How to Make a Song From a Beat
How to make a song from a single beat?
Thanks to technology, beatmakers and producers have given us an enormous library of beats.
This wealth of creativity has become the backbone of our ability as songwriters to do our work without relying on a full band.
While we can always find a beat for something we’ve already written, we should also try to start with one! As music makers, we can count on a great beat to be the beginning of a great song.
Composition master Chick Corea has said, “Music making is a series of decisions.”
Here we’ll give you a step-by-step method to build a complete song from a beat, just by making one decision after the next.
While we may often start lyric-centric songs with story and character, this vibe-centric method will produce exciting music that will give your catalog a variety.
This isn’t making something from anything, this is making something from something!
Choose the Right Beat
Start treasure hunting in your own gear. Work with a paper and pen, making a list of your favorite beats.
Some recording software, midi instruments and synths come with built-in loops. The manufacturer of your keyboard or software may also sell samples, beats, and instrumentals. So don’t forget to check with Logic, Nord, Prophet, or any other company that could help expand the library of sounds at your fingertips.
Your best resource, however, will be producers putting out samples and beat packs.
Check out this video of a rapper talking about his process of beat selection. Disclaimer: While there is some profanity and promotion in this video, he perfectly explains what to look for:
We’re looking for the feeling that gives you that look on your face: “Wow, this is special, this is a vibe that definitely resonates with me..”
Seek out your favorite music, then discover who produced it. There’s a really good chance that the producer has a beat pack available online!
Play With Pedals and Patches
Once you’ve bought your beat and imported the .wav files into your session, you may want to use the entire instrumental for your song, especially if you’re primarily a vocalist and/or rapper.
However, if you’re an instrumentalist and your beat came with chords and melodies: mute the instrumentals and just leave the drums. It’s time to play with sounds.
Put the beat on loop. As it plays, scan through your patch library on your keyboard, or play with different guitar/bass sounds with your pedals. See if you can find something that really resonates with you, something that goes perfectly with the energy/vibe of the beat you chose.
Decide on 2-4 different sounds to build your track. Save them as a patch and/or make a list of them.
Two decisions down!
As the beat plays on loop, grab a recording device and press “record,” whether you’re at a pro studio or just using an app on your smartphone.
Without thinking, planning, or strategizing too much, start freestyling over the beat. Play some riffs, play some chords, sing some melodies. See what happens!
If, while improvising, you stumble upon a chord progression and/or melody that interests you, stick with it. Give yourself time to flesh it out.
When you’re ready, move on. You’re recording, so you won’t forget a thing.
Rinse and repeat with the other sounds you’ve chosen from your patch/pedal play. This time freestyling will yield a fruitful harvest in the next section!
Go back and listen to your recording, and have your pen and paper handy.
Without being too critical of yourself, keep your ear open for the great ideas that really click. You may have completely forgotten them; good thing you were recording!
Make a list of the great moments from your freestyle. Use your intuition to decide what you should keep, and what to discard. No need to set a limit of great ideas, you’ll see which ones rise to the top soon enough!
Three decisions down!
Next, we’ll take this same process and apply it to writing some awesome lyrics that fit the vibe.
With your new chords and melodies playing in your head or on your speakers, “turn on the faucet” and get to writing stream-of-consciousness. Just start freewriting lyrics with a paper and pen.
*IMPORTANT* Release the fear of writing something “bad.” Usually, we have to write the ideas we won’t use before we find the one that fits. Get every idea on the page without judgment.
To get your pen moving, ask yourself:
- What is the energy of the music trying to say? Is it uplifting? Is it serious?
- When I listen, what is the music telling me about the character? What should the narrator be experiencing and feeling? What is their story?
- What lines and rhymes will fit with what I have so far?
- Even though this is a free-write exercise, it’s important to remember that you’re headed toward a structure. In this short video, this songwriter gives you great tips on how to write amazing lyrics:
After taking a break, revisit your writing, highlighting/circling the lyrics that really stand out. Use your intuition, taste, and discernment to make those decisions.
Don’t worry yet about what goes where. Just focus on the lyrics you like!
Four decisions down!
Puzzle time! Here is where this method gives your song its shape.
Mix and match your four elements: music and lyrics. In your own notebook, sketch out the table below to play with structure:
Use only the sections that are relevant to you.
Don’t just do this on paper! Try out these combinations aloud as your beat plays on loop.
Have your recorder going. If new, better ideas come out of this process of mixing and matching, that is great. This process can be extremely inspiring. Watching the pieces fall into place will reveal more than you ever imagined! Run with it.
Exceptions to the Rule
Pro-Tip: you don’t have to have your beat playing during the entirety of your song. In fact, listeners often appreciate variety.
There’s a good chance you’ll create music and lyrics that call for a different rhythm during your “synthesizing” and “organizing” processes.
Check out these helpful examples and suggestions:
- Deviating from your original beat during the bridge, for example, may serve as a great break for your listener. Plus, it will increase the satisfaction when the beat returns for the final chorus.
- If, during your writing process, you decide to use the original beat in only the verses, and want to use different beats for your other sections, follow that intuition!
- A really great production tool is a drum drop-out. This is usually used on a first chorus: you can still feel the pulse of the beat, the producer leaves only melody and chords. You use the chorus to build tension, instead of using it to land. A great example of this is ‘Home’ by Morgxn. Pay attention to the production/drums when the first chorus hits:
How do we decide on our matches?
The same thing that has been guiding us during the smaller decisions: Intuition.
Notice when you naturally want to repeat certain musical or lyrical ideas instead of others. What feels best? Trust that! Go with your gut, go with your taste, go with what would make you listen again if you heard it on someone else’s track.
Decide on the song form. Most successful songs follow the form below. Of course, there are plenty of legitimate song forms out there, but this one is the industry standard:
a. Verse 1
b. (Optional) Pre-Chorus
c. Chorus 1
d. Verse 2
e. (Optional) Pre-Chorus 2 (should match Pre-Chorus 1)
f. Chorus 2 (Should match Chorus 1)
h. Chorus 3
Pro-Tip: Focus on transitions. Make sure it sounds smooth getting from section to section.
Once you’ve put your elements into your form, step back, and take a good look at your brand new song!
How do we know if we’ve struck gold, or if we’re barking up the wrong tree?
The good news: these final decisions don’t have to be permanent. Consider this your first draft! If there are some gaps, place-holders, or problem spots, you can always fix them in your rewrites. You should always edit, tweak, and craft your songs after the first draft is complete. Don’t shortchange yourself or your work!
You could write an entire EP or album with this method! We highly recommend you play with this unique, effective way to create music.
Your process as a songwriter should be constantly evolving. Starting with a beat that inspires you will only elevate your work.
Let us know what you create! We’d love to hear how this method works for you!