If you’re just getting started making your own beats, there are a lot of things to consider.
Though time and time again, I’ve heard stories from new producers that one thing that stops them from pushing on, is the fear that they won’t be successful because they haven’t learned piano.
It turns out, this fear isn’t exactly cause for concern. Some of the best rising talent in the beatmaking world started out without knowing how to play a keyboard, and they’re certainly not trained pianists. Many professional beatmakers don’t use keyboards at all.
However, there are advantages to knowing a bit of piano that makes producing beats easier.
Let’s get into the details.
How To Make Beats Without Knowing Piano
The good news is that you really don’t need to know much piano at all in order to make great beats.
Classical pianists for example need to pay attention to a lot more at once – more complex rhythms, pedals, posture, playing with both hands simultaneously these things are just not as important when making beats. There is a lot less you need to focus on – just hitting the right keys, at the right time.
Hip-hop as a genre, while often very expressive, does not usually have quick complex rhythms that require a lot of technical piano skill – and modern tools make production easier than ever.
Keep It Simple
It sounds obvious, but the best thing you can do it first is to keep it simple.
It’s good to have your sights set high and be influenced by extremely talented producers, but it’s important to recognize that they started in a similar position to where you are at now.
A lot of music production isn’t about it’s complexity, but rather about how different parts can come together to form a complete composition.
By producing even the simplest of beats, you start forming these skills that ends up helping you when you actually go to the keyboard to write out your melodies or basslines themselves.
A drum track, a bassline and a melody can go very far, even if you don’t add any chords or pads.
As your skill level grows, not only will you be able to create all of this much faster, but you’ll be able to add additional parts that fit into the mix well without becoming overwhelmed.
Practice Ear Training
Beatmakers do not need to learn how to read sheet music, but it helps to be able to play around by ear.
One simple way to do this is to take extremely simple songs (such as nursery rhymes), play them slow, or match them note for note.
You can also play around with software like Synthesia, which lays the notes out on a grid with a picture of a piano underneath. This is very similar to the piano roll you’d find in most DAWs.
Simply by playing around with it, you will be able to visually match the piano key with the sound that you’re trying to produce.
Learning to play melodies by ear doesn’t happen overnight, but it does get much easier. Over time, it becomes completely natural.
Play In One Key
In order to make things easier, you may wish to start by only producing music in a single key.
If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘key’, essentially it is what notes are most likely to appear in a song.
If you take the simplest key to start out with – the key of C, this key has no sharps or flats.
In simpler terms, this means that the song is unlikely to use many – if any, black keys on the piano.
Starting out by playing in the key of C means that if you just avoid the black keys, you are more likely to play something that’s in key, and sounds nice together.
As you start utilizing chords and building out chord progressions, you’ll also notice that the same chords appear over and over again.
By sticking to one key (at least at first), there is a lot less you’ll have to memorize, and it’s easier to record tracks that sound good together. And if it doesn’t quite sound right, your DAW should be able to transpose it to different keys later.
Utilize Loops And MIDI Packs
A lot of producers shy away from using loops and MIDI packs because it feels like cheating.
First of all, there is very little in music these days that is 100% original, and we are all drawing inspiration from someone that influences are music in some way.
Secondly, your first beats are not about producing something incredible or original either. They are a learning process, a stepping stone.
You don’t have to publish the first beats that you create, nor do they need to be perfect (or even complete.)
If creating beats from scratch is your long term goal, don’t shy away from using loops or MIDI packs. They will still help you build your skills as an artist and a producer, and can help break down those creative blocks that prevent you from producing anything at all.
Where Piano Helps
It pays to take the time to learn at least the basics of piano, and how piano pieces come together.
If anything, it’s worth it in the sheer time it saves while producing.
Chords And Melody
The basics of piano comes down to two parts – with the left hand you play the bassline / the chords, and with the right hand you typically play the melody.
Now when you’re producing beats, you’re probably going to be doing each of these separately, one at a time.
By learning piano however it becomes easier to visualize how these two things come together in your production. What chords work best with what notes? How can a specific part of a phrase invoke a certain feeling, or color the beat in a different way?
Learning piano helps this become more intuitive.
Again, this is a time saving issue.
It is completely possible to spice up your basslines by drawing extra notes in on the piano roll in your DAW. All modern DAWs like Ableton, FL Studio and Studio One support this.
However, the more complex your basslines become, the more having technical skill with the piano helps. You may need to play fast, use complex rhythms, or move your hand up and down the piano.
Even basic piano courses will show you what you need to know, and help you play with proper piano technique.
Bring What You Hear In Your Head, To Life
Finally, the more piano that you play, the more easy it will be to bring full arrangements to life – including all of the individual parts.
It can be very frustrating to have something incredible in your head, and not know how to express it in your track.
The best thing you can do to build this skill other than the ear training exercises mentioned above, is to practice playing a very diverse set of music, spanning different keys and even different genres.
Music Theory Is Arguably More Important
When it comes to making beats, I would argue that knowing basic music theory is more important than knowing the technicalities of how to play piano.
This is especially true when playing more slowly.
Understanding chords, chord progressions and how notes fit together will allow you to more carefully craft beats that fit the vibe that you’re going for.
Although it’s still a work in progress and is catered primarily towards those looking to learn to read sheet music, there are still important concepts taught that can help get you started.
Do you need to know piano to make beats? Absolutely not, but it certainly does help.
Take some time to learn the basics, along with music theory.
Not only will you be able to produce your beats more quickly, but you’ll enjoy the process a lot more as well.