How To Make Detroit Beats - Ultimate Guide
HERE’S A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO MAKING DETROIT STYLE BEATS FOR ARTISTS LIKE ICEWEAR VEZZO, BABYFACE RAY, OR SADA BABY
Detroit beats have been around for decades. The dark melodies combined with fast bouncy drums create a vibe that cannot be replaced. Detroit style beats have become much more popular over the last few years and it seems like more and more producers are learning the style every day. In this blog, we’re going to break down the basics and go into details about how to create these Detroit beats.
Detroit melodies are often very fast. The average tempo for a Detroit type beat is 175-205 BPM. Some producers choose to make these faster beats in half time, around 88-102BPM. Once you have your tempo set, it’s time to compose your melody.
Piano melodies are a staple of Detroit beats. Use a piano to set the foundation of your melody and layer it up with other instruments as you go. Start with a minor chord progression. Decide what key you want to write your melody in, and start with that minor chord. From there, you can choose to go up or down with your chord progression. Experiment with building tension and adding resolution to your chords to give your progression a more colorful feel.
Once you have your chords, you want to create a fast-moving arpeggio in a higher octave. These should be notes that are included in your chords. If you are in a full-time tempo (175-205 BPM), your arpeggio should be composed with half-beat notes.
Tip: To measure the length of your notes in the FL Studio piano roll, click the green magnet in the top left corner and select “½ beat” in the drop-down menu.
A great way to create variation in your piano melody is by changing the octave of your arpeggio after some time. You can choose four, eight, 16, or however many bars you think is good before you add your switch up.
You can also experiment with the octaves in your chords. These are called inversions. By changing the octaves of notes within your chord progression, you can change the overall feel of the chords and make them sound fuller or more engaging without changing the chord itself. Change the inventions of your chords every once in a while to make your melodies sound more complex and interesting to the listener or artist. This will give your melodies a higher chance of getting placed with an artist or collaborated on by a producer.
Add a deep bassline in your piano melody that follows the root notes of the chords. Add this bassline in the C3 range in your piano roll. The low notes contrasted with the high octave arpeggio will create a very full energy in the headphones of the listener and artist. This will also make it easier to create the 808 pattern when you get around to that. By simply following the root notes of the chords, you are adding an extra layer of energy to the track just by copying notes down a couple of octaves.
Once you have layered your root notes in the bass line, feel free to add some passing notes from one chord to the next. Passing notes are notes that do not hit at the exact same time as the chord, but they help move from one note to the next.
An example of a passing note is if you have a four-beat C note that changes to a four-beat D# note, you can add a 1 or ½ bar D note to pass from the C to the D#. This note is in between the two notes in the C minor scale, so it will sound good when used as a passing note. You can experiment with these passing notes as well. They do not have to be in between the two chords, they can be much higher or much lower. Sometimes, they don’t even need to be in the scale! When working outside the scale, you need to rely on a little bit of music theory. Whatever passing note you choose, just make sure it sounds good moving from one chord to the next.
Now that you have your piano melody, we can move on to the other melodic layers of Detroit beats!
Another aspect of dark Detroit beats is the string section. Some producers choose to use long string chords to complement their piano melody. Others prefer to use short string stabs as their main arpeggio or counter melody. Either choice will help enhance your melody and bring your beat to the next level. Subtly layering instruments is a great way to make your beats sound more full, but this choice is ultimately up to you, but we’re going to talk about how to do both.
Since you already have a chord progression created in your piano melody, the string chord layer shouldn’t be too hard. It can be as easy as copying and pasting right into your new piano roll. If you want to add a little more variation, there are other techniques you can use to add your string chords.
One method that I find myself using frequently is perfect fifths. This is a music theory term but I promise it is very simple. Let me explain; The C minor chord is comprised of three notes. C, D#, and G. This is called a triad. The interval between C and G is called a perfect fifth, because C is the first note in the scale, and G is the fifth note in the scale. Perfect fifth intervals have a very strong-sounding companionship and are used in almost every song released these days. Using two-note intervals instead of just copying the piano chords maintains a level of openness in the mix where triads can intrude. You want to keep your melody at the perfect balance of complex and simple, where you can add drums and vocals and still not be too “overcooked.”
String Top Melody
For string top melodies, you want to use a much shorter string stab such as staccato or pizzicato. You can also utilize two-note intervals in a top melody. I recommend adding notes that compliment your piano arpeggio instead of simply copying it. Keep in mind the perfect fifth interval. If a piano melody starts with the C note, you can make your string melody start with the G note and create that perfect fifth interval.
To counter your piano top melody, you can do a call and response. For example, have your piano play a specific melody then leave an equal amount of empty space. In that space, have your strings play a melody that compliments your piano. This can be the exact same melody or something different. You can also create harmonies with your layers by playing them at the same time. Experiment and find out what works best for your melody.
Just like your piano chords and arpeggios, you can create a much brighter and more colorful energy in your string melodies by raising the octaves of your notes. This creates a variation that keeps the vibe moving forward. Keep your melody in the lower octave for 4-8 bars then bring it up an octave for the same amount of time.
Adding bells to compliment your melody is a staple of Detroit beats. The use of the popular “tubular bell” is used frequently to emphasize chords and add melodic layering to the track. Keep your bells minimal because you already have lots of melodic elements going on with the piano and strings. Only add your bell to the first beat of a chord and limit passing notes.
The Moog synth bass is one of the most recognizable aspects of a Detroit beat. The uniqueness of the sound lets the listener know immediately that this is a Detroit beat. You can find this sound in the 313 Lit VST or in a one-shot kit from the internet.
Create your bassline to enhance your melody and build hype for the drop. Make a simple bassline pattern that follows the rhythm you want your drums to be. Use the piano bassline to find the root notes and utilize passing notes between chords.
Tip: With a piano bassline, synth bassline, and 808s, the low end of your beat will get very muddy. Choose to use only one of these at a time. If you need to use two, add a low-cut EQ to one of them to limit the low frequencies being used.
With a full piano melody including chords, bassline, and top melody, a string layer, bells, and synth bass, we have finished our melody and are now going to move on to the drums!
While many trap subgenres make use of a heavy-hitting clap or loud snare, many Detroit producers choose to use a more subtle hit on the two and four of every bar. This can be a pitched-up snare drum, such as the one used in Babyface Ray’s “What The Business Is.” You could also choose a more percussive rim shot, such as the one used in “2 Million Up” by Peezy. The choice to use a subtle hit instead of a loud heavy snare or clap maintains a more laid-back energy in the drums and allows the artist to shine through much better and find their pocket.
As usual, you can add your snare to the second and fourth beat of the channel rack, but you can also add accent snares and change up the pattern. Here’s a simple trick to try that will add some bounce to your snare pattern. If you are working in a halftime tempo like 85 BPM, instead of adding your snare to the second and fourth beat, use the second beat for the first snare and delay the second snare by half a beat. If you are in a full-time tempo, such as 190 BPM, every two or four snares, change it from the third beat to the fourth beat. This will cause the same bounce effect.
If you’re confused, here’s a diagram to help.
Open Hi Hat
In Detroit beats, open hi-hats are used to maintain the bounce of the drum pattern and emphasize important 808 hits. I recommend using a tight and short open hat. Layer your open hi-hat on notes you are going to add an 808 to. The high frequency of the open hat layered with the lows of the 808 combine to create a very full-sounding bounce that adds warmth and color to the track.
You can also use the open hi-hats to create a bounce before or after the snare. Add an open hi-hat either one beat or half a beat before or after your snare. This will create an interesting rhythm in the drum pattern.
Closed Hi Hat
Unlike many generic trap beats, Detroit beats do not utilize closed hi-hats in the same way. Hi-hats are used much more subtly if at all. There are few loud obnoxious rolls in Detroit beats and closed hi-hats are usually limited to a two-step pattern that is very low in the mix. You can also use a limited closed hi-hat pattern to create any type of bounce you feel works with the beat.
In Detroit drum patterns, 808s are the driving force. Most Detroit beats use a short and snappy 808, usually a version of the spinz. Detroit 808s are fast and complex. Use rolls to add more variation to the drum pattern. Another way to make your 808s stand out and hit harder is by using octave jumps. Many Detroit beats have the 808s jump up to higher octaves to add a bigger range in frequency. Experiment with the velocities on your 808s as well. In your rolls, have the velocity grow or shrink to create more dynamic changes.
Make sure your 808 does not clash with the low frequencies of your piano bassline and synth bass. Only use one at a time while you are arranging your beat or use a high pass filter to cut the low frequencies in one of them.
The percussion and sound effects are what really make Detroit beats so unique. The minimal drum pattern can be so easily enhanced with the Detroit percussion and sound effects. You can find these sounds anywhere on the internet. Simply search “Detroit sound kit” or “Detroit percussion pack” and surf through your options. Many staples of the Detroit percussion sounds include the laser effect, stomp effects, cowbells, claves, vibraslaps, and more. Use these to fill in pockets that sound too empty in your beats.
When you are composing your drum patterns, It is very important to make sure the artist will have plenty of space to shine through the beat. This is true for all types of beats, not just Detroit style. While it can be easy to get carried away in the unique percussion and bouncy 808s, make sure you leave room for the rapper to turn the beat into a hit.
Once you have composed your beat, you need to arrange it into a full track. Start with an eight to 16-bar intro using melodic elements. Mix and match your layers to create a build-up for the drop. For example, you can start with the piano for eight bars, then bring in the synth bass and strings. Once the drop hits, you should take out your synth bass because we already talked about how low frequencies get muddy when layered together.
Detroit style beats are very unique and extremely fun to create. The dark and bouncy melodies combined with the hard 808s and rhythmic drums create a vibe unlike any other style of beat. The beats are so simple yet so perfect and recognizable.
In summary, here’s how to make Detroit beats:
Make a fast piano melody with minor chords
Add string and bell layers on top
Use short, bouncy 808s to carry the track
Add a small snare instead of a heavy clap
Use signature Detroit percussion
Arrange your track fully
Written by Jake Tompkins