In part 4 of ‘How to DJ’, we cover another key DJ skill – beat matching
It’s time to continue our ‘How to DJ’ guide once again. In part 4 of this guide, we continue talking about the basic DJ techniques that you will need to hone your live sets or gigs, whether they are a Friday night at Fabric, or a wedding reception on a Saturday.
Last time, we explained the principle of cross-fading between one deck and another, so that music can be played continuously with no gaps. The result is a fairly ‘smooth’ transition, but when there is a difference in tempo (BPM) between the two tracks, it can be a little jarring. At its worst, the sound has been compared to that of a pair of trainers in an empty washing machine…
Keeping things in sync
In some styles of music, this isn’t too much of an issue. However, if your aim is to learn how to DJ in many dance music styles, keeping the musical flow and tempo is pretty essential. This is where beat-matching is used to make transitions between tracks even smoother.
Put simply, beat matching involves matching the tempo of one track with another, and synchronizing the two so that they play perfectly in time. In this way, as one track is ending, another can be faded in, seemingly continuously, with no changes in rhythm.
How to beat match
So, if you want to know how to DJ in the widest variety of situations and musical styles, you should have some beat-matching skills at your disposal. If you are using a software-based system, with a controller, the chances are that you can set the software to automatically beat-match, so that all you have to do is set a master tempo, and select your songs. There is a lot to be said for having this under your control, however. Being able to keep things matched or suddenly change tempo greatly adds to the creative possibilities of your set.
Regardless of whether you’re DJ-ing on CDs, turntables, or via a computer, the principles of beat matching are the same. The only necessity is a pitch control on whatever equipment you wish to play back from. You may wish to adjust your headphones so that you have one earcup on and the other off.
- Select the two tracks you would like to mix. At this stage, you would be well advised to pick 2 tracks that are similar in style, close in tempo, and in 4/4 time (count ‘1,2,3,4 over the track’s key rhythmic elements to check this- in a house track this would be the four-to-the-floor kick drum, in other styles this is most often the kick and the snare parts). Four-to-the-floor house tracks, or disco style tracks are often the easiest in this respect
- Play one track from deck 1, moving the crossfader all the way over to that channel, so that it plays through the master outputs.
- Move the cue control all the way over to the opposite channel, so that it’s set to output whatever is on deck 2.
- Cue up the second record so that it is ready to play exactly on the first beat (the ‘1’ of ‘1,2,3,4’) at the point you wish to it to start.
- Hold the track (if you need to) at this point, and listen to the track playing back through the main speakers. Listen to it, and count ‘1,2,3,4’ in time to it.
- Play track to on the one, and listen to the two tracks playing at the same time- comparing deck 2 through the headphones, and deck 1 thought the main speakers.
- If deck 2 is too slow, adjust the pitch control so that it speeds up, and try again from the same point in the record. If it is too fast, pull the pitch control down. Repeat this until the two are at the same speed.
- When track 1 is approaching the point that you wish to switch to track 2, get ready to play track 2
- Count the rhythm once again, and play track 2 on the ‘1’.
- With the two tracks synchronised and playing in time, move the cross-fader over to channel 2, thus changing the track.
It can take a little bit of practice, but as I stated earlier, starting with tracks that feature a simple, four-to-the-floor rhythm part and similar BPMs (such as house music) will make things more straightforward. Regardless of whether you intend to learn how to DJ in house music styles or not, it’s worth getting hold of a few tracks to hone your skills, as it’s far easier to judge whether the two tracks are in time.
But there we are. Stay tuned for more ‘How to DJ’ tips and tricks.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.