*** illest o.g. ***
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* This is part 6 of an 8-part series of articles on how to make beats. Mostly aimed at beginners, even experience beat makers can benefit from these articles.
Part 6: Your First Melody
Adding Music to Your Drums
Piano is such a great instrument. You can play full compositions or just play a few notes to make a dope melody (think Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"). This is why I recommend using Piano as you get further into your beat making progress.
Of course, since we're talking about creating Hip Hop beats, you won't want to make a classical composition here, but instead just use a few piano notes to create your melody.
Why only a few notes? Because the piano is just the start. You will then add other instruments on top, and as you do, you will hear how all the instruments come together to sound great.
With your simple drum track, you can now play a few piano notes on top. Start by playing one note on the first kick, then a note up on the last snare of the first bar. It's a simple 1-bar pattern, but as you loop it, you can then add something else on top like guitar, strings, synth, etc. And those too, just use 1 or 2 notes at a time. Build it up.
One thing you should keep in mind when using piano is that for Hip Hop purposes, it's best to use a sampled piano. The reason is because the piano from a plug-in, even though they sound beautiful, aren't well suited for Hip Hop beats. Don't get me wrong; you can definitely use it but it always sounds too "clean". I like thick-sounding piano in my beats, but then again, I like to make dirty-sounding beats!
If you do decide to use piano from a plug-in, then most definitely make use of effects. Dirty the piano a bit with filters, especially if you can get your hands on a filter that has a "noise" option. If you can't, then try using a tape plug-in, giving your sound that tape "hiss". Saturation and compression also help as well.
What About Synths?
Even though piano is a great instrument to add to your beats, using any type of synthesizer will also do the trick. There are many plug-ins that have great synth sounds and you should definitely try them out.
But with synths you can't just play them like you would a piano. Why? Because of the length and sustain of those synth notes.
When you play a piano note, it's short, even if you hold down the key. When you hold down the key, it will sustain that sound and that's how you hear that note play for a few seconds (it usually lingers and fades out).
With a synth note, when you hold down the key, two things can happen:
1. The sound will sustain and play the until it fades out.
2. The sound will keep playing at full volume until you release the key.
You can also do this with piano but it's more prominent with synths.
The difference is all based on the "release" of the note. With any plug-in you use, there will be a release option in the settings which basically means you're telling the program how fast or slow it should cut the sound off, regardless of if you hold down the key or not.
In other words, if you set the cutoff to something short like 2 (out of 10) then it will play that note for a short duration. If you set it at 10 then it will play the full sound.
There are other options as well that go hand in hand with "release". Usually there's "attack" which is how soon you want the sound to play. If you set it to a higher value it will fade-in the sound.
However, if you have a short release of the sound, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will just have a short sound being played. You can also add other effects such as delay. So you can have a short release with a delay on it, giving you a short sound that delays out.
The point of all this is that synth sounds will most likely play longer than piano notes, so you will probably want to try playing those sounds on the first kick of your loop and maybe somewhere else in the middle.
Further Reading About Beat Making