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How to Create an Afro Beats Instrumental from Scratch [2020]

Sigh* :)

One thing to keep in mind before we get started: "Music Production or Beat Making" can be fun if you know what you are doing but trust me, without a good guide, or the right path, you are likely to get frustrated, and in some cases, you might want to quit, nevertheless, I am here to help out.

If you don't want to create your own beats but you need good beats as a vocalist/songwriter or even background music for vlogging, You can always buy afro-beats/background music from us to record vocals on.

So, In this guide, you will learn how to make afro-beats from scratch in the simplest possible way, we would also cover how to properly construct afro-beats without going overly complicated.

The Final Version of The Afro-Beats Instrumental We Would Be Making:

If you are with me, let's get started... (Use the table of content to skip to the video walkthrough below, If you prefer that)

The Constitution of an Afro Beats

I won't write about the history of how Tony Allen created his groovy drums for Fela's music, I'll instead show you a powerful method of how come up with a powerful rhythm. Most afrobeat composition is based around the clave concept, and you might think it is actually hard to get the concept (it's not, as long as you follow along). Before I show you an example of how the clave concept work, let me clear up some confusion.

Clave as an Instrument and a Rhythm

Clave is the name of an Instrument, and it is also the name of rhythm. Clave as an Instrument is a set of two wooden sticks, typically with a high pitch that can cut through the sound of other instruments/drums all playing together.

clave percussion Clave Percussion Instrument

Clave as rhythm can either have 3-2 rhythmic notation or can be flipped around to 2-3 rhythmic notation.

What Instrument Do You Need to Play Clave Rhythm? Any damn instrument (including clave), can play the clave rhythm. Clave is just a style that when played represents a set of rhythmic accents, so, you can play it with any instrument.

The 3-2 clave is a repeating two-measure set, where the first measure has 3 accented beats, and the second measure has 2 beats. In my piano roll, it looks like this:

Piano roll (3-2 conecpt)

Sounds as follows:

The 2-3 clave is a repeating two-measure set, where the first measure has 2 accented beats, and the second measure has 3 beats. In my piano roll, it looks like this:

3. Piano roll (2-3 conecpt)

Sounds as follows:

That's all about it, before I proceed, one thing you might find confusing is the statement I made earlier, I said, the clave rhythm is a repeating two-measure set, what I meant is for every two 1/4 beats, I have different accented beats.

For example, I have the clave rhythm in a time signature of 4/4, so for example, if I am using the 3-2 clave rhythm, I'll have three accented beats in the two 1/4 beats, and two accented beats in the other two 1/4 beats (The same applies to the 2-3 clave rhythm).

An image illustration:
4. Time Signature of (4by4) Illustration In Fl Studio Piano Roll

If you are using Fl studio, you can change the 4 x 1/4 here:

5. Change Time Signature In Fl Studio

Your Secret Weapon is the Shekere or Shakers

Most afrobeat produced nowadays aren't incorporating the shekere instrument, perhaps, they are forgetting the root and real meaning of the hand percussion instrument. This is my opinion, if you want your beats to sound more unique, try adding some shekere/shakers to your sound,  it plays a very important role in your afrobeat instrumental.

I'll show you how to compose your own shekere/shakers loops with and without a plugin in the coming section.

The Drums

Tony Allen once said, "Everybody wants to play afrobeats today, but the key point is the drums first."

I won't stress this part, you need to be very, and I mean very very creative, and the only way to do it, is to listen to lots of afrobeats songs, you can listen to modern-day afrobeat sounds, but trust me, you can stand out from the sheer loads of producers if you listen to the 90's tune, you'll learn the root of music from there, and you can go ahead to create your own distinct signature.

“Fall in love with the habit of learning from the great successful people who came before you, so that you don't spend the rest of your life as a stranger to success.” - Edmond Mbiaka

I'll work you through how you can create one in a moment.

Music Theory

Music Theory helps to understand what music does, and it also helps to understand the structural arrangement of the composition of music, that is it helps to perceive the arrangement of how music is composed.

You don’t need to take music theory classes to be able to compose a piece of good music, but understanding theory helps in a faster approach to learning the theory (It’s like a shortcut to composing music).

You can learn more about music theory in the guide: Music Theory Essential – Practical Guide For Music Producers!

I create melodies, and or harmonies from my head, and honestly, even if you learn music theory, you'll still need to be able to compose good harmonies. The only way you can master it is. again, listen to the great guys, chop up their songs mentally, try if you can create anything out of it, rinse and repeat, and you are gold, it is not easy but you'll get there with time.

What Instruments Are Used To Create an Afrobeat Instrumental

The following list includes some of the typical musical instruments used to make afrobeat. As I said earlier, just knowing the instrument won't help anything, you need to listen to great recordings, and then fuse together the combination of various sounds, to come up with your own signature (I'll show you how I came up with mine in a moment). So, first is...

  1. The Drums (Percussions) - Repeating Tony Allen, "Everybody wants to play afrobeats today, but the key point is the drums first." The common drum types include Kick Drums, Toms, Floor Tom, Congas, Udu, Cabasa, Bongos, and others. These are just the common ones.
  2. Shakers - There are certain types of hand percussive instrument you don't want missing in your afrobeat sound, and that is the shakers instrument, the common one is the shekere, which is a West African percussion instrument consisting of a dried gourd with beads or cowries woven into a net covering the gourd.
  3. Woodwind Instruments - Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments that are made from wood, though, they can also be made from metals. The commons you'll most likely use are the Saxophone and the Flute.
  4. Musical keyboard - Here are some of the best piano VST plugins you can use right away to make afro beats
  5. Guitar - This can make your music more musical, and lively, you can either use a bass guitar, an acoustic guitar, electric guitar. I stick with a bass guitar and an acoustic guitar, those are my favorites.

Alright, that summed up, let's get to the real thing...

Afrobeats In The DAW

I'll be using FL Studio as my DAW, but really you can use whatever soothes you. Open your preferred DAW application, and create a channel rack that would constitute your drum loops.

The Drums

I usually start off with any percussive instruments, be it a conga or cabasa, or even bongos, and I'll play a stylish clave rhythm in 3-2, this is something I discover myself through trial and error, and in fact, I never knew it was called a Clave Rhythm, and that is the beauty of listening to the old great records, anyways, this is how mine sound (using conga):

You can stylize yours too, just be creative, going further, I'll add more percussion to spice up the sound:

I added a really soft mellow conga to compliment the first one.

At this stage, I'll love to add a kick, and this is what I came up with, together with the previous samples:

6. Kick + Percussion pattern 1 (3-2 rhythm) and more percussion

That would be my first pattern, so, I'll clone this pattern and add more samples, e.g shakers, or stick. Creating multiple patterns makes it easier to rearrange your song, for instance, if you decide to use a specific drum pattern before introducing drop which adds shakers on top of the original pattern.

Use Ctrl + Shift + C to clone a pattern.

For my shakers, I'll be using the 2-3 rhythm concept, which gives me this:

In addition to this, I'll spice it up with a stick, which gives me this all together:

Altogether, for pattern 2:

8. Pattern 2

Rhythmic Melody

I don't really spend too much time on my drum loops, I actually get tired really fast if I spend too much time on single stuff, so, my advice for you is, just sketch out your drum loops even if it doesn't make sense now, you'll refine it later.

To spice up the drum loop, I love creating a kinda rhythmic groove, this groove would be the one to drive me throughout the rest of the beat creation, so, for this groove, I am utilizing Virtual Guitar Amber by Ujam:

1.) Virtual Guitar Amber

Sounds like this:

Playing it all together with the pattern sounds like this:

I feel like something is missing, so, I'll try to add a shekere loop, this loop can be created with a live shekere instrument or you can use a sampled one, the one I prefer is Shimmer Shakers for Kontakt. Anyways, this is how it sounds with the shekere loop:

Adding The Chord

Even with the shakers and all, it still feels empty, it doesn't sound musical, so, I'll add my chord, Whenever I am creating chords or melody, what I mostly do is listen to the drum loops and groovy melody, and from there I start playing with different ideas, I mostly just close my eyes, humm different progression, and once I find what's good, I lay it down.

I can pull the whole idea down in 3 - 4 minutes depending on the motivation, if you want to achieve this, I'll urge you to listen to lots of great tunes, doing this would embed ideas into you automatically. If you are finding it difficult to utilize the method, you can play with notes randomly, and hopefully, you would find something nice.

This is what I have for the chord:

Everything combined with the chord:


You can do without melody when creating afrobeats, but I'll highly recommend you play some sort of melody to back the Chord Progression, the one I created sounds like this together with the previous stack:

I created the melody using Spire, and I automated the cut-off, this is what it looks like:

15. Automation Spire Cutoff automated the osc1 knob

I am pretty much done, with the track, the missing part is the life, lol, I meant the Bassline, this is the root of the song, in fact, in some cases, I start with the bassline depending on my vibes. It adds a strong feeling and makes the music complete.

I didn't compose any complex bassline, I just followed the leading note of the chord, which sounds like this with the chord:

On top of that, I added a Clean Mute Guitar with a delay sprinkle on it, which sounds like this:

All together with the other patterns, it sounds like this:

And Honestly, that's basically all. Off course, you can spice things up by introducing different elements in different sections, for example, this is the format I use:

  • Intro(First 8 Bar), Add a simple element, maybe a few percussion, and an automated chord
  • In verse 1 (16 bars long), the first 8 can constitute the whole element with no bassline, and the second 8 bars carry the bassline along, this makes it more progressive
  • Break 1 (8bar), you can drop the percussion, and live the other element as is (Chord and the likes)
  • Verse 2 (16 bar long), Use the complete element in this section, and maybe add a harmony (additional note) to make it less repetitive.
  • Break 2 (8bar), same as the first break, or you can spice it up with an element or two.

That's basically about afrobeats, you just need to be creative. Watch the walkthrough video below to see how everything was composed.

Video Walk Through