The code of the beat.

The BeatTips Community: Merging Your Sampling Skills with Live Instrumentation


Making Sample-Based and Live Instrumentation Arrangements


DJ PAS, a TBC (The BeatTips Community) member, posed a great question about getting into DJ’ing to help his beatmaking skills, “Strictly Sample Based Chopper goes Komplete 8 Ultimate” In his comment, he mentioned his recent interest in incorporating Native Instrument’s Komplete 8 into his setup in an effort to include live instrumentation (“keys, strings, and horns…”) into his production. He specifically wanted ideas on how to mesh his sampling with his non-sampling. PAS’s original question, followed by replies from Castro, Kregan, and myself. Note, the thread kind of went in a different direction after Kregan’s post, but the breast of Kregan’s comment, as well as my own, are nonetheless important to this discussion.

As strictly a sample based producer, I didn’t think that I’d spend some money on instrument software. But as NI has done a crossgrade price drop, I couldnt resist.
So I’m starting to collaborate my sampling skills with live instrumentation soon.
It’s less of a question than it is searchin for tips on how YOU do it as a non-sampling producer.

How you get your chords together?

I remember times that i tried to play the keys
(I had 4 yrs Keys education as a child) for producing, but most of the time it sounded for me like childish gibberish toy melody, you digg?
How do you get your shit together on a pro melody (Keys, Strings, Horns…)?

Thanx for tips n tricks how you get your non sample music groovin. —DJ PAS

Castro’s reply:

What Up Pas,

Right out the gate I can truly appreciate what you’re doing, furthering your means for which music can be created. What NI products are you looking into?

If I’m not mistaken, I believe what you’re asking is how to arrange instrumentation as well as playing chords. As far as arrangement goes, that’s entirely up to you. (It should be noted however that this is by far one of the most difficult things to do in music. It’s one thing to play an instrument, it’s another thing to know where and when it fits into compositions.) Strictly speaking, listening to artists like Queen, who were able to make a song into this rock opera style, is really impressive. The arrangements of songs like Bohemian Rhapsody are a testament to true musicianship. Listen to artists who do more than loop phrases, even a song like Ronnie Spector’s Be My Baby is a good example of a perfect arrangement. Knowing where and when to make transitions is just as important as knowing how to create the actual sounds.

With Chords, it’s a little less ambiguous than arrangements. That’s a website for learning chords, use it. Most people who start playing stuff out on keyboards are generally limited by not being ambidextrous, which is natural, as it takes time to build up muscle in your “weak” hand. There are finger exercises to do in order to increase elasticity as well as speed across keys. Practicing with a metronome is advisable as well in order to learn how to stay with the time signature.

Here’s a trick I learned regarding chords: Take a scale from any note, pick out a couple of notes from that scale and play it in a chord like fashion below C 0 (or down 1 octave). Then take some of the remaining notes from the scale you haven’t triggered in the lower octave, and play them one or two octaves above. This is a kind of “cluster” chord or scale chord that tends to have real full and pleasing tone.

Piano notes are measured in halves, so a white key to a white key is full step. In other words, if you go from C to D, that’s a full step, but if you go from C to C#, that’s a half step. So in order to figure out the Major Scale for any given note, here is the formula: 1 w(hole) 2 w 3 h(alf) 4 w 5 w 6 w 7 h. This means if you start on C, the next note in the scale is D, then D#, then F and so on. For a minor scale, the formula is: 1 w 2 h 3 w 4 w h 6 w 7 w. The 8th note will always be the note you started on in the octave beneath it.

There are also some VSTi’s, as well as hardware, that have a “Chorder” option, like the Fantom X. You can create and program your own chords and then trigger them by touching just one key. The only problem is that most chorders only allow a single chord at a time, (not just that you can only press key at a time, monophonic, which is true in most cases), but you can’t put two or more different chords across the keys at once. It acts as more of a “hit” than actual piano playing.

I hear good things about Komplete 8, let me know your thoughts on it after you’ve had some time to explore it.

I must admit, I’m still somewhat confused by what you mean as far as “process of finding chords”. I can’t say that I’ve personally gone into a beat with the mentality of let me start in the key of C or play a diminished chord etc etc, I just go with what feels right. Sometimes I create my own chords, a combination of keys that just sounds pleasing to my ear that I run with, might not even be a “real” (major, minor etc) chord sometimes. I will say however that once I’ve found that initial chord, depending on its complexity, finding the next appropriate chord in the progression can be tricky, sometimes I even have to play it out key by key. It’s in doing this though that you start to understand how one chord moves to the next, and it becomes simpler to do with other chords.

Again, arrangement is entirely up to you. There is no “right” way, there may be some templates for certain genres, like hip-hop having an 8 bar hook and a 16 bar verse with a 4 bar breakdown or bridge occasionally. Arrangement should compliment the sounds/instruments that comprise it and vice-versa. Sometimes you might have a dope patch, something totally unique or just dope for whatever reason, but rather than obliterating the track with the same noise in a repetitive fashion, maybe you just throw in a pinch here and there. Think of arrangement like cooking, you don’t have to over-do it on the spices in order to get flavor, they just have to be balanced.

If you are not a trained pianist, then you should not expect yourself to perform as such. You know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! It might sound “childish” to you right now, but that could be more than just your ability to play. Sometimes, even the simplest melodies/notation, are brought to life by how they sound and not how they are played. (Interestingly enough, the counter argument, that it’s how you play it, is just as important, so it’s quite the paradox) Consider adding reverb, adjusting the Cutoff or Resonance, ADSR etc etc.

What might be most beneficial to you at this juncture would be to learn more about sound design. The more you know about wave shapes and what goes into creating a “voice”, the deeper you will be able to edit and modify sounds according to your specifications. I would recommend the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook, technical read, but worth it. There’s also the tried and true method of just messing around as well, even though if you wind up making something dope, you might want to know how you did what you did (of course you could always work backwards but hey).

Kregan’s reply:

I experimented with synths and such a couple years ago after I had been sampling for a year or so. When I did, I didn’t even really stress about melodies, I made a handful of beats that were right there in quality with my sample based beats very quickly.

However I wasn’t using traditional sounds like pianos, I was using more atmospheric sounds, tweaking the patches, then laying other random sounds over the top and that sort of thing.

If you want to learn how to play melodies and such that’s cool, more power to you, but don’t think it’s required or even necessary especially since we are talking about hip hop music.

There’s so much flexibility and customization with a good synthesizer that being able to play a melody won’t even come up, unless of course that’s what your aiming for which is also cool.


What’s Up Kregan, I was hoping you could elaborate further about the end of that statement, the “especially since we are talking about hip hop music” part.


Hey Cas

I was referring to how in hip hop music rhythm is the main priority, and melody and harmony play a secondary role to the rhythm.

I learnt this from the beattips manual and have made it a focus in my own practice.

Out of curiosity what is your compositional style? I would guess your either sample based or you take the hybrid approach.


A part of me agrees with that initial statement about rhythm but it seems somewhat quixotic or somewhat of a paradox. I don’t wish to derail this thread by going into it, but I’m not sure if it’s as simple as rhythm>melody>harmony.

I try to cover all sides of the spectrum when it comes to my style, a little bit of sampling a little bit of keyboards etc etc. For the most part I do not sample anymore, unless it’s just one of those “have-to-flip” scenarios. It’s been more rewarding creating my own material by far. As of late my interest is in playing the actual instruments, because the one thing that synth’s don’t replicate is the “air” and “warmth” from certain recording processes. Aiming to be a one man band, so one day someone will want to sample my material.


Peace Castro,

With regards to hip hop/rap music, I don’t think Kregan was trying to simplify the roles that rhythm, melody, and harmony play. In nearly all twentieth-century popular American music, musicians can not escape the principles of rhythm, melody, and harmony—typically, all are always in effect in some form or fashion. However, it is a *fact—objective, and nothing to agree or disagree with—that certain musics and music traditions (here in America and around the world) prioritize rhythm over melody and harmony.

That said, people are welcome to make music in any way that they prefer. This means that people can play up the role of melody and harmony in the music they make, and decrease the role of rhythm whenever they want to. Of course, in hip hop/rap music, this is where subjectivity meets the crux of the tradition.

Thing is, everyone has there preferences for styles, sounds, and methods. And it is this choice of each beatmaker that represents the *subjective realm. The *objective realm involves the facts. Fact is, hip hop/rap music began as a music tradition that focused squarely on the rhythm. Over time, starting with the Studio Band Period of beatmaking, the role of melody and harmony grew in hip hop/rap music amongst a number of beatmakers. Again, these are the objective facts of the tradition over 30 plus years.

So naturally, where we stand today is, there are beatmakers who hold tight to rhythm more than they do melody and harmony. Conversely, there are beatmakers who hold tight to melody and harmony more than they do to rhythm. And that’s where the subjectivity comes in to play. Some beatmakers prefer to stick closer to the crux of the tradition, the more fundamental or primary tropes. For others, however, such an approach is less important, as they’re less interested in that and more interested in creating a style and sound that prominently infuses tropes from other music traditions. One compositional path might focus more on sampling; the other might focus on live instrumentation. Both choices are valid, and as such, they should both be respected. However, this does not mean that we should ignore the fact that one style is closer to the roots of our tradition than the other.

But let’s be clear, here: The methods, styles, and general approaches that we choose keep us squarely within, on the margins of, or outside of one music tradition or another. Each music tradition has its own boundaries. And that’s a good thing. These boundaries help us identify, understand, and distinguish one music from another. However, for years, musicians have been pushing these boundaries, merging the edges of multiple traditions into a new style and sound. This is called “fusion” (which I’m sure you know). Fusion is responsible for a lot great music. For example, British ska, seriously one of my all-time favorite music traditions, relies on a blend of reggae, Jamaican ska, punk, and pop. But it’s important to remember that a fusion of styles and sounds is not necessarily better or worse than any of the singular styles that comprise it.

So Kregan has simply made an educated choice. He’s looked at the history of our tradition, he’s considered the mainstays and numerous developments over the last 30 plus years, he’s factored in his own sensibilities, and he’s concluded that he’d like to identify with a style and sound that’s closer to the roots of our tradition, which means opting for a more rhythm-based style and sound. However, another person could read the exact same history and information in The BeatTips Manual and come to an opposite conclusion, opting for a style and sound that’s further away from the roots of our tradition, going for a style and sound that prominently features melody and harmony and reduces the role of rhythm. That’s certainly not beyond the pale of things. But for the prior choice (Kregan’s case), a focus on melody and harmony is not a requirement, “especially since we are talking about hip hop music.”


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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

  • Hey Sa’id, I hope you and yours are all safe considering the damage Hurricane Sandy has caused.
    Lee TNBM

  • I’m struggling to think of any Hip hop that can be said to prioritise Melody or Harmony over rhythm to be fair…
    The static tonal nature of hip-hop which tends to remain in either in one key centre throughout or polarise against it with a Dominant (or Dominant substitution) ‘switch-up’ is somewhat at odds with the concept of Harmony as a structural device which through voice-leading and cadences would typically see us visit a range of key centres. Harmony of course, does have a more literal definition which relates to the simultaneous sounding of more than one pitch, and in that sense ‘Harmony’ is omniscient in all things audible so I don’t think that’s what I really think of when I’m talking about Harmony as a musical parameter.
    Similarly ‘Melody’ is not to be confused with Ostinato/Riff in that I don’t expect a melody to repeat every 2 bars but rather for it to develop over a longer framework, maybe over several phrases as in the now long deceased but sophisticated 32 bar songform which dominated the first half of the 20th century.
    It’s not a criticism to locate hip-hop’s central parameter as rhythm; it just is what it is. Just like ‘Classical’ focusses primarily on harmony, tonality and melody; Hip-Hop deals primarily with the elements of rhythm and timbre and it works fine that way. Raps over winding key changes sound unnatural unless you’re Ghostface.
    One discreet musical element that Hip-Hop nowdays really is neglecting however, is Dynamics. Straight flat out 127’s maximised and compressed to flatten all human expression into the stiff and starched uniform of ‘broadcast quality’.