How to Scratch or Be a Turntablist

Here's an introduction to the basics of turntablism, or how to manipulate records or CDs and a crossfader in order to create music. This guide is not for absolute beginners.

Learn your music theory. Many DJs - even professional DJs - have no knowledge of music theory. Begin your education now. A turntablist is a percussionist, which means you need to have a good understanding of rhythm. You will be practicing scratching to music and then eventually making music using records. When you are scratching to a beat, you are scratching out a rhythm. If you have a complete understanding of rhythm, you can develop your skills to recreate these rhythms properly.

Learn about rhythm: most hip hop and dance music is in 4/4. That means for each bar of music there are 4 beats. Each beat can be subdivided in only a finite amount of ways. Count these out loud while you listen to music. Each beat will be place between [brackets]:
[1] [2] [3] [4]
[1 and] [2 and] [3 and] [4 and]
[1 trip let] [2 trip let] [3 trip let] [4 trip let]
[1 e and a] [2 e and a] [3 e and a] [4 e and a]
[i trip let and trip let] [2 trip let and trip let] [3 trip let and trip let] [ 4 trip let and trip let]
These are quarter notes, 8th notes, 8th note triplets, 16th notes, and 16th note triplets, respectively. Learn how to count these to the beats of songs you already like. You will have to increase the speed of your counting as you progress. Remember that triplets are just playing 3 notes in the time it usually takes to play two. Once you have mastered these subdivisions you will have to throw in rests to really have an understanding of the complexities of rhythym. Just remember that there are a finite way in which each beat can be subdivided. A good way to introduce youself to beats is to play the snare drum. You can go to the Vic Firth website listed below to get a feel for how each of these subdivsions and how the subdivisions that include rests, that were not written out here, sound. Once you can sing these rhythms or at least some of them out loud, you can start using these as a foundation for the scratches you develop.

Find a mixer that has a curve adjustment. This means that the crossfader does not have to be exactly in the middle before the sound is fully crossed over into the new channel. You dont absolutely have to have one of these mixers, but they make mixing a lot easier later on when you start doing advanced techniques.

Find a slipmat to put between the turntable's table and the record. This allows the record to spin freely. (Most turntables come with a rubber disc that keeps the record in place and you don't want it.) You want to be able to put a finger or your hand on the record and stop the record from moving without stopping the whole platter from moving. If you have a cheaper set of turntables you may need to cut additional pieces of plastic, wax or parchment paper (plastic carrier bags from the supermarket works really well) in circles that fit under the slipmat in order to reduce the fricion enough so that the platter does not stop when the record is stopped. You can buy a product called "majic carpets" that will help reduce friction. If you want to use your own slipmats or have a problem with stoppage or you can pick up a product called "butter rugs" and just use those as your permanent slipmat. You may still need to reduce the friction further but it depends on your taste and equipment.

Pick up some scratch records. You can use a cappella records or records that you already have and try and find a sample to use, but most DJs normally end up picking up a few scratch records to use in practice and battles. Most scratch records have a series of samples and then a beat and then some more samples and a different beat and so on. Dont just buy any record you find online, it's best to listen to the records to make sure they have something on it that is usable in your practice/performance. There are records that are unskippable which basically means that they repeat the samples in a way that if your needle skips (as it will) you will remain on the sounds you are trying to use. If you don't have an unskippable record, then try and wear in the record a little by finding the samples that you like and then pushing the record back and forth to get the needle and the groove groovin, baby.

Find a sample or sound on your record to practice scratching on. Longer sounds are the best.

Put the needle on the record and let it play until right before the sound.

Take a marker or sticker and put it somewhere on the record so you will have a visual cue to where the sample starts. It does not have to be on the vinyl itself. You can put it on the paper and when you get better you can worry about marking up your records with stickers that actually go on the vinyl itself in order to allow you to just place the needle on the paper and have the sounds cued up.

Start with no fader movement; just the hand on the record. When doing these scratches, first do them to a slower beat and then get faster and faster as you go along. When you are able to do them at a good speed, try and vary the rythyms by throwing in rests to the beats you develop.
Allow the sample to play at normal speed forward.

Stop the record with your hand or finger after the sound finishes playing and then slowly bring the record backwards at close to the same speed as it played forward. Pretend that you just hit reverse on your turntable and try to mimic the sound it would make.

Put on another song and do this to the beat.

Keep your hand on the record and slowly push the record forward; do it backward at the same speed. Then do this to the music.

Push the record forward over the sample instead of allowing the sound to play at regular speed or slowing it down. You will get a high pitched sound. Do the same for the reverse, pull it back at a similar speed. Then, do this to music. This is known as the baby scratch.

Rent/buy qbert's Do It Yourself Skratching Volumes 1 and 2
Rent/buy DJ Shortee's DJ 101 and DJ 102
Search for DJ performances on the internet
Go to the DMC website and see past winners of the yearly competition for the best DJs.
Protect your ears so you don't go deaf later on.
Don't use drugs or drink.

Protect your ears! Wear earphones or earplugs if you have to play with the volume turned up.


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