So You Wanna Rap? Start By Understanding Bars

If you have recently found yourself-entertaining the thought of learning how to rap then it’s crucial that you take your first steps carefully or you will likely find yourself waisting unnecessary time on things that don’t matter…yet! In this lesson, I will help you get your footing by first understanding the main thing you need to know when you’re getting started…BARS!!. LET’S GET IT!!

What Are Bars?

Bars are simply a way that music is measured. In fact, another term for a Bar is a “measure”. This makes it easier for us to communicate with others about the length of a section of the song such as a hook or a verse. If you wanted to collab with another artist and needed them to fill in a certain section of the song it’s much easier to say “I need 12 bars from you” as opposed to “I need you to fill in 1 minute and 23 seconds”.

How To Measure A Bar

You can measure a bar by dividing it up into 4 even sections which are called “Beats.” You can think of “Beats” as the “heartbeat” of the music. When you’re doing a strenuous workout and are moving very aggressively your heart rate will go up dramatically.

The same is true in music! The faster a song is the more beats there will be within 1 minute. This is called BPM or Beats Per Minute. Another term for this “speed” is called “tempo”. So the measurement of a bar will depend on the songs overall tempo. The higher the tempo his the short the bars will be and Vice Verse the slower the tempo, the longer the bars will be and consequently the fewer beats there will be per minute.

So again, the length of the bar is determined by the tempo of the song but regardless of how short or long the bars are, you can always divide the bars up into 4 even sections which are called the “Beats”.

The Foundation

In music, everything is built upon these “Beats”. You can think of the Beats as the foundation. Just like a house is only as secure as it’s foundation the same is true about the beats within each bar. If you’re not able to determine the beginning and ending of each bar you won’t be able to divide it into the 4 even sections which are the beats. And if you can’t identify the beats then nothing you do with your song is going to sound good.


This is why this is the most important thing you need to learn when you are first learning to rap. Most people focus on writing lyrics first because lyrics is what makes the most sense to us. We use words every single day! But rapping isn’t just lyrics. The reason that lyrics sound so good is because of the rhythm and cadences that are driving those lyrics. Here’s a good acronym to help you understand how rap works. R.A.P. “Rhythm And Poetry“. Without the rhythm, everything else falls apart!


Another way to determine the length of a bar is to listen carefully to the patterns in the music. Most of the music you will be rapping over is what is called “Loop Based“, which basically means that the song is made up different patterns that loop or repeat over and over again.

Throughout the course of the song different patterns will come and go, which is known as an arrangement. However, usually there’s a pattern that repeats throughout the entire song and it usually starts at the very beginning of the song.

So when you’re playing your instrumental pay very close attention to the first few notes so that you can identify once the pattern looks back around to the beginning. This will give you your start and endpoint of the bar. Now just divide that bar up into 4 even sections and you’ll be off to the races!

The 4 Steps To Rapping

01 Rhythm

So again if you’re just learning how to rap it starts with ear training so that you can ear the beginning and end of each bar so that you can identify the 4 beats. This is called Rhythm.

02 Cadence

Now that you have Rhythm down pat it’s time to start learning cadences which is basically a rappers dance moves. It’s how we dance on and around the beats in a musical way.

03 Cadence to lyrics (songwriting)

Once you’ve learned some dope cadences now you are ready to start translating those cadences into lyrics. This is what is going to make your lyrics sound really dope and musical! You see lyrics is actually the 3rd step to learning how to rap but most people skip the first 2 steps and start here which is why some people who have been “rapping” for years still can’t rap on beat because they haven’t secured a solid foundation with the rhythmic ear training you get in step 01.

04 Delivery

Finally, once you have nailed down your rhythm, cadence, and songwriting, it’s now time to present it with a strong emotional performance so that you move your listener in a deep and emotional way. This is the “acting” part of rapping. Delivery is all about your vocal performance! Your tone, attitude, energy and emotion!


Follow this guideline and you will avoid many of the unnecessary setbacks that I faced when I first started rapping 20 years ago! Remember a house is only as strong as it’s foundation! And your rhythm is the foundation you need to established to be a skilled rapper!

If this was helpful or you have any questions please let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!

  • Omg thank you! This is so helpful! I was feeling so overwhelmed by all the things I didn’t know! But, I can tell this site will clear up any questions I have! Do you know anything about writing hooks? Everytime I try it doesn’t go to well. My raps are like really long ciphers and each bar goes with the next. There’s no way to break it up into chunks and add a hook to it. Is it possible to have a rap without a hook? And also, do you have any advice for writing beats to lyrics? I’m not experienced with it, but I can write classical sheet music. Sorry, for the long comment and questions! I’m just really looking to improve and have a lot of questions! Thanks!

    • Hey Tragedy, I’m really glad that my content has been so helpful to you! That’s what it’s all about right there! Yes I’m highly experienced with every aspect of songwriting which of course includes writing hooks. If you haven’t already be sure to check out my 5 step process to songwriting

      Yes you could write a song without a hook it just won’t be as catchy as a song with a hook.

      In regards to making lyrics work to an instrumental that you didn’t write to initially check out my article Pros & Cons to writing lyrics without an instrumental

      Also if you’re interested in being coaching by me personally be sure to check out my 1 on 1 coaching service which won’t be available much longer. I hope this was helpful! 🙂 – Cole Mize

  • Really love the detail article as always Cole! Can I ask, I recently watch your “5 minutes to a better rap flow” and it has given me like a schedule on how to improve my flow. But since I’m still not good at rapping, I want to focus on mastering one part of rapping first or at least focus on improving on one first.

    I remember you mention that RAP is rhythm and poetry in the 1st video “5 minutes to a better rap flow” and that the flow is the one driving the song(or something like that). Which makes me want to ask this question: Do you think it is better to improve on lyrical writing or flowing to the beat first?

  • Really interesting and useful stuff.
    I have actually been applying this to write lyrics for my Metal band.. Thanks a lot!

  • You didn’t break down exactly how long a bar is (in relation to the bpm) or I’m just not getting your explanation.. People don’t usually know how many minutes the final product will be so the beat/bpm heuristic will be difficult to use.

    We used to think of a bar as a piece of the track/beat/loop wherein, with a just a plain boom bap beat, you would fit 4 snares and 4 kicks. I have heard others count double or half of that.

    A garden variety verse would then be 16 bars (and usually an 8 bar chorus would follow).

    • Hey Daniel, my apologies if my explanation wasn’t clear enough for you. A bar is made up of for beats regardless of tempo. I bar is a musical measurement, just like we use inches, yards, kilometers, etc.. Think about it like this. A mile is the same distance all the time. If you drive slow (slow tempo) it will take you longer to travel it, if you go faster (faster tempo) you will, of course, travel it more quickly. But regardless of your speed, the mile is still the same measurement. But how fast you travel it is totally dependent upon your speed (tempo). If it’s still not clicking for you yet, check out my video on Musical Notes Explained, where I give a visual of bars. I hope this helps. Thanks for reading and commenting! – Cole Mize

  • Hello Cole am Shattynom, please I entered my details and sent the request but the hasent been sent into my mail. Kindly check for me bro… great advice always. You teaching my more to be the NEXT undisputed rapper in my country and the world in general. I believe you BRO… Just Be Original.

    • Hey Edward, please check your spam folder for the confirmation e-mail. If you don’t see it, shoot me an e-mail and either me or my assistant will get you taken care of. Thanks! : ) -Cole Mize

  • Thanks so much Mize studios. I have been having some problems with understanding bars and how rap works and reading your articles has given me great insight about rap and I thank you very much for that.

  • Thanks alot man. I needed this to advice a friend of mine who was trying to get into rap, instead of trying to explain that his music was lacking poetry in my own words i sent him the link to this page. I think he got the point. lmao

  • I’m interested in your coaching service I have been looking forward to when I’m going to have a chance to comment in your post and get a reply,I have been following you from You tub and Instagram.

  • Related Post