A bar in the general world of music is not always the same thing as a bar in hip-hop. While both can share the same meaning in many cases, the definition of a bar in hip-hop has multiple meanings.
When we speak of bars in hip-hop, we often talk about the lyrical lines that a rapper has written and performed. You will often hear someone hype up a good rapper with the phrase "Bars!" or say they are going "bar for bar" in the sense of a battle.
Bars are lines of lyrics, and you can have strong lyrical lines or weak lines. You can also have greatly written bars that are delivered weakly and poorly written bars that are delivered in a way that makes the lyrics greater than what they are.
In general music terms, the words bar and measure are interchangeable. A measure is a small segment section of a track.
Many bars together form a full song section that could be a chorus or a verse of your song. All the song sections together make a complete work, so measures are a great way to subdivide things.
Most songs that are in the realm of pop and hip-hop fall into a common time signature of 4/4. If you have a song in 4/4 time signature, each of your measures has four beats. These are also known as quarter notes.
4/4 is not the only time signature, so don't get too married to the idea of having four beats only if you want to be a pro! 3/4 and 6/8 are also quite common in music, although you will rarely hear them in popular genres.
Kanye West's song release "Spaceship" is a great example of a track that could trip some new rappers up if they try to freestyle on it with a sense of 4/4 timing.
But in the world of hip-hop, it just so happens that a full line of lyrics often lines up with what is a full measure in a song. Think of it like a line of poetry being spoken.
On the other hand, for many other less word-heavy genres, a measure may not feature that many words, so it wouldn't really be a full line or a "bar".
For example, many classical music songs feature vocal lines where there is only one word being said per measure or bar, while a hip-hop verse will likely have a full line of words.
Verses are usually around 16 bars of a song. A lot of people like to make their choruses and verses the same length to keep it simple, but it also works really well to have a verse that is 16 bars and a hook that is 8, especially if you have simple lyrics in the hook.
Your verses are the best sections to tell your story or give your song's message. This is usually the wordiest section of a song, so be sure to keep people's attention yet still provide depth to the meaning behind your lyrics.
Verses are sometimes followed by prehooks, which give you another chance to add a good amount of lyrics. Prehooks also give you a chance to write a catchy melody that will lead to an even catchier hook.
A song chorus usually lasts 8 or 16 bars in a song. Your choice to make the bar length 8 or 16 depends largely on the song's chord structure, the lyrical structure of your song, and, most frequently, the BPM of your song.
In the world of hip-hop, you find that the "bars" or the hot lines of lyrical delivery are mainly featured in the chorus, and you want to make your hook less wordy and easier to remember.
Try to write a chorus that can get stuck in someone's head. The key to a good hook is balancing simplicity with originality. It's challenging to do, and the harder you think about it, the further you might get from an excellent hook.
Just like I mentioned before, hip-hop bars are a lot like lines in poetry, which are also called stanzas. Since popular music is often all bout rhyming, the phrasing of your bars will likely follow a rhyming scheme with four lines phrased together.
Many pop songs follow the ABAB rhyming scheme you will often see in poetry. That means that your first bar with also rhyme with your third bar, while your second will also rhyme with your fourth bar, and so on.
This is another common rhyming scheme for bars, where the first bar and the second bar end in a rhyme, and the third and fourth bar end in a different rhyme.
This is similar to the ones above, but for the context of a song, the rapper will likely shorten the two "B" sections to fit into one measure for the song to maintain cohesiveness and fit into four-line phrasing.
The BPM (beats per measure) is a way to measure the tempo of your song. Songs that are slow are often less than 100 BPM, while fast songs are usually over 120 BPM.
If you have a slow song, your bars will be easier to get through and easier for your listeners to hear, so make sure you are writing some fire!
A fast song is way more likely to get impressed in terms of fast vocal delivery, but it will also be a challenge for you to get through in terms of breathing.
It is important to be able to flow with a track no matter what the tempo will be while maintaining a steady beat. The best rappers have such great control of rhythm that they can spit their verses at all types of speeds while staying connected to the beat.
A click track is a series of audio clicks that are used to keep the tempo precise in a song. The audio clicks are usually made into the sound of an instrument like a cowbell, hi-hat, or beeping. Click tracks count each beat in a measure.
For example, if you have a song in 4/4 time signature, each of your measures has four beats. These are also the quarter notes. The click track clicks on each beat or quarter note.
Click tracks do wonders for bands and artists who are performing and recording. You'd be surprised how hard it is to rap at a strict tempo in comparison to singing at a more freestyled speed.
Practicing with a click track also gives you a better handle on the song and helps with your natural rhythmic sense.
One of the most common things I hear about new rappers is that they are afraid to show different sides of the energy in their vocal inflection.
Not only do you want to switch up your rhymic flow in songs, but you also want to switch up your emotional energy depending on the song or section of the song. You don't want to be rapping in a monotone voice!
Some songs call for you to be hyped, while others call for you to be in a calm and almost whispered tone. Sometimes your energy can cause you to hit your higher range in your rap verse, while other songs may benefit from more bassy rap.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page. As an Amazon Associate, Yona Marie earns from qualifying purchases. Amazon and other affiliate products are recommended to genuinely help readers and keep this site up and running as well.