How To Rap A Verse: Establishing Your Flow

Welcome to another installment of How To Rap A Verse . In the first lesson I taught you how to establish your rhythm. In this lesson we’re going to build off of that and start working on establishing your flow. So without further ado LET’S GET IT!!

What Is Cadence?

Now before we dive in and start coming up with flows let’s cover just a little bit of ground work. Often times I have people ask me what’s the difference between your cadence and your flow. Well there isn’t a difference they’re the same thing. Flow is actually just a slang word for cadence. In fact the musical definition for cadence is “rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words”. In rapping cadence is like your syllables dance routine to the music. And just like most choreographed dance performances the movements don’t stay the same throughout the whole set. They change, they build, and they evolve! And the same applies to rappers cadences. It’s common to see a rappers flow change every two to four bars to keep things interesting and less predictable.

What’s The Difference Between Rhythm & Cadence?

Now you may be wondering if cadence is a rhythmic flow then what’s the difference between rhythm and cadence? Well technically there isn’t a difference there just synonyms of one another. However in my efforts to make things as least complicated as possible to you I typically use the word rhythm when I’m referring to staying on beat and use the word cadence when I’m discussing flow. So in summary I like to think of rhythm as your ability to stay on beat and cadence as the way that you dance and move around on beat.

How Do You Come Up With Cadences?

Now how in the world can you come up with your own cadences? It’s actually quite simple. It’s the same way a drummer, guitar or piano player gets good at playing their instrument. You simply practice and learn your favorite songs. It’s much easier to remember information when it’s done to music. That’s why huge companies like McDonalds and Coca Cola create jingles to music so it will get stuck in your head and it’s the same reason why learning songs is a very effective teaching method for young children.

Study Your Favorite Rappers

So if you want to start coming up with your own cadences start by memorizing some of your favorite rappers lyrics to their music. Because if you memorize their lyrics you will also be memorizing their cadences. And you’ve probably already done this more than you realize. The more cadences you memorize the more flexible and diverse your flows will become as you start to learn many different ways you can dance with your syllables and move around in the music.

4 Bars At A Time

A good exercise for doing this is start small by just memorizing 4 bars of one of your favorite rappers songs. And then practice rapping those lyrics over many different types of beats. Once you learn those 4 bars really well either go back to the same song and learn 4 more bars or pick an entirely different song. And Remember always start by establishing your rhythm first to ensure you’re locking onto the beat.

What’s Best For You?

You can do this on the go to any type of music you may encounter throughout the day. If you’d like to learn some of my memorization techniques check out this article and if you’d like to see me practicing three different rappers cadences to the same beat make sure you check out my previous article on creating cadences. It’s also important to note that you don’t necessarily have to memorize their lyrics in order to memorize their cadence so just do whatever is easiest for you. And pay close attention to how they’re catching the beat. Are they starting on top of the first beat, starting at the end of the bar before it and leading into the first beat or are they starting after the first beat? For a more in depth look at this make sure you watch my previous video “Catching The Beat”

Tempos Effect Your Flow

Once you start rapping 4 bars of your favorite rappers songs to different music you will quickly begin to realize how much the different tempos effect your flow. The reason being is simple. The slower the tempo of a song is the more space there will be within each bar. And vice versa the faster the tempo of a song the less space there will be within each bar. So if your trying to rap the lyrics of a mid tempo rap song to a much slower song then you will have to slow down your cadence in order to stay on beat and if you’re trying to rap the lyrics of a mid tempo rap song to a much faster song then you will have to speed up your cadence to stay on beat. Just play around with rapping the same lyrics to different types of music to practice adjusting your flow to different tempos.

3 ways to fill in each bar

One final thing that’s important to understand about cadence is that there’s three ways to fill in each bar.

Syllable Count

The most obvious is your syllable count. The more syllables you place within each bar the faster your flow is going to be.  The fewer syllables you have in each bar the more room you will have to move around and the slower your flow will likely be.

Sustained Words & Stressed Syllables 

Another factor that plays into how a bar is filled up is sustained words & stressed syllables. Some one syllable words need more room than others because they have to be sustained or held longer in order to be emphasized clearly. For example the word “break” will require more space than the word “go” even though they’re both only one syllable words. And sometimes you may want to sustain a word longer just to compliment the flow that you’re going after. And some words contain stressed syllables that require just a little more space to emphasize them as well. Such as the word “splendid” SPLEN is the stressed syllable and requires just a little more room to emphasize clearly.

Breaths and Pauses:

The third element that fills up bars is breaths and pauses. You need to breath often so you don’t gas out and run out of breath and sometimes you just want to take a pause for the cause. You need to work your breaths or pauses in just like you would work your syllables in to create your flow. Breathing and pausing are just as important to your flow as the syllable count and sustained words and stressed syllables. I typically like to take a breathe during each bar. Usually i’ll breath either at the beginning or the end of each bar but I’ll also breathe at times somewhere in the middle of the bar if the cadence I’m going for calls for it. Every now and then I may rap two bars without breathing and then return to breathing again in each bar. I usually do this when I’m wanting to change up my cadence or just add a little more aggression to the track. If you would like to look a little deeper into breathing techniques then make sure you check out my previous article entitled “Breathing Techniques“.

Scatting

My favorite way to come up with flows for a song I’m starting to work on is by doing something called scatting. Scatting is basically just a way to freestyle cadences. When you’re scatting you’re not saying real words. You’re basically just mumbling gibberish in different flows. This is where you tap into all the cadences that you’ve learned and you start playing around with them. Manipulating, forming and shaping them to the beat of the music almost like clay. Scatting isn’t something you have to think to much about. It’s more about feeling the track out. It’s like a freestyle dance that you’re doing with your mouth. You’re accessing all the different moves “cadences” you’ve learned from previous songs auditioning them, seeing what works and putting your own twist to them.

Once you come up with several cadences that you like feel free to record them while they’re still fresh in your mind on whatever device you have handy. Now let’s go ahead and come up with a few different cadences for our verse and analyze what makes them different.

The Setup

the setup

Now just to prevent any confusion while i’m explaining these cadences here’s a quick explanation of what we’ll be looking at. There’s 4 beats in 1 bar.  A quarter note section is the space that makes up each one of those beats. The 1st and 3rd quarter note section is colored gray and the 2nd and 4th quarter note section is colored red. There are 4 16th notes in each quarter note section and the 1st 16th note in each quarter note section lands directly on top of the beat.

1st cadence

establishing flow 1st cadence

The first cadence I’ve come up with is pretty simple. I’m basically just doing the 16 count but eliminating 2 notes giving me a total of 14 notes. I’m pausing on top of the 1st beat and taking a breath right after the 4th beat. Once I repeat this cadence the pause after the 4th beat and the pause on top of the 1st beat of the next bar actually are right next to one another and gives me the length of two 16th notes which is also equal to one 8th note to breath. If we we’re to tweak our Buh Duh Buh Duh 16 count it would look like this…

_Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh_

2nd cadence 

establishing flow 2nd cadence

The second cadence I’ve come up with is pretty simple as well. I’m still really close to the 16 count but now I’m eliminating 3 notes. I’m pausing on the 4th 16th note of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarter note sections. This is causing me to have a triplet flow for the 1st two beats and a steady 16 count flow for the 3rd and 4th beats just like the first cadence I came up with where I take a breathe at the end of the 4th beat. If we we’re to tweak our Buh Duh Buh Duh 16 count it would look like this…

Buh Duh Buh _ Buh Duh Buh _ Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh_

3rd cadence

establishing flow 3rd cadence

The 3rd cadence I’ve constructed isn’t complex either. All I’m doing is landing directly on top of the 1st beat and taking a quick pause on the 16th note directly after it. Then I’m doing a steady 16 count cadence starting from the 3rd 16th note of the first quarter note section and ending it right before the 4th beat. For this cadence I’m going to drag the last 16th note out just a little bit more so it runs over on top of the 4th beat. If we we’re to tweak our Buh Duh Buh Duh 16 count it would look like this…

Buh _ Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh _ _ _ _

4th Cadence

establishing flow 4th cadence1

establishing flow 4th cadence

The 4th cadence I’ve come up with is slightly tricky because I add a little swing in the middle of it. By swing I just mean I intentionally go slightly off beat to add more character to the flow. For a more in depth look at creating swing check out my article on adding character to cadence 

So in essence all I’m doing is filling in all the 16th notes for the first quarter note section. Then I begin my swing by landing directly on top of the 2nd beat. I then swing one 16th note between the 2nd and 3rd 16th notes of the second quarter note section. I then end my swing by landing on the 4th 16th note of the 2nd quarter note section. Then I take a short pause on the 3rd beat and fill in the rest of the 16th notes up until I take another pause on the 4th 16th note of the 4th quarter note section.

If we we’re to tweak our Buh Duh Buh Duh 16 count it would look like this…

Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh_Duh_Buh_Duh Buh Duh Buh Duh Buh

Don’t Get Caught Up!

It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. If these specifics confuse you that’s completely okay! Don’t get to caught up on all the specifics of where each breath and note is hitting in relation to the 16 count. Remember I learned these cadences by ear at some point during my life. This is just an in depth break down so you can see how all these subtle adjustments to the 16 count makes such a huge impact to your flow.

In the next lesson we’re going to bring all these cadences to life by translating them into meaningful lyrics. So make sure you stay tuned because we’re going to learn a lot and have a lot of fun! And remember in rapping there are no rules there’s only techniques!

How Did I Do?

Did you find this article helpful? Have a question or a comment? I’d love to hear from you so make sure you drop your 2 cents in the comments section below!

Comments

  1. Your Aunt Dianne says

    Love your new cadence video. You did an excellent job defining cadence and showing its relationship to rhythm. You’ve nailed that one.

  2. ace the majestty says

    dope lesson man is it possible that you brake down the real art! For example videos on how to create punch lines,metaphors etc,when is the exact time to drop your punch line or metaphor in your verse.thank you for everything!!

    • says

      Thanks Ace! I’m glad that you enjoyed this lesson! Yes I will be getting deep into songwriting this year so hold tight :) And I can’t wait to start breaking it all down for everyone. I appreciate the input! And thanks for all the love and support! I sincerely appreciate it! :)

  3. Shivansh says

    Sir is it necessary that 1 bar should contain one(1) sentence and next bar another sentence….. can first bar contain another sentence also …and end in any bar(like 3,4th bar etc) anywhere un between the bar…….

  4. Bryan Batten says

    Hey cole I have been writing but just started producing beats so I have yet to understand them completely. My question to you is, on my rhyme scheme do I want my rhyming word to hit on the snare or kick?

    • says

      Typically you want your end rhyme to land on the 2nd snare of the bar which will likely be on the 4th beat in the bar. There’s no set rule where you have to rhyme but that’s a good starting point for end rhymes and then you can play around with creating internal rhyme schemes from there. Hope this helps :)

  5. says

    Man big ups for this article, cadence and flow are really my archilles heel. I used to have no hope at rapping, even though I’ve done shows with Devin the Dude and Prince Paul from De La Soul, because I kept struggling with the rhythm. If I practice scatting, and memorizing 4 bars of cadence from other rappers, my gut instinct tells me this is the route to level up. Thanks for the dope ass article! I just need to find a way to afford beats that inspire me, and set the mood for the track now. Do you have any suggestions for rappers with signature cadences ? I have an endless amount I listen to but I’m curious what inspires you, and if there’s a particular select few rap songs that helped you develop your talented flow

    • says

      Hey Syllable thanks for all of your kind words regarding my article I’m really glad you enjoyed it and found it to be helpful! I think the different cadences I’ve learned throughout the years is really an accumulation of all the rap I’ve listened to. But if I had to pin point certain artists that I picked some things up from I learned a lot about passion and energy from DMX, Field Mob taught me how to seemingly bend my bars by adding swing and how to deliver witty punchlines as well as bring out my southern accent more in a song, Eminem taught me about storytelling, adding humor in songs, delivery, flow, punchlines pretty much everything lol and Outkast I study for their diverse music arrangement and excellent songwriting.

      If you would like to learn more about getting affordable beats check out my article entitled Top 10 Tips For Purchasing Rap Beats Online I hope this helps you out! Keep up the hard work and feel free to reach out with anymore questions you may have. Much love and respect! :) – Cole Mize

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