Rhythm Raps in GarageBand

Raps are fun ways to work on musical concepts such as song form, rhythm notation, and lyric writing.  They are also a good way to begin working with GarageBand, because you are not dealing with the additional concept of melody or melodic instrumentation and notation.

Part One:  Write the Rap Lyrics

  • Generate a simple rap.  An easy way to do this is by compiling a list of words or phrases on a specific topic (for example:  favorite foods, emotions, summer activities, sports in the Olympics, what does “back to school” mean to you?, etc.).

    The start of an “Emotions” rap — the brainstormed list is divided into “happy” and “sad” emotions and rhythmic values are added.

  • Then make your list “rhythmic,” so that you can read it in rhythm.  You may need to rearrange words on the list to make it fit into a 4/4 rhythm.
    • Optional:  make the rap rhyme by ending each line with a rhyming word.
    • Optional:  write out the rhythm for the rap in music notation, either by hand or using notation software.

      The actual “script” for our rap.

  • If you want to use this rap to teach song structure, you can create segments for verses, choruses, bridges, etc.  A lot of contemporary rap music has a sung chorus – this could be something you have prepared ahead of time, an applicable folk song or nursery rhyme, or it could be something students create as well.

Here are some examples:

    • Practice and edit your rap acapella until you are satisfied with the results.    Here is an example of a very simple rap, based on the “Emotions” pictures above.

Part Two:  Create Your Audio Track

Now it is time to create a backing track for your rap using GarageBand.  Before you begin working in the software, though, you need to make some decisions about what your final project will sound like.  (GarageBand has SO many options for accompaniment and instrumentation; it will speed up your process immensely if you have a clear vision of what you want before you begin on the computer.)

  • Decide on an overall mood or theme for your rap before you begin.  Do you want your rap to be happy?  Sad?  Playful?  Angry?  You will be choosing loops and backing instrumentation that match this criteria.
  • Determine an approximate tempo for your rap.  By default, GarageBand sets tempos at 120, but you can change this easily.  (see image in the next section)
  • Determine what instrumentation you want to use with your rap – drums only?  Drums and bass?  Drums and Keyboard loop?  (Hint:  instructors can have pre-made these decisions or can let students make them.  Much of this decision will be determined by how much time is available for the project.  It is wise to familiarize yourself with the loop and instrumentation content within GarageBand ahead of time, particularly if you are going to be letting students decide on the fly what they want for accompaniments.)

Now, you can create your rap accompaniment track in GarageBand.

  1. Make sure the tempo of your track is the same tempo you decided on in the previous section.

    Switch playback window to “Project;” then click on the tempo to change it.

  2. Make sure the metronome is turned on.

    When “Metronome” is checked, the metronome will sound when recording only.

  3. Record a “starter” audio file of one or more students performing the rap in tempo with the metronome.  This may or may not be the audio track you use for your final product, but it will help keep the accompaniment creation process focused.
  4. Add desired accompaniment tracks one-by-one to compliment the recorded vocal track, beginning with the percussion/rhythm track.  Use the description words you came up with the previous section to guide your choice of accompaniment loops and instruments.  (Hints:  select “All Drums” as a search filter in the loops area.  “Club Dance Beats” are good choices for raps, but there are many percussion loops to choose from.)
    • If you have different “sections” in your rap, you may want to use different accompaniment loops for each section.
    • The “Electronic” filter includes many loops that could be added to your rap.
    • Accompaniments can also be recorded live using GarageBand’s recording capabilities, either via midi or “real audio” microphone tools.  (Hint:  you may want to use headphones if you are recording audio accompaniment snippets live, as metronome or vocal sound will bleed onto the accompaniment track when you record.)
    • You can create an intro or outro with extra loops before and after the vocals.
  1. Optional:  rerecord the vocal track after the accompaniment is created.
  2. Optional:  use the track editors to manipulate the sounds in your rap.  Editing the vocal tracks can be very effective.  Some of my favorite settings are “Live Performance” under the “Vocals” section (for a very clean, prominent, resonant sound), and “Telephone Lines” under the “Effects” section (for a fun, filtered sound).  GarageBand has advanced sound editing capabilities that can be utilized if you are comfortable with them.

Here is an example of a finished product – both what it looks like in GarageBand and what it sounds like:

Finally, you need to export your rap to iTunes so it can be shared and performed.

  • Hint:  If you want to export a “karaoke” track, click the “mute” button on the track(s) with the vocals before Sharing.

    Mute or unmute tracks by clicking the “sound” icon.

  • Select “Send Song to iTunes” from the Sharing menu and follow the onscreen prompts to export and share your audio file.
  • Optional:  use a website like SoundCloud.com to upload the audio file into a format that can be shared with a simple email link (or embed it in a blog like I did in this post!)

Software Used:  GarageBand ’09, Version 5.1

Cross-Subject Correlation:  ANYTHING!  Pick a subject-specific topic for your rap (such as a historical event, a mathematical concept, or a piece of literature) and create your rap about it.

Amanda Louise Miller is pursuing an MM in Music Composition at Oklahoma City University.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and extensive experience working in online learning and faculty development.
Contact her at amandalouisemiller@gmail.com 

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