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Making Beats: Choosing Sounds a Teacher Facilitation Guide


This guide is intended to give you some ideas or springboards rather than a set of required steps. Some programs might want to take a much more informal approach where students create music and the teacher scaffolds and highlights issues related to this unit. Others might want to have students move through a series of activities as a class or in small groups. Others might want to provide students with choices or versions of these activities and projects in a format that they can engage with at their own pace while the teacher circulates around the room. All/any of this is OK. Adapt these resources in a way that makes the most sense to you and the students in your program. This unit was designed to provide a focal point of addressing aspects of sounds/timbres in relation to beatmaking in an introductory and exploratory manner.

Overarching Essential/Generative Questions

  • What role do the specific sounds/timbres play in music you like to listen to or create?
  • What goes into choosing the sounds/timbres that are best for music you want to create?
  • Do the specific sounds/timbres in a recording matter? If yes, how so? 


Note: You might want to start with the related XP (4) in the Making Beats Playlist

Note: You might want to start directly with the project or more of an inquiry project-based learning approach. Alternatively, you might want a more structured and sequenced approach where students move through a set of activities that situate skills and concepts related to this unit. 

We are providing 4 activities, 1 longterm project, and 1 project extension.

Core Overarching Concepts

You may want to delve into, ask questions about, or extend this unit in new directions with any of the following related concepts. We are happy to help you develop related activities/projects that make sense in your context.

Note: As with pretty much any other information, the following concepts are contextual and based on particular perspectives – don’t think of them as “truths,” think of them as starting points to explore in more depth and to gain broader perspectives

Big Ideas & Enduring Understandings

 Sounds/timbres play an important role in beatmaking 

To create the music you love, you will want to choose appropriate sounds/timbres in terms of genre, texture, frequency, and length.


Making decisions about and choosing sounds/timbres to include in making a beat

An example of the big idea and skill in context

When making a trap beat you might choose 808 sounds, including the signature hi hat, snare and kick sounds. These sounds can also be used for electronic music like house, techno, Miami bass, etc.

Why this might be important

The sounds/timbres along with tempo and rhythms inform what genre a beat fits within. You may be disappointed if you want to make a trap beat but it sounds like House for some reason. Understanding the role that sounds/timbres play in music as well as the sounds characteristic of different genres can support your music creation.

Choosing Sounds Activities:

Beatmaking Unit Choosing Sounds: 1.0

Beatmaking Unit Choosing Sounds: 2.0

Beatmaking Unit Choosing Sounds: 3.0

Beatmaking Unit Choosing Sounds: 4.0

Beatmaking Unit Choosing Sounds: 5.1 and Extension

Additional Concepts You Could Address 

Techniques of creating, sampling, buying/collecting sounds.

Learning about hardware vs. software, drum machines (808 and 909), synths, breaks, and sample packs.

  • Hardware is a physical keyboard or equipment that creates sounds without the need to use a separate computer.
  • Software is a virtual representation of an instrument, drum machine, or synth (explore VSTs)
  • Drum Machines are hardware machines built specifically for drum synthesis and have become the de-facto sound and design interface for software drum machines. (possible connection to design & culture around drum machines)
  • Synths are software/hardware that create sound through synthesizing sound from scratch (not recordings).
  • Breaks are drum loop samples – segments of recordings where there are only drums. Hip-Hop beats used to sample records/albums and use the breaks as sources to re-create real drum recordings (possible connection to DJing and history/culture).
  • Sample packs are collections of sounds that producers and DJs can purchase that are sourced from a variety of places; synths, drum machines and samples. (possible connection to the rules/law related to sampling, business of sample packs, and debates about the use of sample packs in terms of creativity/originality etc.)

Learning what a Preset and Patch is.

  • A patch/preset is a configuration of a sythesizer’s controls to create a specific sound. A synthesizer has a finite number of sounds it can create based on it’s controls. The presets/patches in a synthesizer are a way of recalling those configurations. For instance, a synth might be able to recreate a Brass sound by configuring the knobs and faders in a specific way. The “Brass Preset” is the configuration of the synth so that it creates a Brass sound. (Possible STEM/STEAM connections here!)
Sound categories; synth, brass, drums/percussion, keys, bass, strings, etc.
  • Within a synth’s preset bank (collection of presets), some synthesizers will help the producer by categorizing the sounds by sound type or instrument family. Usually this is done with consideration of the traditional family of instruments such as orchestral/band instruments: brass, strings, woodwinds, etc. But there are also specific Synth instruments as well; Pad, Arpeggiator/Rhythmic, Lead, etc.

Learning what the 808 and 909 drum machines are and the contexts/genres in which people tend to use them.

  • Modern hip-hop beats almost always utilize the 808 sounds especially trap.
  • Modern electronic music such as House and ElectroHouse utilize 909 sounds more often, but there is definitely cross over. The 909 kick is more high and clicky where as the 808 kick is lower and thicker. These are often also characteristics associated with those genres.