Today I’ll walk you through the process of making a jazzy lo-fi beat with all the nostalgia and warmth of lofi hip-hop but with extra jazzy leads, chord progressions and textures.
Don’t forget to check out the video version of this blog post, you’ll find it at the bottom of the page!
Music Theory for Lofi Jazz
Let’s start by talking about the basic building blocks of this track.
It’s in F minor, 3/4 time and at 94 BPM. This is quite slow for 3/4, usually I’d go for a minimum of 100BPM, but I want this track to be nice and laid back.
3/4 also has a jazzier feel than the typical 4/4, it has less of a steady hip hop groove and sounds more romantic.
The chords are played with open voicings, like so:
F minor 9
E♭ major - adding a C to transition into C minor 7
D♭ major 7
And back to E♭ major / C minor 7 again.
A simple chord progression like this gives us more opportunity to improvise over the top, add jazzy notes and play around with the chord transitions.
For the melody, we can improvise with the F natural minor scale: F, G, A♭, B♭, C, D♭, E♭, F.
Because it’s jazz, we can slip in extra notes outside the scale as well. If you’re playing on a keyboard, try sliding off one of the black keys onto the white key above it (e.g. G♭ to G) for an extra jazzy feel.
Instruments for Lofi Jazz
I started out with some basic ambience, just adding some chatter in the background.
For the piano chords, I used the Felt Grand Piano from Ólafur Arnalds’ composer toolkit and trimmed off some of the top end with an EQ to create a really soft sound.
Image credit: Spitfire Audio
When the drums kick in, I’ve introduced a second piano (the Noire felt piano from Native Instruments), cutting out the low end and adding a spacey reverb to make an airy sound.
Image credit: Native Instruments
I've also used the Noire felt piano for the main piano part.
As well as my usual guitar chain, I added a spacey reverb to make a lush and dreamy sound. The reverb is on a send so that the dry sound of the main guitar is still present.
Vocal Pads & Ambient Texture
I also used the “Abandoned Voices” sound from texture grid in the London Contemporary Orchestra Spitfire Audio plugin.
All these vocal samples are grouped together so I can add effects onto them - a little bit of sidechaining to the kick and some automated filtering panning throughout the track.
I thought it would be great to get a trumpet in, but don’t play the trumpet... so instead I used my ocarina in combination with some quietly mixed-in trumpet samples from Splice.
There is a combination of double basses in here - the Trilian acoustic double bass from Spectrasonics, along with a commissioned recording from a double bassist for a more realistic sound.
Image credit: Spectrasonics
Along with the typical crunchy lofi kick and snare, I also included some brushed hi-hats, and a few different snares, rimshots, cymbals and rides from the XLN Audio Addictive Drums modern soul and R&B kit with added filter delays.
Image credit: XLN Audio
Lofi hip hop wouldn’t be where it is today without jazz. It's been such a huge influence on the sound and the genre as a whole!
Check out the YouTube video below to hear the final result.