the producing and hopefully you’ve picked up a few tips here. 🙂

  3. this can really help
    any tips about the arrangement of the instruments?

  4. Glad is helped Owen. The arrangement is really down to you. You could go more traditional (E.G. Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown, chorus, outro), or you could come up with your own arrangement.

  5. great write up.. following these steps can make you the best beat maker you can possibly be

  6. great info , how bout that sonic sound will this help bring that out

  7. I’m glad this article helped a lot of beginning producers. Thanks Shaun, for publishing it. :). Maybe I can write another. About audio mastering, a very important step in music production!

  8. I don’t know if you have an article on this, but you should elaborate more on compression. I’ve noticed that a lot of people overuse it or use it wrong which then makes their songs sound bad. But great advice though!

  9. This article was extremely helpfull i cant even explain man thanks ive been stuck in this hump and now i am the humper not the humpee haha thanks bud. much love bro take it easy. Rick.

  10. What are the db levels of an acoustic guitar, piano, kick, snare and hi hats? Thank you this has helped a lot. Justin.

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