Picture this for a moment. The legendary guitar player, Jimi Hendrix is on stage with his band. The drummer starts banging away at the drums as he creates a funky groove on the spot. Jimi is feeling it, so he joins in and he absolutely starts killing it on the Guitar! None of it was pre-planned, it was all happening live and in the moment and it seemed like magic!
How Is This Possible?
What they both were doing is something known as “improvisation“. Which basically means they were drawing from all the thousands of patterns they had already learned on their instruments and they were using them to play strictly off of instinct. They weren’t thinking about which patterns to use but instead, they were strictly playing off the way they felt and they used the huge collection of musical patterns they already knew to express it.
And both of them were strictly playing music with their instruments with no words! If they were having to come up with words at the exact same time it would seriously restrict and hinder what they could do musically because of the limitations of the human language.
Driven By Cadences
Most aspiring rappers don’t realize that they are musicians as well, just like Jimi Hendrix and his drummer! Rappers mainly focus on writing lyrics when they’re first starting out and this is why their flow usually doesn’t sound good. Because your “flow” is the musical part of being a rapper! I like to think of a cadence as a specific musical pattern you create for a bar, but your flow is more of a zoomed out view of how all of your cadences “patterns” connect and flow together to create one amazing musical performance. So remember, it’s your cadences that drive your lyrics
and make them sound so musical, not the other way around!
Be Like Jimi
If you really want to take your flow to the highest level then you need to focus on improving your scatting skills. If you get really good at scatting you will be able to do what Jimi Hendrix did in my earlier example with your flow. And you will sound amazing! If I were a rap super-hero my super power would be scatting!
The Three Best Ways To Improve Your Scatting Skills
1. Learning Cadences
The first step is to learn as many cadences as possible.
Pick a song that you like and focus on 4 bars from one of the verses.
After listening to the same 4 bars a few times, start mumbling sounds with your mouth that are exactly in time with the cadences of the rapper you’re listening to. We do this all the time when we’re trying to sing a song that we don’t remember all the words to. What’s interesting is, it’s way easier to remember music than it is words. That’s why most commercials use jingles to try and get the words stuck in your head.
Once you’ve been able to scat the rappers 4 bar cadence, record yourself doing it on your phone or computer with the song playing in the background to ensure you’re perfectly in time. If you got it right your voice should be directly on top of the rapper’s voice at all times. Name the file to reflect the artist and song title name you learned it from.
Now do this same thing with 11 more songs. Which will give you a total of twelve 4 bar cadence patterns. Even if each 4 bar section had the same cadences throughout it, you would still learn 12 new cadences which means you could change your cadences every 4 bars for three 16 bar verses.
Once you have archived twelve 4 bar cadences patterns it’s time to start practicing them over one instrumental.
load up an instrumental that you love and go through each cadence in your scatting archive and practice scatting it over the instrumental.
You may need to pause the instrumental when listening to your recorded scat. Pay attention to which beat your scat begins on.
Does it begin on the 4th beat of the bar before it and lead into the 1st beat?
Does it begin directly on the 1st beat?
Or does it begin after the 1st beat and lead into the 2nd beat. See me demonstrate the 3 most common ways rappers catch the beat in this video.
For example, the hook on 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” begins before the 1st bar of the hook section.
To be exact he begins rapping “You Can” right after the 3rd beat, “Find Me In Tha” within the 4th beat, and “Club” lands directly on the 1st beat of the 1st bar of the hook section. To learn more about song structure check out this article.
You may also realize that all of your cadences don’t feel right over your instrumental. This is likely due to the tempo difference between your instrumental and the song you learned your cadence from. If that’s the case it’s time to improvise!
If you feel like you’re having to scat your cadence too fast try removing 1-4 notes from your scat.
If you feel like you’re having to scat your cadence too slow try adding 1-4 notes to your scat to fill it in more.
Don’t over think this. The key to improvising effectively is relying on feeling the music rather than being overly analytical about it. Keeping tweaking the cadences that aren’t quite fitting right until you find that magic combination. And when you do, record it! You just learned a new cadence to add to your archive!
To learn more about how tempo affects rappers check out this article
Forget About It!
Once you are liking how all of your cadences are sounding then try to forget about them for a moment. Now play the instrumental and start scatting whatever cadences you feel. Remember don’t think about it, just feel it! You will be drawing from all the cadences that you already learned but you will also naturally start coming up with new combinations and variations.
This is exactly how Jimi Hendrix was able to shred his guitar so masterfully on the spot in my earlier example.
Never stop learning cadences! Anytime you hear a rapper use a cadence that you think is dope, you should learn it by using the method above. Remember that scatting is a rappers superpower! Practice scatting over different instrumentals, and improvise your cadences to fit the grove of the instrumental. Before you know it, you will have learned hundreds or even thousands of cadences and your flow will be incredibly musical and diverse!