How to Use Scales for Hip Hop and Rap Production – Beginners Guide for Scales and Fundamentals

Do you want to start making Hip Hop melodies but don’t know where to start? Scales can seem challenging for a beginner but they are often used to make hip hop melodies and patterns. It’s best to start with the basics this way you don’t leave anything important behind. These are some of the most important factors and tips to get you going in the right direction so you can start composing hip hop melodies, rhythms, patterns, and loops in no time.


Sound Selection

Depending on what DAW you have, you may have a decent stock sound selection or a lower quality sound selection. People often say they don’t have enough sounds which may be true but still should not be one of the factors that holds you back. It takes a while to get used to different sounds like drums, synths, pianos, strings, and a lot more so dig around your DAW to make sure you listen to every sound possible. Building a good sound bank can make the whole learning process seem easier but there’s more to it than that. Good sites where free presets can be downloaded are and A few good ones on Hipstrumentals are trap god, Lex Lugger, and others as well. Many free trial or cheap DAWs don’t come loaded with a lot of VSTs so that may make it seem like it’s hard to find sounds your favorite songs would use. Look up more info on VST plugins to get a better idea.

Get to know your DAW

One of the most important factors is making sure you know how to use almost if not all parts of your DAW. If you aren’t sure about which DAW to use look up some info about the most popular ones. FL studio is a pretty good DAW which comes in different versions like the fruity edition, producer, and signature. I’d advise not to get the fruity edition due to lack of plug ins and features basically limiting your sound selection. The signature edition is probably the best since it comes with more VST’s unlike producer which lacks a few. You can get them but would have to pay for them which can make it not worth it. If trying to go out all out, go with the signature edition. FL studio is available for Windows and MAC. If you already have a DAW and are decided on what you want to use then make sure you watch videos and look up info online about your DAW if you haven’t already. Again, make sure you study a DAW and look up a good amount of info and reviews on it before you decide to go with one. Some have free updates, some don’t. You’ll get the idea once you look into it.


Some people say scales can be limiting. It depends on who you ask but for the most part almost everybody uses scales even if they don’t realize it. Let’s say if somebody plays something without scale knowledge and comes up with something very high quality sounding, It’ll most likely be based on a scale. Scales are basically different groups of notes on a Midi keyboard as well as other real instruments. In this case a midi keyboard works the same way as a piano when it comes to scales give or take. A scale can be repeated up and down on a midi keyboard allowing different octaves to be used possibly at the same time. I’m not one to think you need a lot of theory to get good but learning scales and other parts of music theory is very important for music production. Different scales and different keys can create different vibes and sounds. There is a lot of possibilities. there are a lot of YouTube videos and other info on scales that can be found online. Learning scales can help you with layering instruments like making different parts of a song such as the intro, verse, hook, or anything else. The instrument doesn’t always have to change pattern or be layered but doing this will allow you to feel more comfortable with using scales and music production in general. I did not list scales here since I recommended looking up different kinds of scales so you can see what you prefer. You can start with the most common major and minor keys and then from you can learn other more unique scales such as Phrygian. Here are some examples of how each key and scale can be very different. I also recommended learning about other different scale characteristics.

Midi Keyboard

Unless you are’t worried about funds and can buy a larger midi later on, go with a 51 or preferably a 61 key midi right away. Having a larger 61 key midi can make a huge difference  when it comes to learning scales and playing in general. It allows more octaves to be available and doesn’t require pressing the up or down octave button on the midi to change octaves which hinders playing ability. Also it is not recommended to use your computer keyboard even though most DAWs support this. The reason is because it is not an instrument and can result in bad habits. Having a two hand rhythm and simply excelling skill wise is a lot harder on a computer keyboard. I would recommend getting a midi with pitch knobs and also midi pads if desired. These pads can map sounds like drums. Look up info on how to midi map using your DAW. A lot of DAWs will auto map the play, pause, stop, and record button automatically.

How to Use Scales for Hip Hop and Rap Production

Scales are an important part of Hip Hop production as well as a lot of other genres of music. Learning multiple Scales and keys can enhance your playing and really take your Hip Hop production to another level. There’s a lot of different scales with many of them sounding different and unique in their own right. A lot of minor scales are popular in Hip Hop but other scales can also be used like Phrygian or Locrian. Each scale has different keys. When layering instruments almost all of the time the key and scale remains the same. Sometimes it can be a mix of scales but usually its one scale and one key throughout the track. is a great website to learn about scales as well as different modes. Feel free to look up videos on YouTube as well.

It takes a little bit of practice to use scales but after a while you will be able to able to use certain chords and notes so really create a unique sound and vibe. A scale repeats up and down the keyboard allowing you to combine multiple octaves. This allows you to really come up with multiple patterns which can seem endless after enough practice. One big tip is to not really use your computer keyboard as a midi if you can help it. Learning scales and theory on a computer keyboard forms bad habits and is just not practical since it is not an instrument. Also when getting a midi, Try to get a 49 key or preferably 61 since 61 gives you 5 octaves allowing more freedom when you play. For example, a 25 key midi may seem great since its portable but it lacks the lower and high octaves on the keyboard which means you have to press the octave up or down button to get to the octave you want as apposed to just going up or down on a 61 key midi. It depends on how in depth you are playing but if interested in learning scales and really taking advantage of multiple octaves it is recommended to get at least a 61 key midi even though a 49 key is still somewhat acceptable. If you really want to have full control of each octave and you have the room, you can go with a 73 key if desired.

So after all of the above it’s mostly practice and getting used to your midi keyboard. Feel free to look up more information on music theory and scales. There is no secret to making music, it’s strong fundamentals combined with practice and getting used to sounds. One important thing to note for a beginner is to make sure you don’t have your gain or volume levels to high on your DAW. This can cause issues with sound quality and result in poor gain staging. As long as everything is even and not too low or high you should be OK. Look up more info on gain staging and other info if interested. Most DAWs will have something called an FX mixer or something similar where you can see if your volume and gain levels are too high. Make sure when you play your sounds none of them are at the top in the red section of the bar. They should remain in the green section since red/yellow will possibly cause clipping and distort your sounds. Also one last tip is to make sure your speaker volume knob isn’t too high. It should be maybe in the middle or less with your computer/device volume at a higher level, unless of course your speakers don’t get that loud, then you may need to have the speakers at a higher level. Hope this helps with your hip hop and rap production, as well as music in general. Feel free to leave a feedback comment on this page (Word Press users) or on the FB page which you can find at the bottom right of the site.



Author: Craig Perez

I post about technology and other topics.

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