Rhythm and timing are arguably the most important elements of music! Listeners will often put up with spotty-tonality (Bob Dylan’s raspy-nasal out of tune voice “adds character” to his music), but it’s pretty rare for listeners to enjoy music that is performed in a sloppily-out-of-time-and-out-of-control kind of way.
A fairly simplistic and broad description of music that I like is “organized sound.” And I also like to describe “rhythm” as events happening in time (sonic events if we’re talking about music, like we are today!). Counting (one way or another) is really the only way I know of to help you keep track of time and understand rhythm.
How to Count?
Out loud! Yes, it can be embarrassing to add your voice to music you are working on, but it’s so important because it will help you internalize the rhythms you are practicing and play the music more precisely and confidently in the future. Eventually, you won’t have to count out loud every time you learn new music, but many musicians I know (myself included) count out loud when they are practicing particularly difficult rhythms.
A former drum teacher of mine used to say: “Some people have perfect pitch. Nobody has perfect time.” It’s true, some people can tune a guitar completely by ear, and name every single note in a chord, but – while some people have better natural timing than others – timing is something that musicians can continually improve throughout their lives.
Learning to play music is exciting, but getting started can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Where do you start? Where do you go next? What do you do when things get tricky? What should you be focusing on?
These are all common bits of feedback we hear from those looking to get started with learning to play their instrument.
Introducing the Melodics Guided Path – a structured map through the Melodics Courses to help you find your way and improve your skills on the keys, pads, or drums.
The Guided Path gives you an overview of the areas you should focus on when starting your musical journey with Melodics. Working your way through each Course in the Guided Path will help you lay a solid foundation for you to build upon further.
We’ve designed this path for you to follow, but try moving both ways. Forward through the courses to master new concepts, but also back to lessons you’ve passed so you can see the improvements you’ve made, increase your scores and get those perfects. One of the joys of music learning is the satisfaction of easily re-playing a lesson you once found super hard.
Tony Dofat is a world-renowned, Grammy-nominated producer, global DJ, audio engineer, music professor and author of four books about the business of music. He was one of the original hitmen, from the legendary squad of producers inside Bad Boy Records, working alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs and artists like Mary J. Blige.
Also known as the godfather of the remix, Tony is best known for his work on Mary’s “You Remind Me” and the insanely popular rework of that track. He was also nominated for a Grammy for his work with his longtime friend and collaborator Heavy D, on his reggae album, Vibes. He’s also worked with a range of artists including Will Smith, Tina Turner and the Notorious BIG. We caught up with Tony to learn the art of the game and the difference between making music back-in-the-day and now.
This is an edited version of the interview, for the full interview, listen to our podcast below.
Melodics Magazine: So how do you compare your background of learning to read and write music with today’s producers who are just laying everything down on computers?
Tony Dofat: Reading and writing music is definitely helpful because it helps you understand and speak the language and speak to fellow musicians or someone else who’s musically inclined. It’s great to have the terminology and understand how to count measures and what an E or A scale is.
Now I’m teaching students the essentials and why it’s important to learn and understand theory. You don’t have to become an educator or have a Master’s in music to make records, but you have to learn the fundamentals.
MM: If I walked into your classroom today what would be one of the first things I’d learn?
TD: Before you start making songs you have to understand what genre you’re working in, so I teach music genre and what makes genres different. Like the differences in why this is called funk and why this is called disco and why this is jazz. This knowledge will help you determine the type of artist you want to be.
Then I explain how one genre led to another—how funk birthed hip-hop and then how that turned into the remix. Then we talk about the timing of each genre.
Some students think theory is boring, but I try to keep it interesting and choose songs that are relevant—that everyone is listening to—and I point out different beats and rhythms of structure. I teach them the difference between a beat and a rhythm. A lot of people don’t know the difference. These are the essential things that a producer really needs to understand and that will help your career drastically.
MM:At the time you came up, early hip-hop music production used live studio bands, right?
TD: From my era, growing up, everything was live. Everything was acoustic. There were no drum machines. There were no computers. We didn’t even have internet. So it was all acoustic and analog music— the most they had was maybe a four-track and an eight-track and you would have to get the performance just right.
So, there were a lot of mistakes but those mistakes are what make the songs what they are and what made people like the songs. That’s one of the things that I really love about older music—you had one shot to get it right. That’s the same method I applied to my records when I first started. When you listen to all of Mary’s early records there were mistakes in every song and even vocally and we just let it go out and people loved it.
MM:What kind of tools did you use back then?
TD: Just one keyboard and one drum machine. The Korg M1 was a standard, the Triton, the Roland D 550 or the D 50 and the Akai MPC 60 or the MPC62. And then there’s an MPC3000, or the MPC2000 or MPC2000XL and the E-MU SP1200. I’ve owned all of those machines, but right now I just own two MPC2000XLs. I don’t use them, but If a client asks for that particular sound, I still have my sound cards built on those ready to go.
MM:What’s the importance of samples in hip-hop production?
TD: A lot of people used to get on us about sampling, but hip-hop is based on sampling. Hip-hop is based on the DJ playing someone else’s records. If we didn’t play it then it would just be funk. We make it hip hop because we take the best parts of the song—the break—to make people act the fool. We take that and we loop it.
MM:What are you looking for in a sample when you remix a song like Mary J. Blige’s, “You Remind Me?”
TD: Great musicians who made funk only had a little break that was maybe a minute-and-a-half. With the creativity of hip-hop, we turned that one little break into another full song. Our little secret back in the 90s for finding the right songs was to look at people’s reactions when you play music. If they’re not acting crazy then you’re not doing a good job.
It’s all based on two-and-four bar loops and just keep looping it back. Once you have that skeleton it’s gonna be hot and everyone will love it. If you just keep adding elements that don’t fit, you’re gonna mess it up and end up overproducing. That’s why the biggest hit records are the ones that are simple and contain the least amount of instrumentation.
MM:Has your sound changed over the years?
TD: My ear is the same. I can use today’s technology, but I won’t let it hurt my sound. It’s hard for people starting out today because they have no knowledge of the past. They haven’t developed a sound yet-they have a sound that’s given to them. In my era, we had to make our sound. In my masterclasses, I teach students how to develop their own sound kits and not rely on downloaded sound kits.
As a producer, your sound is your identity. If you have the same sound kit as everyone in the room then you’re not differentiating yourself. I sculpted my own sounds. Yeah, I sampled but that process is different. A lot of new producers are talented, but they can reach higher if they just stop being lazy.
MM:Overall, how has production changed over the years, like triplets are big now?
TD: I think music has been the same for the past 10 years. The only thing that changed are songs and artists. I think if a producer today played a track from 10 years ago it would still sell. The tracks are pretty similar and the sound has been recycled from 10 years ago. Possibly the only things that change are a pattern, but the triplet high hats have been going on for six or seven years.
We didn’t really use a lot of 808s or low frequencies like 50 or 60 Hz, but today a lot more of that is being used. They use a different layering, but it’s still pretty much the same style.
MM:You’re also a sound engineer. Is that an important skill for a producer to learn?
TD: It’s very beneficial for a producer to learn frequencies, learn dynamic processing, and learn everything about the tonality of a sound because it’ll make your job a lot easier when you’re sculpting and creating sounds. I learned just from working with some of the greatest engineers, but they couldn’t give me the sound that I was still looking for.
I was looking for a specific sound, so I had to learn software from all of the consoles and I had to learn every button on the console to operate it myself.
MM:I want you to solve a debate for us—MPC vs. MIDI keyboard with drum pads.
TD: There are some differences because with MIDI there is a delay, it’s minimal but there is latency. The feel of the pad is also different and having everything self-contained in the MPC is a lot easier. You can just click on a pad and develop a tune in just a matter of seconds and you don’t have to learn all of these VST plugins. You can edit it, and truncate the beginning and the decay at the end. You can do all of that instantly and add filters and just program your beat right in the machine as opposed to using your controller and your software.
Essentially it does the same thing and software like Ableton does make it easier because you can automatically cut your loops and sounds. But would you rather rely on a computer to do it or would you want to do it by ear? That’s the difference because every producer has their own style of truncating sounds.
K.Flay (née Khristine Meredith Flaherty) is a singer, songwriter, rapper, multi-instrumentalist, and producer who got her start making music in her dorm room at Stanford University. Fed up with the misogyny in rap, she grabbed a mic, laid down some tracks on her computer and dropped the (now extremely hard to get your hands on) mixtape Suburban Rap Queen. Four mixtapes, two EPS, two full-length albums, and two Grammy noms later, she’s back with her third full-length release, Solutions, fusing pop, rock, hip-hop and electronic sounds.
“I’ve mostly created in my parents’ basement,” says the 33-year-old K.Flay about her preference of making music in unpretentious environments, like the modest subterranean floor of her parents’ Brooklyn and then Bay Area homes—also her obvious comfort zone. “It’s definitely not a professional environment in any way, (but), I wrote, recorded and produced everything down there.”
It’s no coincidence that, when working on her latest effort, Solutions, released by Night Street/Interscope Records on July 12, K.Flay made sure her recording spaces, albeit not her beloved basement, were appropriately comfy. She recorded part of it in Nashville, at a studio a friend built on his countryside property and the rest in Los Angeles, at producer Tommy English’s back house/studio.
“These studios are embedded in home environments, where there is a lack of pretentiousness,” says the Illinois native. “Everyone is different and everyone wants different things out of their creative environment. For me, what I aim to do is figure out how I can approximate the safety of my parents’ basement but add the creativeness and expertise of talented producers.”
From the sounds of Solutions, and the accolades it has received from music critics, it appears K.Flay’s modus operandi has worked. She “starts her third studio CD with the wonderfully autobiographical statement song “I Like Myself (Most of the Time)” and ends with a wistful tune about her father, “DNA,” wrote the Chicago Tribune. “In between, we get to celebrate all the gloriously different sides of an artist who resists getting boxed up in one genre,” writes The Guardian. The first single off her latest release, “Bad Vibes,” backed by a pop-rock, hip-hop sound, is a song about learning to let go of the negative things in your life.
Melodics Magazine caught up with K. Flay, right before she headed off on her “The Solutions Tour,” to learn about her journey to making her newest album. We dug into her artistic process, how necessity drove her to make her own beats and why she values collaboration. She also talks about what fans can expect from her soon-to-be-released microcast.
Melodics Magazine:You kind of stumbled upon music. For our readers that don’t know, how did you begin your career?
K. Flay: Initially, it was sort of, goofing off. By the time I got to college, I was listening to stuff like the Beach Boys, the Talking Heads, the Beatles, that kind of stuff. And then, whatever was on the radio. But, I hadn’t consumed independent music, and then I was confronted with all of that. I was like, this is f**** up. I’m 18, 19-years-old, and I think I know everything. I got into an argument with someone at my dorm and was like, “Why is this on the radio? I could write something like this.” And his response was: you’ve never even written a song.
MM: How’d that first songwriting session turn out?
KF: I’ve always enjoyed crossword puzzles. Songwriting, in many ways, is kind of like word puzzles–there was something about that process that clicked with me right away.
MM: At what point did you become emotionally invested in music?
KF: I think it was my junior year of college. The agenda started to become, “Oh, this isn’t just a song, there is an element of self-discovery that I am getting in touch with.” And, that felt very exciting for me.
MM: You are a singer and a songwriter, but you are also a producer. How did you learn to make beats?
KF: At the beginning, I was self-contained. I produced, made my beats, sang, all out of necessity. I didn’t know people who could do it for me and, necessity is always a great instigator. All of my production stuff was self-taught, from watching YouTube tutorials and then meeting people on campus, where there was a very small recording studio for the engineering program there.
A good friend in college was in that program and he was the first person to show me Pro Tools. I learned what I know through trial and error. Sometimes, I watch sessions by trained engineers and they absolutely shred it. I’m not quite as good, but, I have a pretty good system.
MM: Three albums later, has your process for creating music changed at all?
KF: For me, the shift was really in the last two records, and it was finding producers that I could really become creative partners with. When I was producing my own stuff… there were elements of that process that I enjoyed. But it wasn’t the primary thing I enjoyed about making music.
MM: How does the collaborative process usually work for you?
KF: In the last record, every song was recorded in an apartment or a house. I think there is something to that. Everyone is different, everyone wants different things out of their creative environment. For me, what I aim to do is figure out how I can approximate the safety of my parents’ basement but add the creativeness and expertise of talented producers. I was initially hesitant to collaborate in a certain way. My thought was, I do my own stuff, I am a one-woman entity. But, I think, collaboration is incredibly powerful and, good things can happen.
MM: Would you collaborate behind-the-scenes with other artists?
KF: I’m starting to see in my creative life, that I can do more writing with other artists on their records. I’m starting to understand my role, not just as an artist, but how I can be part of the support staff. And, I love it, honestly. I’ve been enjoying it so much. When it’s done, and when you do it well, it is really just about making space for somebody to be unabashedly honest and creative.
MM: There aren’t many female producers, especially not in hip-hop. Do you consider yourself a role model?
KF: What’s interesting is I haven’t worked with many female producers. I do understand there is an element of my experience and what I do that, for young women, especially young women starting in music, that can be slightly role-model-ish. I do see the importance in that as far as looking out into the world and looking for representation.
MM: How did you find your sound for Solutions?
KF: The initial inspiration point was LCD Soundsystem’s record This is Happening. It felt like very excellent lyricism along with those kind of drum machine sounds. That felt compelling to me. I certainly do not think Solutions is anything like that record. But spiritually, that was the first thing – the first song on the record, the synthesizer, that was an LCD-inspired synth. And, there is more synthesizer presence on this album.
MM: What else inspired you on this album?
KF: The other kind of inspiration was tempo in a lot of ways. Most of the songs have a fluid tempo to them. There is one ballad on the record, but I wanted the songs to feel like uptempo, I guess. On the last record, there were lots of moments of intentional darkness. That is not the place I am at and not what I wanted to put out into the world right now. [Editor’s Note: K. Flay dates musician Miya Folick and has been open about being in a dark place before their relationship.]
MM: Let’s break down two of your tracks on Solutions—”Sister” and “This Baby Don’t Cry.” On “Sister” you worked with Joel Little, who worked with Taylor Swift and Lorde and on “This Baby Don’t Cry,” you worked with Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons and Tommy English, who worked with you on your last Grammy-nominated album. When you made those songs, were you guys working all in digital or was it analog?
KF: On “Sister,” the guitar is analog, and some of the synthesizers are as well—we used a live prophet on that track.
On “This Baby Don’t Cry,” I’m pretty sure the whole song is analog instruments. I played bass, Tommy played guitar, the claps and the drums are live samples. Honestly, at first, I found the rhythm of the clapping pattern to be slightly brain-melting. It took me like a full five minutes to get it fully implanted in my brain
MM: What’s your preference—drum pads or real drums?
KF: On “Sister,” the drums were programmed. On “This Baby Don’t Cry,” we used live drum samples and Tommy and I sampled the hand-clapping for that song as well.
MM: What were Dan Reynolds’ contributions to “This Baby Don’t Cry?”
KF: Dan had the initial idea to make it a punky, riff-driven song. I was almost at the end of the album writing process, and that felt like a spirit and a vibe I was missing. He played that riff on bass and right away I started writing lyrics.
MM: Overall the track has a very 80s feel to it, what was the inspiration behind that?
KF: The inspiration for the track was really just to keep it as basic but as impactful as possible. How do we use the fewest number of instruments but still make the song feel huge? We went through a few different versions of the song—all of which contained more sonic and melodic elements than the version you hear today. But we ended up feeling like the best version was the simplest. That felt like the brave move. To strip layers away.
MM: Just as your tour approaches, you launched your own microcast, “What Am I Doing Here,” which is a shorter form podcast. Tell us more.
There are millions of Alexa and Google Homes in the world right now, and no one is creating content for that medium. For me, what’s exciting about making anything is when there are no rules. This is a similar situation. I love produced content like podcasts and radio. This is kind of the new frontier in that world because no one has really explored it. What I want to do and the premise of the show is, I’m often not home, so, how can I bring that experience of where I am and what I am doing here into someone’s home space? That is really exciting for me and really the inspiration for it.
some cool news. I HAVE A MICROCAST!!!
(it’s like a podcast, but shorter) and every week i’ll be answering the geographical & philosophical question
The drum set (aka the drum kit or trap set) as we know it came to be in the United States in the early 1900s for vaudeville shows. The fact that the trap set could be played with all four limbs made it extremely popular and it rapidly became a fixture in American music and spread to popular music from all over the world.
The drum kit’s United States’ origins is why drum sizes (diameter of the heads and cymbals, and depth of the shells) are listed in inches even though most countries don’t use American units of measurement.
A basic drum set is a collection of percussive instruments: typically a snare drum, one or two rack toms, a floor tom, kick drum, hi-hat, and a cymbal or two. Unlike many instruments, the drum set can fill out the entire range of human hearing, from the deepest lows to the highest highs.
The snare drum sits squarely in the middle of the standard drum set. Its diameter is typically 14 inches, and it is often around six inches deep (shallower than the other drums). The top head (or skin) of the drum is called the batter head (it’s the one you hit!) and the bottom head is called the resonant head (the sound reverberates off of it!) – this is true of all drums in the kit. But what gives the snare it’s signature sound is a group of metal wires called “snares” stretched across the resonant head of the drum. These snare wires can be tightened, loosened, or bypassed completely to change the sound of the drum with the “snare strainer” or “thrower,” which is a mechanical device on the side of the drum that holds the snares in place.
The snare sound occupies the middle frequency range of the drum set and often functions the same as a clap (generally people clap along with snare drum part of a groove).
The snare drum developed as a means to communicate military commands across a battlefield and while marching – so they were designed to have a sound that cuts through a noisy atmosphere and across long distances. Because this function also works perfectly for cutting through a mix of instruments, the snare has been repurposed into all kinds of modern music, and often provides the backbeat (clap-along part).
Dylan Wissing demonstrates classic snare drums from throughout the last 100 years.
The kick drum (aka bass drum) is the lowest sounding drum of the kit and is also the lowest positioned drum. It sits on the floor in front of you and is played with your right foot (on a righty-drum set). A mallet attached to a pedal strikes the batter head of the drum. The diameter of the drum is around 20 inches and the depth ranges from around 14 to 20 inches. The kick sound provides a low thump that people can tap their feet to. In many grooves the kick drum locks in with the bass guitar or bass synth, accenting the important notes that they play.
The late great John Blackwell’s legendary bass drum techniques.
It is often up to you as to how many toms you want in your kit. A standard pop drum kit has at least one rack tom and a floor tom, however it’s not uncommon to have more of both. The rack toms are often mounted on top of the kick drum, but sometimes they are mounted on cymbal stands or placed on stands of their own. On kits that only have one rack tom, it is normally positioned above and behind the snare drum so that you can easily hit it with both sticks. Rack toms are generally 12 or 13 inches in diameter and at least 6 inches deep.
The floor tom has leg attachments so that it sits on the floor to your right. It’s normally 14 to 16 inches in diameter and about 14 inches deep.
The toms are used in heavier grooves and fills because they have a deep sound, occupying the low to high mid-range.
Phill Collins’ epic Tom Fill in “In the Air Tonight”
The hi-hat is a fascinating instrument with a huge range of sound.. It is two small cymbals (often 14 inches each) mounted on a stand with a pedal that allows you to control the top cymbal with your left foot. You can smack the top cymbal into the bottom cymbal in a variety of ways to produce a range of sounds: from splashy to crisp. And then you can also play it with your stick, tightening the hats with more or less pressure on the pedal for different articulations.
The hi-hat is positioned to the left of the snare drum (often close enough so that it floats over the left half of the snare drum). Its sonic range occupies the high frequencies of the kit and is frequently used to “keep time,” (that means play a steady pattern).
Bernard Purdie demonstrating a tight hi-hat groove with some open hi-hats thrown in.
A standard drum set usually has a ride cymbal and/or crash cymbal. Both the crash and ride cymbals are similar in size (around 20 inches in diameter), but the ride cymbal is thicker and designed to have a nice “ping” sound when struck with the tip of the stick. Like the hi-hat, the ride cymbal is often used to keep time. This is where the ride cymbal gets its name: you “ride” on it to keep time.
The crash cymbal is most often used for a special kind of accent called a “crash.” You crash a cymbal by striking it on its edge with the shoulder of your stick, often hard. The crash cymbal is designed with crashing in mind, and typically has a rich and heavy attack with a high-frequency, long shimmery decay.
You can crash a ride cymbal and ride a crash cymbal, but a heavy ride cymbal has a slower attack and more wobbly decay when crashed, and a light crash cymbal has a more washy, less articulate attack when struck with the stick tip like a ride. There is a cymbal type called Crash-Ride, which is on the spectrum in between the two cymbal types.
The crash cymbal is typically suspended on a stand above the left side of the kit, hovering above the rack tom, or above and between the hi-hat and rack tom. The ride cymbal is usually positioned lower on its stand on the right side of the kit, and floats between the rack tom/s and floor tom.
If you have more than two cymbals, it’s pretty common to place them at different height levels and positions around the kit: experiment and find the places that feel most natural!
Dan Mayo surrounded by interesting cymbals
One of the many ways a drummer can develop a unique voice behind the kit is by adding different percussive instruments to their kit. Shakers, side-snares, electronics, mounted bongos, are just a few instruments that can be used to expand the sound of your kit.
Advancements in technology throughout the 100+ year existence of the drum set have expanded the range and role of the instrument.
Sunhouse is a recent technological advancement that has given drummers a voice in electronic music by translating the acoustic sound of the drums into a powerful digital controller, and allowing them to use their skills on the drums to produce music for modern pop genres.
If you’ve ever bobbed your head or wiggled your hips to the remix of Post Malone’s “Rockstar featuring Ozuna or Farruko’s “Krippy Krush (Remix)” featuring Nicki Minaj, 21 Savage and Travis Scott, then you, my dear friend, have been hit by Trapeton (aka Latin Trap aka Trap en Español) fever. This latest international pop music craze—blending elements of Reggaeton, hip-hop and even its kissing cousin, Afrobeat—is blowing up all over streaming, especially YouTube and Spotify.
At its core, Latin Trap, as it’s most widely known in English-speaking countries, is what happens when you fuse Reggaetón with Trap music. On one side of the equation you have Reggaetón, a blend of Caribbean dancehall, Latin rhythms and hip-hop, while on the other end you have Trap music, a form of hip-hop that originated in the American Southern states as a sound that combines brass, triangle, loud kicks, snappy snares, low-end 808 bass samples, and most notably—aggressive triplet hi-hats. With the two genres combined and paired with a bravado-fueled artist singing and/or rapping in Spanish over the sparse beat, you have an infectious melody.
The artist most closely linked with Latin Trap’s blazing success is Puerto-Rican born Bad Bunny, who has a rhythmic cadence and low, slow slurring vocals that put him in a class with the Migos and Future from Atlanta. Hailed as the King of Latin Trap, he’s steadily been one of Youtube’s Top 10 Most Viewed artists and has done major collabs with chart-topping pop acts like Cardi B, Drake, Will Smith, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. His artistry has a dual nature, where he’s boasting on one track and then goes all emo on the next, he’s also as comfortable flowing over a trap beat as he is traditional Reggaeton. Considering Latin Trap has its roots in Reggaeton, his ability to ride both rhythms makes perfect sense.
What is Reggaetón?
Latin Trap is often viewed as the resurgence of Reggaetón, though the two styles are somewhat distinct. Today’s Reggaeton sounds like DJ Snake’s banger “Taki Taki” featuring Cardi B, Ozuna and Selena Gomez, as well as Justin Bieber on “Despacito” with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, or J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente,” featuring Beyonce—a little bit pop and a little bit Moombahton, a mix of house music and reggaeton, and a little bit dembow. Dembow is a riddim built from dancehall artist Shabba Rank’s 1990 hit song, “Dem Bow,” produced by reggae and dancehall producer, Bobby Digital, who earned his name for being one of the first in his genre to experiment with digital rhythms. A riddim is Jamaican for the rhythm that accompanies a track and is stripped of its original vocals so that it can be used by other artists.
The dembow riddim, with its pulsating drum machine sounds, became the backbone of the Reggaeton sound. Reggaeton is said to have formulated in the early 90s in San Juan, Puerto Rico when DJ Playero put out mixtapes featuring Spanish freestyle raps over hip-hop and reggae fusions. At the time, Reggaeton was mainly underground because its themes were too aggressive or vulgar for radio play. There was also the musical collective, The Noise, consisting of a band of rappers, DJs and producers, including DJ Nelson, DJ Negro and Ivy Queen who were doing their part to bring Reggaeton out of the streets of San Juan and onto the mainstage.
But the most widely known Reggaeton artist, who is also known as the King of Reggaeton today is Daddy Yankee, who got his start on one of DJ Playero’s mixtapes that were recorded in a small studio back in 1991. Daddy Yankee would later go on to craft an explosive international Reggaeton hit in 2004 called “Gasolina,” featuring a catchy chorus and the dembow banging beat, that was said to definitively put the genre on the international music map.
In the 90s, there was another branch of Reggaeton emerging from Panama, led by El General, whose 1988 release of “Estas Buena,” a Spanish-language cover of Shabba Rank’s “Dem Bow,” sounded just like it came out of the Jamaican dancehall. El General found success with another track, “Tu Pun Pun,” that received American airplay, riding on the wave of the dancehall popularity of the time. He also experienced some cross-over love when he was featured on a pop music hit with C&C Music Factory. Some music critics call El General the father of Reggaeton, but others argue that his music was more Reggae en Español, because it was just Spanish-language Reggae, while Reggaetón has more of a kinship with hip-hop. This is one of the main reasons that Latin Trap is said to have its roots in Reggaetón music, especially since many Latin Trap artists ride the fence of both genres—hip-hop and reggae.
The early-to-mid aughts also gave birth to a Reggaeton movement within New York City, with rapper Noreaga’s release of “Oye Mi Canto,” in 2004 featuring reggaeton artists Gem Star, Daddy Yankee and Big Mato, as well as New-York based sister-twin duo Nina Sky. Nore and Nina Sky, with their Puerto Rican roots, fused the music of their native land with the hip-hop they grew up within NYC.
What is Trap?
Trap music originated in Atlanta in the early aughts. With this musical style, it’s like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Some wonder whether the genre rose from its lyrical content or from its musical style—rapid-fire hi-hats and pared-down drum patterns programmed on the Roland 808, with pitchy resampled funk or hip-hop samples. Rapper T.I. claims to have coined the term when he released his seminal hip-hop album Trap Muzik, with trap being a reference for a place where drugs are sold and the content of the album centering around that lifestyle.
Other music critics suggest that trap music is really all about the sound, which can be credited to producer Lex Luger, who started out making beats on Fruity Loops featuring hard-hitting 808 kicks, spooky synthesizers and crisp snare drums creating a boombastic orchestral blast. His sound cemented its place in hip-hop with Atlanta-based rapper Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in da Paint,” single off the album of the same name released in 2010. Around the same time, producer Shawty Redd was also in Atlanta creating dope-boy music with Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, also signaling the birth of trap, as these productions featured a multilayered, drum-laden style while the rappers’ lyrical content focused on life in the drug game.
Today’s Trap music has elevated itself to pop music status, with artists like Migos, Future and 2 Chainz crossing over into the mainstream, yet continuing the tradition of trap music from both a content and musical perspective.
What is Latin Trap (Trapeton)?
The worlds in which Latin Trap and American Trap converge is most notably when artists collab, but it’s also in the way the Roland 808 drum patterns sound, along with how the vocals flow in triplets, where you have three notes—either in a word or phrase—cascading over one beat. The triplet flow is also known as the Migos flow, the Versace flow, and the infamous mumble rap. But where mumble rappers and Trapeton artists diverge is where songs are sung either in all Spanish or bilingual style and the rhythm contains Latin flavor and elements of the dembow riddim most closely tied back to Reggaeton.
Latin Trap came about as the convergence of Spanish-language remixes of trap club bangers and Reggaeton artists gravitating toward a more hip-hop influenced sound. Besides Bad Bunny, artists like Ozuna, Farruko, Messiah and De La Ghetto are leading Latin Trap’s assault on the mainstream.
In this track “La Ocasión,” featuring Latin Trap and Reggaeton all-stars De La Ghetto, Arcangel, Ozuna, Anuel Aa, Dj Luian, Mambo Kingz, you can hear the influence of Trap—the staccato triplet rhyme flow, the punchy vocal ad-libs, the lo-fi bass, the crazy skittering hihats and the snappy snares—in an ominous orchestration.
Usually, a wave of music lasts about a good decade. Latin Trap is now just a little bit over 10, but hip-hop has lived long past 30. If the current focus on Latin-inspired music on the global stage is any indication of the genre’s long-lasting success, then Latin Trap just may go on to live as long as its hip-hop brother.
To celebrate DJ Scratch’s 30-plus years in the rap game, Melodics Magazine culled through his massive discography and picked out 20 of his best samples and beats.
Throughout the 1990s, hip-hop developed a plethora of pioneering DJs who eventually stepped behind the turntables and became legendary producers. DJs like Pete Rock, Premier, Marley Marl, Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri and the late Jam Master Jay are just some of the distinguished names who went from world-class DJs to influential producers without sacrificing one art form for another. In fact, both art forms are closely connected. In many creative situations, elements of DJing can be used for music production, too.
Nobody personifies this better than DJ Scratch, born George Spivey, a legendary DJ and a whiz kid on the turntables. The three-time Grammy nominees acrobatic skills on the 1’s and 2’s led him to win several DJ championship titles. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is the 2010 Master of the Mix winner and was a three-time “Turntablist of the Year” honoree at the Global Spin Awards. And he’s a New Music Seminar Battle for World Supremacy DJ champion.
Scratch, who was a protege of the late Jam Master Jay, would eventually lend his turntable skills to EPMD and become their official DJ. After his stint with the iconic rap duo, Scratch would become one of the central figures of the 1990s East Coast hip-hop production era. He crafted stellar beats for Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, PMD, Das Efx, among many others.
Scratch is a master at sampling and taking unconventional sounds or vocals from rare vinyl LPs and turning them into musical gold.
“I always approach producing like how I approached DJing. I didn’t want to do what was popular…I always wanted to create something [different on the turntables],” he said in 2017. “If you really take a look at my discography, I didn’t sample stuff that everybody was sampling. In the ’80s, early ’90s, everybody sampled James Brown — everybody. And I was like, ‘we need to do something different.'”
Check out DJ Scratch’s 20 Best Samples and Beats below.
Original Sample: Ohio Players – “Funky Worm”
Using one of West Coast hip-hop’s foundational samples, “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players, DJ Scratch adds the twinkling Moog synthesizer to the slow-pounding beat. Along with the vocal samples from Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” and Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” the song has a G-Funk feel but is still dripping with East Coast flavor.
Scratch went into his collection of 45s and pulled out this 1975 gem from soul singer Greg Perry. He used the entire song to craft DMX’s solemn song from his 2003 album, Grand Champ. From the flute and piano riffs to Perry’s monologue, to the funky bop, Scratch flipped something old to new again with his unique sampling skills.
Scratch grabbed the crackling snare from Iron Butterfly’s 1968 song “Get Out of My Life, Woman” but the haunting violin groove on the song is from Lalo Schifrin’s 1967 Mission Impossible score, which brilliantly sets the mood for Wu-Tang Clan’s menacing rhymes.
Scratch used the monstrous drum and snare pattern featured at the beginning of Power of Zeus’ 1970 song “The Sorcerer of Isis (The Ritual of the Mole).” It’s a classic breakbeat that’s been used by many legendary DJs, including Pete Rock.
16. Busta Rhymes – “We Could Take It Outside“
Original Sample: Henry Mancini – “The Windmills of Your Mind”
DJ Scratch and Busta Rhymes have created a plethora of classic bangers together. This is one of many featured on this list. In addition to cutting up Run-DMC’s vocals from “Beats to the Rhymes,” Scratch looped Mancini’s tranquil piano to set the mood.
15. Beanie Sigel – “Purple Rain” (Feat. Bun B)
Original Sample: The Dramatics – “In the Rain”
The piano riff and guitar lick from the Dramatics classic soul ballad are placed perfectly on Beanie Sigel’s solemn ode about lean addiction.
DJ Scratch is very precise when it comes to sampling. In this instance, he sampled the dramatic horns from “Boys With Toys,” which effectively gives the song a sense of urgency for the listener to pay attention to Kweli’s impactful lyrics.
13. Will Smith – “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (DJ Scratch Remix)
Original Sample: Stephanie Mills – “Put Your Body in It”
While Scratch is mostly known as a producer, he’s also a great remixer as well. Will Smith’s 1997 song was already a club hit, but Scratch flipped it and turned it into an ‘80s skating rink jam. By slowing down the funky instrumental on Mills’ 1979 song, he turned Will’s track into an ‘80s version of “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll.”
When it comes to sampling, Scratch is not afraid to use music from rare recordings. For this Flipmode banger, he used the synths stabs from Tangerine Dream’s 1977 song. It’s a small sample but effective.
10. 50 Cent – “I’m a Hustler“
Original Sample: Barry White – “Mellow Mood (Pt. 1)”
Once again, when Scratch uses a sample it’s for a purpose. Much like the title of Barry White’s song, the orchestral sample sets the mood for Fif’s urgent lyrics of getting rich or die trying.
9. LL Cool J – “Ill Bomb”
Original Sample: David Porter – “I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over”
David Porter’s tickling piano groove was most famously sampled on The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic 1994 song “Who Shot Ya.” But Scratch went a different route with Porter’s soulful tune. The ingenious producer took a snippet of the horn riff (heard midway in the song) and Porter’s vocals to create a definitive East Coast banger for Uncle L.
Scratch sampled some classic ‘80s songs for Busta Rhymes’ head-nodding track. He took the computer blips and funky groove from Spicer’s 1982 jam to lay the foundation. And if you listen closely, there are interpolations of Malcolm McLaren’s 1982 songs “Buffalo Gals” and “Zulu’s on a Time Bomb” in there as well. This is a complete ‘80s to ‘90s party jam.
During his stint with EPMD, DJ Scratch produced some great songs for the iconic rap duo. This is one of them. There are a plethora of samples on here. He sampled King’s guitar riffs, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and Chuck D vocals from “Timebomb,” among others. Scratch also cut up Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up” as well.
5. Sadat X – “Maybe It’s Me” (Featuring Dres)
Original Sample: Unknown
There’s no sample on here, but the beat is fantastic. Scratch most likely used an AKAI MPC2000XL to sequence a piano groove that sounds as if he sampled an old piano riff from a vintage jazz album. It’s quite impressive.
Scratch sampled the tranquil guitars and soulful hahs and woos from the New Birth song, while Swizzy and Nas Escobar deliver their introspective New York street stories.
3. Busta Rhymes – “Gimme Me Some More”
Original Sample: Bernard Herrmann – “Psycho Theme”
Here’s another classic from Scratch and Bussa-Buss. The creative producer looped a snippet of Herrmann’s orchestral violins, which pierces through the chaotic production. And like the title of Herrmann’s song, Busta goes lyrically psycho on the track.
This is, arguably, one of DJ Scratch’s greatest beats in his discography. The catchy piano riff heard throughout is from Soho’s classic b-boy jam “Hot Music (Jazz Mix),” which is a sample from Wynton Marsalis’ 1986 song “Skain’s Domain.”
1. Busta Rhymes – “New York Shit”
Original Sample: The S.S.O. Orchestra – “Faded Lady”
S.S.O. Orchestra’s 1976 soul tune “Faded Lady” has been sampled multiple times in hip-hop – most notably by Diamond D on his 1992 song “I Went for Mine – and Scratch looped the breakbeat brilliantly for Bussa-Buss’ New York anthem “New York Shit.”
Feel like your playing is getting better but you’re still too nervous to play on your own? Want to be able to sit down at your instrument and play without any prompts?
Introducing the new Melodics Playground Mode! Now you can free play over Lessons, record yourself, and listen back to evaluate your performance.
Every musician wants to be able to play their favourite songs, but becoming a great musician means more than following a script. Playground Mode gives you all the tools you need to take what you’ve learned and add a splash of your own creativity. Record and listen back to evaluate your own performance! Become a more confident musician and see how much progress you have made!
How do I find Playground Mode?
Next time you pass a Lesson, you’ll unlock Playground Mode for this Lesson. Once you’re in there, you’re free to play anything you want. Test yourself by playing the Lesson again from memory with no prompts, or improvise your own remix – it’s up to you
Want to know how you actually sound?
Loop it up and record.
Playground Mode will keep looping, so you can spend as long as you want in there. Hit the record button when you’re ready – you can record and listen back to evaluate your performance, start playing another layer over the top, or just sit back and admire your genius.
Messed up? Don’t worry – just hit the X button to start again.
Want to get creative, but don’t know where to start?
Learn the chords, or just jam out!
Don’t worry if you get stuck, for keys, we’ll let you know what notes and chords mostly sound good with each Lesson. Follow the scale indicated with green dots, or hit the “Show Chords” button to reveal the chords for that Lesson’s key. If you’re feeling extra brave, turn down the backing track to release your true potential and play anything you want!
What’s a song key?
A song key determines what notes and chords mostly “sound good” together. This is more of a guide than a hard rule. It’s a good place to start but don’t be afraid to try other keys too, especially when played quickly as passing notes.
Is Playground Mode also available in Melodics Pads and Drums?
Of course! Pads and Drums don’t include the key, scale, and chord guides (as those are Keys-only concepts) but you can still jam your ideas, remix the track on the fly, and record yourself to listen back to.
The benefits of recording, playback, and evaluation.
Being able to record and listen back to your performance is an incredibly useful tool. When you’re in the moment, it’s hard to notice small mistakes or happy accidents, and it’s difficult to critique your playing in real time. Humans like to get complacent too, so if you’re not careful, you might start to develop bad habits! It’s hard to notice these bad habits, and even harder to break from them without proper feedback.
Usually we have to rely on others for subjective feedback on our performances, but humans are not always the most reliable or critical, either! So who better to provide the best feedback than yourself? You are your own worst critic.
Learning how to improvise and jam
One of the most difficult skills to learn is applying your knowledge gained from Lessons to playing in the real world with other musicians. Lessons and courses provide the best core knowledge, but it can be hard to fully understand some concepts and apply them to the real world.
Playground Mode gives you the space to experiment and apply what you’ve learned without any prompts. With our chord suggestions for Melodics Keys, you can explore and get comfortable playing in a specific key, and learn which chords and notes work well together. Pads and drums will allow you to play what you want and evaluate your timing when playing without prompts.
Improvisation is also a big part of becoming a great musician. If you’re comfortable playing the Lesson content, Playground Mode is the place to go to improvise your own version. There’s no time limit, so you can spend as long as you want in there – it’s just you and your instrument!
Suitable for all abilities
Regardless of your skill level, there’s something for everyone in Playground Mode. Next time you pass a Lesson, jump into Playground Mode and explore. Start by testing your memory and play the Lesson again without prompts. If you’re feeling confident, set up a loop and improvise your own remix. You can also turn down the backing track and play anything you want. Don’t forget to hit that record button to listen back to your creativity!
This feature is for subscribers only. Subscribe to one of our plans and get access to Playground Mode for as long as you want.
How do I find Playground Mode in-app?
Once you get at least 1 star on a Lesson, you will see a Playground Mode icon on the screen where your score resides. You can also access Playground Mode in the Pre-Play screen for Lessons you already have at least 1 star on.
Does my performance in Playground Mode count towards my Daily Goal?
It does indeed! However, the time is counted only if you are actually playing – hitting the keys / pads / drums.
Amsterdam producer, guitarist and singer Robert Mathijs is the man behind The Quest For Groove, a website and YouTube channel devoted to helping users become expert finger drummers. Over a series of courses and videos, Rob combines his experience with live performance, studio production, finger drumming, web design and teaching into approachable steps and processes for understanding his three stages of musical mastery. Stage one: What to play (what pads to hit). Stage two: How to play it (loud, soft, laid-back, energetic etc.) Stage three: Why do I play this and not something else? For Rob, his engagement with finger drumming grew out of a desire to record his own groovy rhythm parts in studio sessions without hiring a session drummer. From there, he began exploring the creative possibilities of pad controllers and other new ways of bridging that musical gap between humans and computers. Given this, he was a natural lesson partner for Melodics. Below, Rob walks us through some of the challenges he sees new finger drummers facing, and his thoughts around the art of practice.
What are some of the common challenges you see new finger drummers coming up against? I noticed a lot of beginning finger drummers struggle with picking the right gear, the right software and setting everything up. There are a lot of options available on the hardware and software front, and unfortunately, a lot of those options don’t work if you want to play the way I play. Either the pads aren’t sensitive enough, or the sensitivity varies too much between pads, or the software that comes with the pads doesn’t provide you with the right sounds.
My preferred setup currently involves putting a Maschine MK3 in midi mode, completely ditching the Maschine software and then triggering Addictive Drums 2 with it. That’s not a very straightforward thing to do and takes a lot of messing around with midi learn and stuff, but it’s necessary for me to get both that great pad sensitivity and that hyper-realistic drum sound.
What are your thoughts around the roles finger-drumming can play within modern music paradigms? I think now that digital has basically absorbed analog (I believe we’re at a point were digital can ’emulate’ most analog behaviour) it’s time to start developing ways to get the same amount of precise and subtle control over our digital environments as ‘traditional’ musicians have over their instruments. The computer is the studio now, or the instrument, or the orchestra for that matter. As humans, we want to make it truly understand what’s in our hearts and one of the ways to do this is finger drumming. It’s one of the most direct ways to communicate the grooves we feel to the computer instead of playing by the rules of the computer and going out of our way to speak the computer’s language (which is how I feel when I have to program a beat).
Do you have any advice for users on how to create a regular practice routine and keep at it? The most important thing is to have your music setup ready to go whenever you are. It’s a bit silly, but one of the main reasons I’ve been playing more guitar lately is because I put it in a stand next to the couch instead of keeping it in its suitcase. All it takes is the reach of an arm to start playing. For finger drumming or anything electronic it’ll usually take booting up your computer and firing up the software, but you can at least make sure all your music making stuff is hooked up to one USB hub so you can plug it into your laptop and everything works right away. Have shortcuts to all your favourite music making programs ready on your desktop and preferably create standard templates for those programs, so they boot up with your favourite drum kit loaded and your favourite songs ready to go in a Spotify playlist or something. Another trick is to attach practicing to something that’s already part of your daily routine. Breakfast? Brushing your teeth? Watching The Late Show? Attach your practice sessions to one of those things.
Now that you’ve been involved in creating Melodics lessons, what sort of initial suggestions would you have for Melodics users around finger drumming? I think the most important thing when doing a melodics lesson is to realise that it’ll help you learn what pads to hit when. Once you know what to do, maybe close your eyes, don’t look at your hands, don’t look at a screen but just listen to what you’re playing and how that feels. In the end that’s what it’s all about.
Do you have any other thoughts on Melodics, and how it can mesh in with users personal interests in playing and creating music? One of the first things I was extremely jealous of was how easy it was to start playing. Melodics app makes it so easy to set up your pad controller. No explanation video could ever beat that! Secondly, something I also noticed with some of my guitar students who played ‘Rocksmith’ (basically the guitar version of melodics on a PlayStation) is that this gamification of practice is so incredibly helpful in nudging people towards practicing the right way. Like slowing it down, focusing your attention on certain weaknesses and stuff like that. It also creates this nice crossover between reading sheet music and doing everything by ear.
Email, social media notifications, alarms, auto-alerts, instant messages, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? Over the last two decades, the internet has afforded us access to a phenomenal amount of information and connectivity, but it’s also created a set of conditions that can be very psychologically taxing. For many of us, both our working and personal lives play out in increasingly frantic, overstimulated landscapes; and it can be a real struggle to keep up.
In response to this, as smartphones, tablets and computers have become increasingly central to modern life, recent years have been marked in part by the rise of meditation, mindfulness and self-care apps such as Calm and Headspace. Free to download, they’re digital balms designed to soothe us, and by the process of guiding us through mindfulness and meditation practices, help us create healthier relationships with these tools.
As clinical psychology research has shown, in even just a few minutes a day, the benefits of mindfulness travel into our everyday lives: improved physical health, mental health, happiness and overall well-being. With repetition, five minutes of practice can extend into half an hour, and the longer you spend in a mindful state, the better you’ll feel. At Melodics, we often think about a simple but powerful idea that illustrates this all very well;
greatness isn’t born; it’s grown, and we believe playing can be a form of mindfulness.
Have you ever been so completely and utterly immersed in a task that nothing else mattered, and the time flew away on you? If you’ve been there, it’s a state you probably wanted to return to. Some people get there through video games, sports or art. Other people get there through music and Melodics can be a pathway to that zone. Sit down, relax, start practicing, and let yourself enter the calm. Eventually, these actions become an outcome as you switch off from the outside world and immersion sets in.
Melodics artist Indi, a contemporary experimental musician and composer, currently based in Berlin, but originally from New Zealand, can see the relationship as well.
“The practice of music, to me, is the ultimate mental and emotional nourishment,” Indi says.
“When everything else in the world is in a constant state of emergency, there is nothing more freeing than focusing on a single melody, rhythm or piece for hours at a time. Taking time to do this acts as a form of self-care and meditation. The practice of music seems like an ancient, innate compulsion that everyone feels – it is just learning how to open up those valves of expression again.”
Melodics artist Leonard Charles, a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, programmer and producer from New Zealand, can also see the connection between music practice, mindfulness and meditation as well, but with a proviso. “It’s really important to learn to study your instrument in a relaxed mood,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a stressful environment. So, firstly, to get benefits from the relaxing nature of playing music, you need to approach playing your instrument in a relaxed manner.”
Leonard Charles’ thoughts underscore the realities often expressed by mindfulness and meditation advocates. These aren’t states you can instantly access; you have to build your way there through regular, consistent practice. It’s the same as working through Melodics lessons. Once you commit and get started, you’ll see results over time. With even just five minutes a day of practice, short streaks will become longer streaks, and a 50% score in a lesson will eventually become 100%.
Mindfulness is described as a practice for a reason, and much like Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, or the flow experience – a topic that we will dig into more shortly on the blog – the rewards that come with entering the zone will encourage you to invest the time required to return there. “If the instrument is played in this manner, calmly and with intent, then performance can become meditative,” Leonard Charles says.
“When the brain knows it is in a safe and comfortable environment, it will develop, and the benefits of this are sky high.”
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