It’s hard to deny the huge impact reggaeton has had on the charts in recent years. Whether in its purest form or crossing over into mainstream pop music, you’ll have heard the Latin Caribbean’s take on dancehall reggae, and it doesn’t even have to be “Despacito.”
The party sound of Puerto Rico, reggaeton takes rhythmic inspiration from Jamaican dancehall, combining it with US hip-hop and R&B influences. Originally its popularity was confined to the Puerto Rican underground scene in the 90s, but in the 00s it spread throughout South America and eventually to the US and Europe.
The reggaeton beat is typically based around a four-four kick drum rhythm, and although it’s relatively downtempo compared to electronic music such as house, its syncopated snare patterns give it an unusual feel that’s somehow simultaneously leaden and frisky.
In this tutorial we’ll show you how to build a reggaeton beat in BandLab’s web Mix Editor, our free music-making software that features virtual instruments, drum kits and samples designed to make creating your own music easy.
1. Laying down a four-four kick drum
We’ll start by creating a virtual instrument track, then setting its category to Drum Pads and instrument to Techno Throwback. This kit has a clean kick with a solid low end that will allow us to create the insistent driving feel we’re after.
We set the project tempo to 96BPM, and add kicks on every beat of the bar.
2. Adding syncopated snares
We need a full but natural-sounding snare, so let’s add another virtual instrument track, and this time set it to Drum Pads and the Boom Bap Classic Kit.
We’ll add snares on the fourth and seventh 16th notes, and duplicate this sequence so it plays over the third and fourth beat too.
This kick-snare rhythm is a reggaeton fundamental, and now we’ve got it locked in we can add some extra touches to flesh it out.
3. Layering minimal hats
Reggaeton tracks don’t tend to have too much going on in the way of hi-hats, and avoid the rigid 8th notes closed-hat patterns that are found in hip-hop, trap and many electronic genres. Many reggaeton tracks have barely perceptible hats, and just use them to brighten up the snares. Let’s give that a try.
We’ll add another virtual instrument track, set it to Drum Pads and 808 Kit, and use the same pattern as the snare, this time using it to play the closed hat sound.
The hats only need to be subtle, so we’ll turn this track down to -4dB.
4. Elongating the groove
Currently our reggaeton beat is rather generic, so let’s add another percussion element to give it a more flavour. We add another virtual instrument rack, setting it to Drum Pads and Neptunian Kit.
The sound we’re interested in here is the shaker, which we’ll play on the sixth 8th note of the bar. Before, beats 1 and 2 of the bar were identical to beats 3 and 4 of the bar, but with this small addition we’ve made them feel different. The shaker it a little loud though, so let’s turn it down to about -3dB.
5. Making stereo movement
Let’s set the track’s pan position to -20 to move it into the left speaker, giving our beat a bit of the stereo feel. Let’s put something into the right speaker too: duplicate the beat out so it plays for two bars, then duplicate the shaker track and pan the new version to +20, putting it into the right speaker.
Delete the second shaker on the left-panned track, and the first shaker on the right-panned track. Now the first shaker plays only on the left-panned track, and the second shaker plays only on the right-panned track. This gives us a shaker that moves between the left and right speakers each time it plays.
6. Testing the beat out with some music
Now we’ve fleshed out our beat a little, let’s try adding some musical elements to hear how it works in context. To find some appropriate material we open the Loop browser, click the loop tab and enter ‘reggaeton’ into the search bar. Reggaeton Bass 02 makes for a pleasing musical base so we drag that onto a new track.
Reggaeton Inst 03 has a complimentary sound, but only the first two notes fit musically with the existing material. So, we slice the audio after those using the Slice command, delete the unwanted section, then duplicate the first two notes over the second bar. Then we use the Editor panel to pitch the new version up two semitones to fit with the bass line.
So that’s how you make a reggaeton beat from scratch!
Watch this space for more tips, tricks and tutorials on more beatmaking basics on BandLab. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more video tutorials on music production techniques.