Mapping is level design. Design is both an art and a science. There is no "best" answer, but there are many "wrong" answers.
The Basic Mapping page is useful for learning what not to do as a new mapper. Once you have a bit of experience it's time to take your understanding of mapping principles to the next level. Ultimately, the best way to learn to map is to simply keep at it.
Rules are made to be broken. However, they must be thoroughly understood before you can break rules and some have virtually no cases where breaking them is preferred. With experience and outside feedback, there is always value to exploring the full design space of beat saber mapping and pushing the limits of the rules.
Outside feedback is critical as the mapper! You know the rhythm and patterns better than any other person and will be ready to perform the motion before the notes ever show up. By getting third party feedback on broken rules, such as in the BSMG #testplays channel, you can have confidence in your unique patterns and in your map.
Representing music via consistent note placement when there are similarities in the music and varying mapping when there changes in music are core techniques of intermediate mapping.
Representation is tied to music that your notes are following. At the basic level, the sounds that are mapped within each section should follow some kind of rule, such as following an instrument. You can get more complicated, such as mapping the left hand to drums, and the right hand to vocals, but there should be a rule for the mapping within each section.
Consistency and Variety come into play in two places, within a section and when comparing separate sections of a song.
Within a section, representation rhythm-wise should generally stay consistent as it allows players to establish that rhythm and enjoy the map. Being consistent with patterns is acceptable as well, but some variety of note placements within the bounds of the established patterns and rhythms is appreciated.
Consistency and variety are more important when comparing sections of a song, as properly varying your mapping between sections will help the song shine via the map.
Repeated sections of music should play similarly, and contrasting sections should play differently. The degree of this contrast is up to the mapper.
This does not mean that the exact same patterns need to be used, but players should be able to feel the similarities between sections with similar music. This can be done in a variety of ways, primarily it is achieved by mapping the same rhythms. If you choose to map a different rhythm, using similar patterns and motions will provide a similar effect.
Varying the mapping appropriately when the music changes is also important. When a change in the music happens, the effect is a lot stronger when the change is reflected in the mapping.
If you'd like to explore this more in depth, checkout pishifat's video on mapping variety in osu!. While it is an osu! video, the concepts translate over to Beat Saber mapping quite well.
While big towers, windows, doubles, fast jumps, and fast streams are fun. Consider whether the patterns being mapped reflect the intensity level of the music.
Within a section, the most prominent sounds should be emphasized more, and the less prominent less emphasized. Emphasis can be done in a variety of ways, such as:
Spacing notes further apart to induce bigger swings.
Adding doubles and stacks for oomph.
Mapping faster rhythms to induce faster swinging.
Not mapping less significant sounds or segments so the more important sounds or segments stand out more.
The intensity of the mapping in each section relative to other sections should be somewhat in line with the intensity of the music. Try to rate the intensity of each section in your map from 1-10 and see if it lines up with the intensity you feel from the song.
Deviation from the intensity of the music is fine as long as sections are not excessively elevated or lowered relative to the intensity of the rest of the song. An example would be fully mapping very quiet 1/4 drums when the rest of the map is mapped to 1/1 or 1/2 would unnecessarily elevate it in intensity above the rest of the song.
If you want to explore this more in depth, checkout pishifat's video on osu! spacing emphasis. While it is an osu! video, the concepts do translate to intensity in Beat Saber.
Speed influences visibility heavily, as the note jump speed and jump distance dictate how much time the player has to see incoming notes. The player will have too little time to react to notes that spawn too close and approach too quickly. Likewise, vision blocks are more severe as the song gets faster- when the note exists for a shorter time, any time that the block is obscured is more impactful. At extreme speeds and slower note jump speeds, even bottom row blocks can obscure other bottom row notes (the same can be said for top row notes, but those are rarely used at a density where this is a problem).
In Basic Mapping we covered the bare essentials of parity. Now we'll dig deeper and explore why some hits just feel bad.
This video demonstrates some more advanced concepts of parity: YouTube
Flow is arguably the most important concept in mapping - how each arm travels to move from one hit to the next. This can be as simple as alternating between "forehand" and "backhand" notes, or as complicated as thinking about how one arm interacts with the other at the edges of the playspace. Since the player must see blocks in order to react to them, flow highly depends on speed and difficulty. Slower songs are far more forgiving and flexible with regards to flow, while a fast song is highly limited.
Each swing a player makes leaves their arm in a new position. At hard difficulty and higher, the player will leave their arms in this new position while waiting for the next motion. The block that follows must consider the position of the arm.
Good Position & Angle
You can see here that the arm is not ready to hit down from the position it is left in.
In order to hit the next block, the arm has to do a lot of extra motion to wind up.
Taking both into consideration, you are left with a smooth motion.
Each block has a limited selection of following blocks that feel good to play.
It takes longer wind up for less optimal hits and more suggested motion to play, be it from another block, bombs, or walls.
Faster songs have less time to see and comprehend the next block, leaving the mapper with more limited options for patterns. Vision blocking notes/walls are risky for this same reason.
Counter-clockwise wrist motions are preferred with the right hand and clockwise wrist motions are preferred with the left hand. Try it yourself and feel the difference!
When mapping unusual patterns that break typical conventions for flow, extra motion is suggested to make the pattern work. An example is a scoop:
In order to hit the up note following the side note, the arm must take a longer scooping path to be in position. This motion is suggested, where an extra note block down would require the motion instead.
Suggested motion is risky due to the fact that players will read and react to patterns differently than intended. One player may hit a scoop as intended, but another player may recoil and flinch given the pattern and have a negative experience from the pattern. This problem can never be entirely avoided when suggesting motion rather than requiring. Clever use of bombs, walls, or crossovers can help suggest more strongly the intended motion, but must be used with care to avoid vision, tangle, or flow issues.
Soft resets are resets where implied motion strongly suggests resetting the hand. The most common example of this is a half-double, present in many maps. This is where a down double followed by a single up followed by a down double, where its implied that both arms should raise on the single up despite only 1 note being there.
While these patterns allow for more freeform dancey motion, they are very difficult to sightread and throw the player off of their natural rhythm. This is due to the fact that only one of the two hands on a soft reset feels the haptic feedback of slashing a note. These are best used when the player is familiar with the rhythm and motion, and requires a large offset to see them approaching.
Arm tangles happen when a pattern requires one arm to swing through another arm's spot. Care must be taken to ensure that crossovers at risk of tangling are either kept above/below the other arm, or returned to their side before the other arm's next hit.
Slower maps typically reward dancier and larger arm motions, causing arm tangles to have a stronger negative impact. On the other hand, faster maps typically are hit with less full-arm motion and can cheat arm tangles by having just the tip of the saber hit crossovers.
Crossovers happen when one arm swings to the opposite side of the playspace. This is a challenging motion reserved for harder difficulties or slower maps. Crossovers open up the playspace for many interesting patterns so long as they are handled with care.
When swinging far from the natural position of the arms, bad flow is more pronounced. Additionally, the risk of arm tangles arises when crossovers do not consider the positions of notes to unwind the player during or after the sequence.
Spacing is the distance between notes on the grid. The further apart two notes are on the grid (ignoring time), the larger the spacing. In general, larger spacing requires larger motions to hit and requires either larger arm motion or very precise wrist motion. Spacing is larger horizontally than vertically due to the extra rows. Inverted notes (up arrows in the bottom row and down arrows in the top row) create the largest spacing due to the fact that the player must swing from outside the grid to hit these blocks.
Walls are a versatile tool in maps that are often overlooked. They provide the most direct way to influence full body motion, as well as an immersive visual element. Overuse/misuse can lead to visual clutter or full vision blocking- so care must be taken. Treat any wall placed in either of the middle two lanes as a vision block for that lane, as they block the same (if not more) space. Additionally, walls placed in both middle lanes at the same time are never acceptable - most players cannot safely move out of the way within their playspace. Even players who are able to dodge these walls will not enjoy the amount of movement required.
These walls are one option for adding a visual element to the map close to the player. They narrow down the field to a smaller region, making notes feel closer together and faster approaching. They can also be used to represent sounds not mapped by notes, or even used to flesh out quiet/slow/vocal drifting sections.
Using Mapping or Noodle Extensions opens up a huge space of possibilities by allowing walls to be of almost any height, width, and location but, requires a significantly larger amount of effort and is not playable without the respective mod. See Extended Mapping for more info.
The opposite of notes, bombs count as misses when they are hit. This opens up more opportunities for patterns, but have significant limitations. Notes specify the direction, timing, and hand all in one block. Bombs, on the other hand, have very little limitation imposed on the player.
Just as notes are placed with flow in mind, bombs should be placed as well! Bombs located where the sabers will be after swinging will not flow well due to the abrupt motion required to avoid it. Bombs placed at the same time as notes are particularly limiting as they either will restrict the swing path or offer little value to the map other than decoration.
Note that since bombs do not strictly define any motion, different players will approach bomb patterns with different motions. Care must be taken to ensure bomb patterns are easy to read and smooth to play, otherwise they will cause frustration.
As a result, bombs are not often used in maps other than for bomb resets. Bomb resets are a way to reset both hands to the same direction, but if used too quickly will feel abrupt and uncomfortable. This can be remedied by having notes immediately before the bomb reset guide the player to resetting more smoothly.
Sliders are the use of multiple notes at different times all hit with the same swing. They fit well for sounds that are sustained for slightly longer than a normal note, but have significant restrictions.
Conventionally, sliders are started with an arrow block and followed with dot blocks spaced at 1/16 or 1/24 from the original block. Sliders slower than these precisions require the player to alter their swing speed to successfully hit, which is not desired. Sliders faster than these precisions are essentially stacks/towers.
The using 1/16 vs. 1/24 precision depends on bpm though 1/16 is a safe choice for most speeds. It is more important for sliders to be playable than to match with the rhythm. If a 1/8 sound is mapped with 1/8 sliders, it may be too slow to play comfortably in one swing.
Note that there are directions that work more comfortably than others. Namely, sliders should travel clockwise for the left hand, and counterclockwise for the right hand. Sliders are almost always restricted to 3 notes or less, as changing directions mid-slider is extremely difficult to score well on. Sliders that end in the opposite lane (Such as left (Red) sliders ending in the rightmost lane) are easy to miss.
Sliders can also cause significant vision blocks when use in bulk even if the center two positions are not used due to how much visual space the dots fill. Window sliders (3-note sliders that omit the center note) can be used to avoid face notes and clear up vision, but risk being hard to read.
Inverts are notes that are placed in a location which forces the player to swing considerably more than if they were located in a more traditional position. They add emphasis to the map and require proper setup to play comfortably.
Be aware that inverts can be quite hard to read especially in rapid succession or at higher speeds.
Alternating the hand leading a pattern can be highly effective at providing variety, interesting motions, or unique rhythms but have limitations.
Typically the player expects patterns to be in the sequence of: To > To > To >
Deviating from this can allow for unique motions and crossovers without tangling, but risks being challenging to read or play at higher speeds. For example if done mid-pattern, it requires one hand to flick twice as fast. While this might not be an issue for slower patterns, faster ones with less visibility or more aggressive motions can be problematic.
Fundamentally, the player needs to know how to swing in order to follow notes. As speeds increase, the time to read, process, and move accordingly decreases. This is tempered by following convention at higher speeds, such as following the alternating hand sequence as mentioned in the previous section.
Triangles, switch-ups, unexpected doubles, bombs, walls, etc. can all throw off the expected "reaction" the player will have to incoming notes. This is the reason why offset is so important to consider as dancey, slower patterns need extra time to read and process what approaches while faster songs must keep the screen less cluttered to allow players to follow instinct.
Playstyle slowly changes as the map reaches extreme speeds (around 200+ BPM). For slower songs, it is easier to perform large arm swings and contort the whole body to hit more unusual patterns. While at high speeds, there is very little time to process what approaches and the game becomes a combination of instinct, precision, and stamina. Patterns and placement gets more and more limited, and visibility becomes of the essence.
Hidden blocks will be virtually invisible at extreme speeds due to the short amount of time that blocks remain on screen. Inlines, 2-column streams, hitbox-abusing patterns, and large spacing one-handed jumps all become exponentially more problematic as speeds approach extreme speeds. Other, normally innocuous patterns also become challenging including double spam, complex streams, wide hits, and sliders.
While mapping, it is recommended to slow down playback speed of the song to time notes to the song as accurately as possible.
If, while mapping, you notice that your song was properly aligned but suddenly changes or starts to fall off beat, then it's likely a BPM issue.
If the alignment suddenly and dramatically shifts for large parts of the song, but it seems consistent, it is likely your map has multiple BPMs. Depending on how often it occurs, this is relatively easy to fix. You can simply cut the map up into pieces where the grid becomes unaligned, and then run each one through Arrow Vortex to find the correct BPM for each part. You can then use BPM blocks to readjust the grid to align to the beat.
However, if the grid is less consistent and drifts around being aligned with no dramatic changes, then it is likely your song has a drifting BPM. This is common in older songs. This can be more of a hassle to deal with, but it is possible to address. Please see the variable BPM guide for more information.
"Downmapping" is the process of taking your initial difficulty, and then breaking it down to be appropriate for other skill levels. As most mappers start with expert+ or expert, the process is usually referred to as "downmapping", since you work your way down through the difficulties. However, some people can and do work in the reverse, or even just map difficulties sporadically as they see fit. That said, starting from the top and working down gives you the benefit of saving time on timings, as expert+ is typically mapped to all of the most prominent rhythms.
Check out the Downmapping page for a deep dive into this process.