Easy Music Theory for Rappers!
In this article we’re going to discuss easy music theory for rappers! You’re going to learn what you need to know about music theory and how it relates to rap. This will help you get better quicker! It’s often neglected and something many of us rappers tend to avoid and in many ways that’s totally understandable. Part of what attracted many of us to the art form was because it seemed less technical and more free. Many of us don’t want to get bogged down with technicalities, but rather focus on expressing ourselves how we want. To that I say, you do you! This article is certainly not intended to be a rigid set of rules for you to follow as with any of my articles. The aim of this article is simply to offer you some useful tools that hopefully facilitate your creativity and ability to express yourselves as artists.
Do I Need To Understand Music Theory?
Fortunately for those less inclined to want to go deep into theory, when it comes to music theory and rap, we can afford to be a lot less technical than a classically trained player of an instrument for example. That being said there are some music theory terms that are useful to understand that will be tools you can utilise as you practice and develop your skills.
OK, But What Music Theory Terms Should I Be Familiar With?
I would say that the main music theory terms you should consider familiarising yourself with are Beats, Bars, Time Signature, Tempo and Rhythm. So I’ll explain each one in turn.
The ‘Beat’ of a song, or track can be described as the regular steady repeating pulse of a track. It’s what you find yourself nodding your head to or tapping your foot to whenever you listen to a track you like.
As I said in my article How to Rap On Beat – A bar (or measure) can be described as a segment of time defined by a given number of beats, each of which are assigned a particular note value. Dividing music into bars provides regular reference points to pin point locations within a piece of music. It also makes written music easier to follow, since each bar of staff symbols can be read and played as a batch. It is not necessary to understand the full musical theory behind bars and beats. You only need to understand it with regards to writing rhymes and developing your rap flow. Although learning more can certainly help and doesn’t hurt.
Time Signature basically combines ‘Beats’ and ‘Bars’ as previously described. It dictates how many beats there will be per bar or measure of music. You can also say that Time Signatures essentially define the amount of notes and type of notes each ‘bar’ (or measure) contains. It’s worth noting in our case as rappers we can substitute ‘notes’ for syllables. As notes (or syllables) can work as fractions of the beat.
In rap the overwhelmingly most common time signature is 4/4 and that is the case for most pop music too. Which basically means 4 beats per bar. This is why when listening to your favourite songs you can probably get a sense of the pulse of the beat by counting, “1, 2, 3, 4” and then notice the pulse repeats again for another “1, 2, 3, 4”.
It should be pointed out that just because it’s 4 beats per bar that doesn’t mean as rappers you’re only allowed to do 4 syllables per bar. As mentioned in the first paragraph notes and syllables can work as fractions of the beat. More on this in my article on How to Diversify Your Rap Flow! (Coming Soon).
Tempo can be described as the speed of the beat of the track. Measured in BPM (Beats Per Minute). So a slow tempo of a track might be in something like 60BPM whereas a fast tempo might be 180BPM or even faster!
Lets now talk about rhythm because whether you’re rapping or singing, your voice is still essentially an instrument and you need to think about more than simply what words you use and what you’re trying to say, but also how you say it!
According to the Cambridge Dictionary rhythm can be described as;
“a strong pattern of sounds, words, or musical notes that is used in music, poetry, and dancing”
So in terms of rap we can describe rhythm as the pattern of sounds and words we use to a given beat or instrumental. (Although sometimes without any music at all)… For a more in depth look into rhythm and how to apply it to developing your skills as a rapper then I encourage you to read my article on How to Diversify Your Rap Flow
So now you know what I deem to be the most important aspects of music theory for you to consider as you construct your verses as a rapper. For a look at how to apply it to rapping I encourage you to read How to Rap On Beat and How to Develop An Outstanding Rap Flow!