How do I learn to keep a beat?
March 29, 2009 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I am video editor who cuts a lot of promo material. Sometimes I have to take a song and cut it down to a specific amount of time (say 30 seconds), while making sure the song does lose its beat or right order of cords. Is there a way to learn music timing, keeping a beat, cords, etc. for those who are not musically inclined? FYI I have never played an instrument.
posted by helios410 to Media & Arts (5 answers total)
I have a pretty good sense of a song's beat, and can pretty much find it with a tap of my foot regardless of the music style or pace. I think I've always had that ability; I don't remember ever learning it.

But I think if I were trying to learn how to be better at it, I would focus on music styles where the beat is very obvious, e.g. hip-hop or most varieties of techno or dance music. Get comfortable tapping your foot to the beat of a song where it's overbearing, most-obvious part, like the kick drum of a techno song. Once you're more comfortable finding that beat, branch out into other styles of music (drum-less, guitar-driven bluegrass, for instance) to improve your ear.

As for incorporating it into video editing, maybe instead of tapping with your foot, tap the beat out with the space bar on your keyboard. Most editors these days have the ability to set markers to establish the pace of a song for syncing with the edit.

Hope this helps!
posted by nitsuj at 4:47 PM on March 29, 2009

In most popular music, the time signature is 4/4. That means four beats equals a measure (or bar). Keep the cuts on multiples of 4 or 8 bars and you'll do OK. This may mess with the lyrics. You can cut from the middle of a phrase, as long as the result is a multiple of 4 or 8 bars.

Often, you can completely cut out the chorus of a pop song. If there aren't any lyrics in the song, you have even more flexibility, because the opportunity to cut on different even multiples exists.

As far as the mechanics of the editing, you should be using a sample-accurate editor to make these edits and then importing into your video editing program. The audio editing tools in many video editing packages aren't as easy to use. Some default to cutting on the frame, and 1/30th of a second is ages in audio, and is definitely audible.
posted by tomierna at 7:02 PM on March 29, 2009

Timing: Keep a metronome running in the background while you do your daily things. Don't try syncing it up with the music you're editing (possible but it will drive you crazy), but let it run. After a minute you will forget that it's going.

This is how music/drum students learn rhythm. Try tapping or typing along with the beat. Use a number you're comfortable with.

Chords: Chord progressions are basically this (each letter being a different chord)- ABCD-ABCD-ABCD

You want to cut a song after the D (or before the first chord of the progression resumes) You can typically recognize the "D" because it seems to resolve A, B, and C.

FWIW, I play guitar, drums, piano, and a host of other instruments.
posted by bradly at 8:03 PM on March 29, 2009

Oops, here's a link to a nice online metronome
posted by bradly at 8:04 PM on March 29, 2009

I've been a musician for 18 years and as you can imagine, I've gotten quite good, but I always go back to the fundamentals when I practice.

The beat is fundamental, it's a building block of music, and it's fundamental to who we are as human beings as well, so it's just a matter of tapping in to that. There are some activities that we all do that are fundamentally rhythmic and by becoming somewhat conscious of those activities as you're doing them, you'll start to develop a sense of internal rhythm.

1. Breathing. Breathing tends to be slow, but it's rhythmic so it may be difficult to tap into this.

2. Speech. Speech is very rhythmic, but you may not hear it right way since you haven't really internalized a good sense of rhythm yet.

3. Chewing. I constantly find myself chewing in time to the music that's on in the background. You probably do to but you aren't aware of it.

4. Walking. This is the big one. Grab your ipod and go for a nice long walk. Just do it. You'll start to automatically walk in time to the beat. When I go to the gym I listen to books on tape when I go through my workout - except on the treadmill. On the treadmill I listen to music, and I probably walk with quite a swagger - from a strong, masculine swagger to a rather loose swing step.

Music tends to be in a walking or jogging range tempo-wise. We listen to music with the beats that we do for a reason, these beats are fundamental to us as human beings.

You'll also find that rock beats have KICK and SNARE and KICK and SNARE that just so happens to correspond to LEFT and RIGHT and LEFT and RIGHT as you walk. Again, this is no accident. We make music this way because that beat is going on around us all the time.

It also roughly corresponds to heart rate, but I won't get into that since we're usually even less aware of our heart rates than our breathing.

To practice this actively, get a metronome (as suggested above - they're like $10 to $20) and keep the rhythm roughly between 90 and 120 (bpm or beats per minute = 120bpm = 2 beats per second & is the most common dance tempo, and would be a jogging tempo, or a dance tempo). Then clap along to the beat. The goal is to "bury" the beat - to clap at exactly the same time as the beat so you don't hear the beat, you only hear the clap. It's tough to do, but it can be done & the more you can do this, the better you become.

The key to doing this, though, is to think of the "off beats" - the spaces between the beats. When you're walking your feet hit the ground in time with the music, but you're also moving your body in time with the invisible in-between beats (called off beats or up beats - since you're lifting your leg or arm up when the occur).

Don't just try to clap: clap clap clap clap, be of the UP beats too and count them to yourself "one AND two AND three AND four ANd one AND two AND three AND four."

If you master this - and it will take a while - you'll have a great sense of internal rhythm, at leas for rock & roll. Other styles of music (especially latin) are all about the UP beats.

As for chords, that's tougher. Songs are written typically in groups of four. A "bar" or "measure" is a group of 4 beats:

left and right and left and right. (kick and snare and kick and snare)

Songs usually change chords after 1 bar (sometimes after half a bar, sometimes after 2 bars).

A verse is usually 4 or 8 or so bars long. There may be a prechorus before the chorus which may be 2 or 4 bars, and a chorus which will be 4 or 8 bars or so.

So when you're editing music, you should be aware of the verses & choruses and edit at the end of a verse or chorus.

A typical song may be:

Intro: 2 bars
Verse 1: 4 bars
Verse 2: 4 bars
Prechorus: 2 bars
Chorus: 4 bars

etc. - try to edit around these natural groupings.

Also, as someone who (briefly) studied audio engineering, you always make the edits on the beats (just before the beat).

Good luck. Hit me up if you want more.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:28 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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