It has been said time and again that rapping is an art. Along with that, rapping is also a systematic rhythmic process and this part of rapping does not require you to be creative, it requires you to be alert and up to the beat. If writing and composing a rap song is language and literature, then staying on beat is math and arithmetic. Not as tough, but requiring practice. Just like mathematics. The more you practice, the better you get at rapping on beat. It is also very interesting as it gets challenging and tricky with every other song!
Staying on beat is primarily about timing. And for this, you need to train your ears as well to keep at the beat and create a sync with the whole ensemble. A big part of becoming a rapper is staying on beat. The symmetry of perfect sync with the beat is what makes some amazing songs. Some examples of the sickest beats and synchronization are 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” and the classic, that changed the world, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force’s, “Planet Rock”.
Tip, Tip, Tip
There’s a certain kick when it is difficult to master and stay on a certain beat and then conquering it. A battle won, warrior! This is the most interesting part of the rap, at least for me, and the thing that will dare to keep you up at night trying to get it right. It is not rocket science but it isn’t as easy as you think as well. While performing live, do not rely on the drummer to help you realize where the beat is. Develop your own sense of time. Everyone in the crew or band should develop this and then bring it into sync when performing to avoid any kind of confusion and amiss.
Pro-tip, do not try to get in too much depth by thinking about how to stay on the beat. Instead, keep practicing and DO NOT STOP! You will mess up. But don’t stop and start all over again. This is a really important tip. Continue rapping and try to get back on the beat. Do this several times. This should help you gain some instinctive insights and also build-up, what I like to call, your vocal muscle memory! This will also keep it challenging and fun. The only thing, don’t cry if you are not able to get good at this instantly. Also, if you are looking for a cool rap name, head over to the unique rap name maker.
Number #1: Count on it like 1,2,3 (4!)
Counting is the most effective and age-old method of staying on the beat while following the rhythm as well. So, the four beats usually go like 1-2-3-4. While rapping on beat, however, it is important to put stressed syllables on the 1-2-3-4 to stay on the beat. The counting should be even and the syllables need to be evenly spaced as well. Most raps have a 4/4 time signature so whenever you hear a rap verse, start counting to the bars. Now while counting, 1 to 4, remember that each number represents a beat, and four beats, when repeated make it a bar.
Number #2: Use a Metronome for Rapping on Beat
Using a metronome is one of the best ways to practice. Now a metronome too can be sped up and slowed down. The first is louder and the next three are a little low on the ticking. This is to facilitate recognizing when 1 round on 1-2-3-4 is over and to denote the next has begun. It is advisable to set it between 80 to 90 beats per minute and set your metronome to quarters. Slowly move up and higher. You can easily find an online metronome as well if you don’t want to buy a physical one.
Find the bpm at which a specific song that you are practicing is recorded at. Set up your metronome to that exact tempo and count along the time signature ( usually 4/4). You should use a metronome while practicing, but it can also be used to assess yourself after you think you have gained a good sense of rhythm and timing. Record yourself and then play the recording against the metronome and observe.
Number #3: Practice Using an Instrument
This works mostly for writing and performing any other song as well. Using an instrument like a guitar or drums or even a keyboard will help you immensely with staying on beat and also help you rhythmically. You might have heard bout the kick and snare, right? If not, these are basically 2 different types of drum beats that usually form the base of hip hop and trap instrumental music. The ‘kick’ is a thud sound, usually dense and similar to stomping. The ‘snare’ can be compared to a clap as it is a sharp smacking sound.
Hence alternatively, you can use stomps and claps for beats as well! This definitely got you thinking about “WE WILL WE WILL ROCK YOU, ROCK YOU” didn’t it? Iconic.
Apart from this, once you have practiced a song already using a metronome and tried playing the instrument along with the song, try playing it again without the backing of the song, solo, and in isolation. Record it as well. However, if you seem to go astray, try using your foot for rhythm reference. It helps you to keep accurate timing. Now after you are done recording, to check if you have got it right this time, use a metronome and play your recording with it. If the metronome is in synch from, the start to the end, good work!
A tip for pros to be, practice the same song with various other instruments as well.
Number #4: Start Slow, Stay Steady
Now I have seen this happen a lot. A lot of people try to start with very fast trap beats. If you are a beginner, remember this: if you think that rapping to faster beats in the initial stages will help you get comfortable with slower ones, then you are wrong. That being said, everyone has a different rapping style. However, first, try to find your equilibrium and then try out other beats in a faster or slower tempo.
If you have already checked your accuracy with a metronome and instruments, you will find parts where you were off or parts where the strain was visible, in such cases also, try working those parts out by starting those specific parts again, but at a slower tempo.
Know this: Tend not to go too slow, it is good to stay between 60-70. When you practice slower tempos, you will find it more challenging as the time between the beats is more and this gives a wider margin for error in between the beats. Be aware of this.
Final Words on Rapping on Beat
Nearly every person that I have practiced with, including me, have had this problem of either anticipating the beat and then ending in a rush or playing too late. Whatever is not on the beat is either too early or too late. It is a binary situation where it is either 0 or 1. For you to achieve this equilibrium, you need to relax. Do not try too hard to predict. Instead, focus on the flow. You will notice the harder you try to gauge the beat, the harder it gets to make it in time. Relaxing is very important along with keeping a cool head as it can get extremely frustrating at times.
This being said, rap is fun and is also sometimes about rapping away from the beat and then coming back to it. This is to put in more syllables and rhyming lyrics. This also makes a few rap songs stand out and sound even more satisfying when coming back on the beat. So, what this brings us to is, that raps and beats are all about timing. You need to deviate on time in order to come back on time.
Some people do have an impeccable sense of inner timing naturally. They can pick up a beat and stay on in even if the world is collapsing. For the rest of us, all we can do is practice. And practice hard. Believe me when I say that clapping with a metronome helps and that recording ad instruments are also a major part. Trust your inner timing and practice as this is something that can only be achieved through religious practicing, REGULARLY.