The code of the beat.

BeatTips Tutorial: DSS Beatmaking Exercise


A Sequencing and Structure Exercise that Increases Your Understanding of Arrangement


To increase my understanding of arrangement in beatmaking, over the years I’ve come up with and practiced many different exercises. 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, deals with duplication and experimentation of sequences. That said, 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 changes (e.g. bridge, breakdown, embellishments, ect.) that I might want to add to the arrangement of the final beat.

Before I continue, I should note that I have in the past (and sometimes still do) literally written down the schedule of exercises for any given practice session (this is very helpful). 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 (or 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 starts” 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 grooves) 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, whatever I’m feeling might work at the moment. But here’s the key: No matter what add-on element I choose, 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 drum framework of the first “shell beat” as is. But I always change, in some fairly noticeable 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 fully developed beats, and I listen to each beat to see which one has the tightest, gut-moving feeling—the one that moves me the most. Usually, what happens is that I end up using one of the “developed beats” for the verse section, the main part of the song; and I use another one of the “developed beats” for the hook section, the featured part of the song. If the remain “developed beat(s)” is (are) 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 understanding 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.

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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

  • This is another very helpful post Amir,
    Many thanks for continuing to share your knowledge and experience,
    Lee TNBM

  • Lee TNBM,
    Thanks for your comment! Glad to know that I’m able to help. If you ever have any questions or you want to run your ideas past me, just hit me up.

  • Apologies for the late reply, I’ve just moved house, which is always ‘fun’.
    I will definitely hit you up as and when. Many thanks for the kind offer.
    Lee TNBM

  • 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 changes (e.g. bridge, breakdown, embellishments, ect.) that I might want to add to the arrangement of the final beat.

  • When you reduce your exercise levels over even a brief period of time you lose your conditioning. You actually lose 50 of your conditioning in 2 weeks without exercise.

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