Sub-genre Cheet Sheet: Trap Music

Musical genres in the age of the internet have become a moving target. Before genres were simple. You listened to house, rock or hip hop. Now in the age of too much music. Micro-genres have become both a useful tool for artists to describe what they’re doing and a source of constant amusement for music fans.

Conversations such as this one I had on the weekend:

Me: “Cool, you write music. What sort of stuff do you do?”

Them: “hmm…well…It’s like “post-chill-complextro-step”

Me: “…”

Me: “I have to go now”

These micro-genre for all the hate they get from the old guard often provide a unique style of inspiration. A type of inspiration that could be as large as a major shift in your musical thinking. Something may spark that key ingredient to your elusive “signature sound”.
Or as small as something as a technique you just file away in your musical memory for later use.

Either way:

A new style of music is always worth checking out. Even if you end up hating it.

This brings us to TRAP!!!

What is this thing called trap?

Trap has actually been a long time coming. The best way to think about it is like a darker edge cousin of the dirty south hip-hop. And the production style reflects that, meaning realism is not the goal. Instead bigger is better…


If you are the kind of person who needs realism in your music. You’re probably not going to like Trap music in the slightest.


Treat trap like a Micheal Bay film. Over the top, bordering on ridicules. It is and can be a ton of fun to listen to and make.

Genre Elements:

Tempo: you can can go double time or single and set the track somewhere between 75bpm and 95bpm.

Harmony: Block minor chords placed over multiple octaves and simple unresolved melodic ideas are pretty standard. So try stacking minor chords across different instruments to build that lush over the top sound that we all know and love.

Listen to this for some inspiration:

For other sonic elements:

Electronic EDM elements:

Builds and breakdowns can be as simple as white noise sweeps or as detailed as you like.


Both cinematic style brass (usually samples) and synthesized brass are everywhere.


Cause it’s awesome.

Loop pitched vocal:

Tying in ragga element of dance-hall tracks tend seems to be an emerging trend this year. Try both pitching up and pitching down.

These two clips should provide a cool spectrum of where you can take the genre

More of a dance floor vibe:

Pure ghetto action:

Things to keep in mind:

How to Arrange:

The non-progressive nature of drum machine is key to this sort of bass music. You want the phrases to make sense but the chopping between stuff is encouraged. Great shifting thinking if you come from a linear “progressive” musical school of thought.

Embrace the Drum machine:

I have a super soft spot for hard smacking 808’s and all the ridiculous “drum machine” clones of drum sounds. Think of that awesome “what the hell?” cowbell noise that is on the 808. Which great news for me because in this genre I can live out of my musical fantasies much to the distress of my girlfriend.

Use it to your advantage

Stuttering, Chopping tails of samples off are great. The incorporation of pitched snare rolls has always been pretty common in Southern hip hop genres. So it’s not a new technique but a goodie.

3 steps to pitching snare rolls:

Difficulty: novice

Step 1:

Snare Roll

Standard 16th note programing. There are no velocity variation but doesn’t mean you can’t add them in

Step 2:

Ableton has a handy pitch automation button. From everyone else set up automation on your transposition knob

Step 3:

Down we go…Try 5, 7 or 12 semi-tones


Instant trap turnaround.

High Hats are key part of this sound:

Try out triplets and 32nd note all over the shop. Something like this:

16th note, 32nd and the triplet grid all combine to get that signature trap feel

What you should do?

Incorporate these into your next tune.

Put your own spin on it and see what happens.

Til next time.

Please note: I’m sorry if I offended anyone making “post-chill-complextro-step”


About Braydon Zirkler

Currently based out of Melbourne. I'm dividing my time up between this blog, teaching, a radio show that's in the works and working on a live performance project with physical theatre performers. Get in touch here:
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3 Responses to Sub-genre Cheet Sheet: Trap Music

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