Beatmatching or beat mixing is the backbone of all DJing. It is essential to get the basics of this skill before attempting anything else. Most people assume that beat matching is simply matching the speed of the beats (beats per minute, or BPM) of two tracks, but it goes a lot further than this. Good DJ’s must also learn to phrase match, which, in other words means to match different parts of a song structure.
Step #1 – Know your records!
The key to proper beat matching and phrase-matching is knowing your records. Learn the structure of the track (e.g. intro, breakdowns, build-ups, outro). Try to differentiate the parts of the track, like when a melody is started, or when the hi-hats enter the tune. Different styles of music will have different structures. Also, be sure to learn the different styles themselves. A hard techno track will have a significantly faster beat than a slower ambient track, and therefore would be hard to mix properly. This will help you pick tracks that will sound good together, as well as help you time your tracks perfectly. The more comfortable you are with your records, the more you will have that extra advantage!
Basic ‘techno’ or dance style tracks are made up of repetitive beats of a regular tempo. This makes it pretty easy to distinguish between phrases. Most of the time, tracks are made up of riffs containing four beats pr bars. You can listen to a track and count the beats, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Phrases can be any multiple of 4 bars (4-8-12-16 etc.) in most typical techno, house and trance tracks. How can you distinguish a phrase? Simple, really! Phrases usually begin with the introduction of a new sound, such as a new or different melody, or the introduction of hi-hats to the track. Not all records are the same though, sometimes you may have to pass through up to 16 or 32 bars before a phrase begins (or ends), so like I said before, knowing your records is key in this department.
The pitch (or speed) of a track can be altered in one of two ways on a typical turntable. You can either adjust the pitch slider (up or down, +/-) or physically touch the record or platter. At first, it’s best to become familiar with the turntable and touching records.
1.The simplest way to practice manipulating vinyl is to go out and buy two copies of one track (that’s what I did). It’s best to find a track that you not only like, but is simpler in form (e.g. has a standard 4/4 beat, clear, sharp bass, is not super fast, and doesn’t have any complicated melodies). Slap on both records and fire up both decks. Put the pitch at 0% on both. Put the needle down on deck #2 and slide the x-fader over to that channel so deck #2 is playing… Make sure your cue or PFL settings on your mixer are set so that you can ONLY hear deck #1. Now, put the needle from deck #1 at the beginning of the track and rotate the record with your fingers (preferably near the label, or a blank spot on the record, as to not get the grooves dirty…hopefully, you have slipmats which will allow you to rotate the record back and forth without interference with the platter itself. Now, rotate the record slowly until you find the 1st beat or BOOM on the record. Now, practice rotating the record back and forth, getting the needle to pass over this first beat over and over. This is a form or scratching actually and is called ‘cueing’ the record. This is necessary to start the incoming record at the precise time, vital to proper beatmatching.
With deck #2 spinning, listen closely for the phrases. Now scratch over the first beat on deck #1 on every beat while counting in your head, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, etc. When you feel ready (at the proper phrase) try to release (with a slight push) the record on deck #1 to match the 1st beat of a phrase on deck #2. If done correctly, both records should now be in sync, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, etc. Practice this until you feel ready to bring in a record in at the right time.
Congratulate yourself, you’ve just conquered cueing!
Now on to round two…beatmatching.
In the real world, the records you’ll be spinning will all be at different BPM’s, and this is where TRUE beatmatching comes into play.
Grab two different records, preferably of the same genre or style, so they’ll be in the same range of BPM’s (you don’t want to mixing fast hard techno with slower funky house). Fire up the decks and play deck #2. Cue up deck #1 and let it play. You’ll notice at first that the two tracks match for a few bars, but then quickly get out of whack. This is, obviously, because their pitches are different. Listen carefully to deck #1. Is it faster or slower than the live track? Let’s just say, in this case, that it is slower. Cue up deck #1 again. Use the pitch slider to add some pitch (+) or speed to the incoming record. Hopefully, both records will be roughly in sync. But you will still notice they’re a little off. Using your fingers, you can speed up the record or slow it down. To speed it up, you can either manually spin the record (closer to the edge will be more noticeable, closer to the spindle will be more subtle) or twist the spindle of the turntable. To slow down, you can press down on the label of the record, or drag your finger along the platter. You can also twist the spindle to slow down the platter. This is good for minor adjustments. Adjust the pitch again until you reach the right pitch. Hopefully, the beats will be in sync, or at least close. Keep adjusting the pitch and using the above methods until you reach a match.
Once a match is made, slide the x-fader over to the incoming record, and voila! you made a mix!
Now let’s cover Advanced Beat Matching (Pitch Bending)
Now that you’ve somewhat mastered the basics of beatmatching (this might take you weeks, even months of practice!), you can move on to pitch-bending. If you’ve ever taken a good look at some of the top DJ’s doing their thing, you’ll notice that the only time the ever touch their records is when cueing them up! This is because they use the pitch bending technique, a technique that only requires the use of the pitch slider. This technique is not for everyone, and might be a little more complicated that the “hands on” version, but it results in a smoother mix.
Fire up the decks, and play deck #2. Cue up deck #1 and listen in your headphones to determine if it needs to be faster or slower. Adjust the pitch to where you think it should be. Now, you’ll notice its time for adjustments. Instead of touching the record, the platter or the spindle, use ONLY the pitch slider to speed up or slow down the platter. If deck #1 is lagging behind deck #2 (lets say, deck #1 needs to be at +5% pitch to be perfectly beat matched, but is now at + 4%), use the pitch slider to speed it up, by slamming it all the way up to + 8% for maybe a second, and bringing it back down to just above where it was before. You should hear in your headphones the beats coming in sync. If, again, the record is still lagging behind a bit, bring up the pitch to speed up the record (but not too much) and then set it ever so slightly above where it was before. OOPS! Now deck #1 is too fast! Well, slam the pitch slider down a couple %, and bring it back up just a touch below where it was originally. You should always keep an eye on where the pitch is before you pitch bend, so you’ll have an idea of where to bring it back. See, essentially what you’re doing is using the pitch slider to speed up or slow down the record, rather than make more noticeable adjustments by touching the record or platter itself. Once you’ve go these techniques down, you are ready to mix!
Please keep in mind that beatmatching takes weeks or months or even years of practice and requires a lot of patience and time. Some people get it right away, yet for others it takes more time (I’ve been spinning for a year and I’m only beginning to perfect my technique now!) Both of these techniques can be used, neither is “right” or “wrong”. Work with whatever feels comfortable for you. And last of all, HAVE FUN!
Now go tear up the decks!