If you’re new to rapping then consider this your first official rap lesson. What you’re about to learn is not only going to demystify how rapping really works but it’s going to reveal the most important skills you need to be developing right now to make your raps truly impressive!
My name is Cole Mize and I’ve been helping rappers perfect their rap skills on this channel for the past 9 years. Now let’s get straight to it.
The Real Problem
When most people begin rapping they tend to focus on writing lyrics first because when they listen to their favorite rappers the lyrics are what really connects with them. They understand language and rhymes so they tend to begin trying to rap with writing lyrics.
Then they try to rap those lyrics over an instrumental and they suddenly realize their lyrics don’t sound good for some reason. This is because they’ve only been focusing on developing half of their rap skills.
You see, you can think of Rap as an acronym R.A.P Rhythm And Poetry. And it’s the Rhythm which is the musical side of rapping that drives the lyrics and makes them sound so awesome over an instrumental.
So as you continue writing lyrics you need to put a significant amount of focus on the musical side of rapping which we’re about to get into right now.
First, let’s define a few very important words you need to understand as rapper.
The first one is “Bar”. A bar is a musical measurement of distance. Just like in the physical world we use miles or kilometers to measure distance. By using bars as a measurement it makes it easier to communicate the length of something musical. For example, instead of me saying I need you to write a verse that’s 1 min an 13 seconds I could just say, I need you to write a 16 bar verse.
And just like a mile or a kilometer in the real world, a bar is typically always the same length. However, what does change is the speed that we travel across these bars.
If you drive a mile on a lawnmower the distance will feel much longer compared to using a sports car and this is due to a difference in speed known as Miles Per Hour or Kilometers Per Hour.
In music, this is called Tempo or BPM which stands for beats per minute.
A beat is a quarter of a bar. So just like in the real world we can divide a mile or kilometer into 4 even pieces known as quarters, we also divide bars into quarters known as beats.
So there are 4 beats per bar and typically the kick drum lands on the 1st and 3rd beat and the snare drum lands on the 2nd and 4th beat.
So when you hear someone use the term “rapping on beat” it’s means landing words or syllables on top of these beats.
But we don’t always rap on top of every beat and we don’t only place words on these beats, we also place words in between these beats. But how can you know where they should be placed in between the beats?
Well, you can think of there being beats within beats, or as I like to call them “sub beats”.
Rhythmic Music Notes
You see, making something sound musical is all about using division.
And every single syllable you will ever rap will be some type of rhythmic music note.
And there’s different types of Rhythmic Music Notes get their names based off of their division of a bar.
For example, if I were to fill in each beat with one note, these would be called quarter notes because they each take up one-quarter of a bar.
Practicing filling in these quarter notes is a great place to start developing your rhythm as a rapper. This exercise is known as the 4 count. Let’s try to do these together real quick. Just say the number of each beat, like “1,2,3,4”. I’ll fill in one bar and then you fill in one bar after me.
Now let’s divide each quarter into halves. Now we have two notes per beat which means there’s now a note in between each beat. You can think of this as a half-beat. This is one of the places you could put a syllable in between beats and it would sound great.
As you can see, my bar is now divided into 8 even sections which are why these rhythmic music notes are called 8th notes. Let’s try to do these together real quick by saying 1 an, 2 an 3 an 4 an”. This is known as the 8 count. I’ll fill in one bar in with 8th notes and then you fill in one bar after me with 8th notes.
Now let’s divide each 8th note into halves which gives us 4 rhythmic music notes per beat. This gives 3 more places to put your syllables in between each beat and it will sound great! As you can see, my bar is now divided into 16 even sections which are why these rhythmic music notes are called 16th notes. These are some of the most common rhythmic music notes that rappers use.
And Since we can fit 4 16th notes within each beat, you can think of there being 4 beats within each beat which I like to call sub beats.
Let’s try to do these together real quick by saying 1 yuh beh duh, 2 yuh beh duh, 3 yuh beh duh, 4 yuh beh duh. This is known as the 16 count. Now I’ll fill in one bar in with 16th notes and then you fill in one bar after me.
Now when you’re learning to rap, learning the 4,8 and 16 count is a great place to start. But once you nail these down it’s time to advance to learning something known as cadences.
A cadence is the use of a combination of different rhythmic music notes and pauses to create interesting musical patterns which drive our lyrics and make them sound awesome! You can think of these like the dance moves of a rapper. The more cadences you learn the more versatile and dynamic your rap flow will be.
The way that rappers audition endless variations of cadences is by using something called scatting. Scatting is when we use random sounds with our mouths to rap cadences we already know. Not using real words allows us to be unrestricted so that we’re 100% free to be a musical instrument just like how a guitar or drums don’t have words to go with them either.
In this example the cadence I came up with for bar 1 has a pause for the first half of beat 01 then I fill the rest of this beat in with two 16th notes. On the 2nd beat I use an 8th note followed by two 16th notes and then I fill beat 3 in with 16th notes and pause on the 4th beat
On the 2nd bar I fill in beats 1,2,3 with 16th notes and then pause on the 4th beat. And here’s how it sounds.
Now when we’re writing lyrics we’re typically also scatting to come up with cadences and we make any necessary adjustments between the cadences and our lyrics to make them both work perfectly together.
This is what I refer to as the engineering or problem-solving part of being a rapper. And it’s such a big part of what we do behind the scenes.
And when you’re doing this you don’t always have to use all the same sounds used in your scat for your lyrics.
In this example, I was able to match the cadence perfectly but I kept very few sounds from my original scat. Let’s check out the before and after of how this sounds.
And while we’re on the topic of lyrics, it’s important to structure you’re lyrics in a way that reflects how they’re structured musically. Most beginner rappers will just group all their lyrics together into one giant paragraph
.Now you don’t need to have crazy specific broken down graphs like I’m using right now to teach this lesson. But I do recommend treating every line of your lyrics as if it were a bar.
This simply means that the first thing that’s at the beginning of every line should be what’s actually landing on the first beat of that bar. This means that sometimes a multi-syllable word may be split between the ending of one bar and the beginning of another. Also you won’t always be rapping at the beginning of every bar. In these cases make a notation of (B) to signify that you’re taking a break or a breath on the 1st beat.
I also like to create a break every 4 bars just to make it easier on the eyes to navigate throughout my lyrics.
Structuring your lyrics like this makes it easier to remember the timing of your rap flow and it helps a lot with figuring out solutions to problems that you will naturally encounter while writing your lyrics. One more added benefit is this will also help you keep track of where you’re placing your rhymes.
Speaking of rhymes. In rap there are 2 main types of rhymes. Internal rhymes and rhyme schemes.
A rhyme scheme is when you rhyme relatively in the same place for at least two bars.
An internal rhyme is when you rhyme within a bar but it doesn’t carry over to another bar.
Now The key to making your raps sound ultra catchy is all about creating patterns. Patterns add uniformity and predictability to your raps so your listeners can follow along and make sense of what you’re doing. Without there being patterns your rap would sound chaotic and random.
In rap we typically create 3 layers of patterns to make our raps sound ultra catchy.
 Cadence Pattern
The first pattern is our cadence patterns.
Notice how on my previous 2 bar cadence that I paused on the 4th beat of each bar. I also filled in half of beat 2 and all of beat 3 with 16th notes. This is what gave these bars a solid pattern. But on Bar 01 beat 01 I paused for half a beat and on bar 2 I filled it in with 16th notes.
On beat 2 of bar one I used an 8th note and on bar 2 I used two 16th notes. So while there are parts of my bars that are exactly the same there are also parts that are slightly different. So when we’re creating patterns with our cadences the whole bar doesn’t have to be exactly the same for it to still feel like a repeating cadence pattern.
Let’s listen back and focus on that.
 Rhyme Scheme Pattern
The 2nd pattern we create is our rhyme scheme pattern.
Notice how I’m rhyming on the 2nd half of beat 3 on both bars with “movin” and “provin”
I also have a more subtle rhyme scheme pattern happening on beat 2 of bar 1 with “wait” and on beat 02 of bar 2 with “day” and on beat 3 with “ways”. This rhyme scheme isn’t as noticeable because these are neighboring rhymes which means they don’t land in the same exact spot and they are also different lengths. “Wait” is an 8th note and “day” and “ways” are 16th notes.
You must be mindful of where you’re placing your rhymes on each bar to ensure you’re creating strong rhyme scheme patterns for the listener to follow along to while also giving yourself the flexibility to move rhymes around a bit to give them dynamics just like I did with my cadence.
Let’s listen back and focus on that.
 Delivery Pattern
The 3rd pattern we create is our delivery pattern. By delivery, I mean the tone and emotions that you rap your lyrics with. Delivery is the acting part of being a rapper.
Notice on my two bars how I have a really relaxed sounding tone overall but I go up in tone on my end rhymes of each bar on the words “movin” and “provin”
End Rhymes just mean it’s the rhyme scheme we’ve created which typically lands at the end of the bar. This is typically the first rhyme scheme we establish and then if you wish to push things further we’ll create more internal rhymes and rhymes schemes around it.
And rhymes are a great place to add a little more energy to your vocals because it causes your rhymes to really shine and pop out a bit from the rest of your lyrics giving it a 3D like effect.
Let’s listen back and focus on that.
And when you’re trying to create a scheme out of your patterns. Meaning your pattern repeats for at least another bar. Try to keep these patterns going for an even number of bars because if your patterns are an odd number such as 3,5,7, it’s likely going to feel incomplete and less satisfying.
Now If you want to dig in deeper to each topic that I discussed check the video description below for links to my free rap course 5 Minutes To A Better Rap Flow, my 3 part series called “The science behind rhyming”, and my videos on how to quickly structure your rap lyrics, and how to find your rap voice.
Again my name is Cole Mize with colemizestudios.com where I strive to make you a better rapper now. Before you go, be sure to get your free bundle of goodies which include my ebook The #1 fundamental to rapping, Bar Sheets to help you structure your rap lyrics, 6 practice instrumentals, and a catalog of my favorite studio gear recommendations via the link below this article.
And always remember when it comes to rapping, there’s no rules, there’s only techniques. Peace!