The code of the beat.

BeatTips DSS Beatmaking Exercise


Sequencing and Structure Exercise is a Steady Beat Block Neutralizer

By Amir Said (Sa’id)

The other day, Leslie, a regular BeatTips reader, asked me about beatmaking exercises, and it got me thinking about the many exercises I’ve practiced over the years. In this article, I want to focus on one specific arrangement exercise that I do that involves the development of core sequences.

DSS (Duplicate Sequence Structures), the name I gave to this exercise, basically deals with duplication and experimentation of sequences. But for me, the aim of this exercise is to better understand how to build 8-bar (or longer) structures. Why 8-bar structures you might ask? Well, for me it’s simple. When creating “songs” in the Song Mode of my MPC, I prefer to deal with 8-bar sequence blocks rather than 2- or 4-bar sequence blocks, particularly because it allows me to better manage any random changes I might want to add to the final beat.

Before I continue, I should note that I have in the past (and sometimes still do) literally write down the schedule of exercises for any given practice session. Nothing major, though; for instance, whenever I wanted to practice DSS exercises, I would simply write a note to myself like: “DSS, 1hr.” This way, whenever I was due to practice for the day (week), I wouldn’t sit down just to make a beat. Instead, I’d set a practice plan of action, then I’d naturally segue into actually making (completing) at least one new beat (or more).

All right, on with my DSS exercise…
step 1

I began with a 2-bar sequence of music. Something fairly simple, just a drum framework and some non-drum elements. Please note: Whether I’m practicing with a sampled-based or synthetic-sounds-based beat doesn’t matter, because I practice this exercise universally.

Step 2

Having settled upon a 2-bar sequence, I’ll duplicate it to give me 4-bars of music. Then, I copy that 4-bar sequence into three “unused” new sequences on my Akai MPC (4000 or 60), essentially setting up three separate beat start or rather “shell beats,” all with the same 4-bar structure.

Step 3

I duplicate each 4-bar structure, giving me three “shell beats” (just sparse rhythms) of 8-bars each.

Step 4

I work on each “shell beat,” one at a time. For the first “shell beat,” I’ll add in one new musical element. This could be anything, an elongated sound stab; a brief keyboard phrase; a sample of a break of some sort; truly whatever I’m feeling at the moment. But here’s the key: No matter what add-on element I elect to go with, I add a modified version of that very same element to each “shell beat.”

Step 5

I make modifications to the drum frameworks of the “shell beats.” Usually, I leave the drumwork of the first “shell beat” as is, but I always change (in some way) the drum framework of the 2nd and 3rd “shell beats,” making modifications that better match up with the added elements.

Step 6

I build each 8-bar “shell beat” out to “developed beats,” and I audit each beat to see which one has the tightest, gut-moving feeling. Usually, what happens? I end up using one of the “developed beats” for the verse section (the main part of the song), and I use another “developed beat” as the hook section (the featured part of the song). If the left out “developed beat” is decent, I’ll strip it down to 4-bars, and use parts of it as an intro, bridge, or extra change that I add to the final beat.

Final thoughts

Using this exercise, I’m able to better capture the core groove that suits my style and sound. Also, this exercise really helps my timing, and it sharpens my overall understand of and approach to creating drum frameworks. Finally, I should note that my DSS exercise has always come in handy on those occasions where I used to have beat block.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
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Articles, Beatmaking, BeatTips, BeatTips Beat Battle, Drum Sounds and Drum Programming, Arranging, and Composing, Editor's Choice, Music Education, Themes, Theories, and Concepts

About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • awesome post

  • Tiltaa

    Nice method. Really simple, quick and, i can imagine, effective to lay different ideas down without loosing yourself (what i do most of the time).
    I’ll definitly try this. Thanks for the advice(s).