Music Theory Basics for Beat-Making, Part 1: Rhythm

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Many great artists, songwriters, and producers are guided by their ears with years of experience, creating music that excites them in their own unique style. Knowledge of music theory concepts helps many of them reach this point and can be a crucial foundation to build from when crafting an artistic identity. 

The following information is meant to be a guide for anyone looking to develop their understanding of rhythm in the world of beat-making, with basic visual examples from a digital audio workstation (DAW) for reference.

What is Rhythm?

Simply put, rhythm in music is defined as “the placement of sounds over time.” When it comes to beat-making, one of the greatest strengths one can have is a strong grasp on the fundamentals of rhythm in order to create infrastructure for musical productions.

Time Signatures

In order to understand how sounds are placed in time within the music you listen to, and how to place sounds throughout music in your own exciting way, it is extremely helpful to be familiar with time signatures. Time signatures can be found on written sheet music and in digital audio workstations and look like this: 

Time signatures tell us how the rhythm of a piece of music is organized. Music is divided into segments called measures, also commonly known as bars, and time signatures tell us how many beats to count in one bar and what the rhythmic value of each beat is.

The time signature you’ll find most often in popular music genres is 4/4 time, also known as common time. Though many other time signatures exist, the focus of this guide will be 4/4 time.

The top number of a time signature denotes the number of beats per bar, and the bottom number represents the rhythmic value of each beat. So, in 4/4 time, the top “4” tells us that there are four beats in each bar, and the bottom “4” tells us that every beat is given the value of a quarter note. This is demonstrated by the basic rhythm below.