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Guide to DJing - Part.4 Core Skills

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

In part 4 of the simplified & creative guide to DJing we are going to keep the read a bit longer than usual and break it down, simplify it even further, find main areas of DJing to focus on, eliminate most of the fluff and silliness out.

A DJ should be able to (1)beat-match using the latest gear and also a tape machine from '70s. You never know what gear or decade is the city in you are booked to play at. Another skill is (2)Phrasing or counting, I think counting is so important, so many people get it wrong, or look at screens don't know what they are looking at, and just don't count, and mixing sounds wrong.

Another skill is (3)control of levels and EQing, this goes hand in hand, this is also a mixing technique that is used about 89% of the time, the 11% is all the rest of the techniques. That's all for core skills, well if you asked me back in days when I started DJing myself. Since then I added another skill set, called (4)harmonic mixing, or "know your fucking music" as it was called back in days.

Let's get cracking and explain each of those skills down

1. Beat-Matching

Beat matching is getting 2 tracks or more playing at the same speed/tempo. Speed and tempo are essentially the same, imagine 2 cars at a race track. One travel at 122KPM and the other at 118KPM, initially they look traveling at the same speed, but a few minutes later, they drift apart, an hour later they are 4KM apart (122-118). Your job is to control the speed of the cars (with the pitch bend slider and the jog wheel to adjust the phase [not phrase] and tempo), make them both go say at 122KPM, so you speed up the 118KPM to 122KPM slowly and with intent. Now imagine these 2 cars speeding at 122KPM around the track, looks majestic, synchronized, and elegent. Now replace cars with music tracks, and KPM with BPM (Beats Per Minute), and now you are beat-matching, that's half the battle.

Below video by ellaskin explains the idea more in-detail

This skill can take anywhere between a few days with the right guidance to a few months if you doing it on your own or your guide can't or doesn't guide you well. This skill enables you to enjoy Djing, train your brain-ear-hand relationship, you become machine-like, and most importantly you can DJ on any setup from any decade.

2. Phrasing or Phrase mixing

Let's talk about music, any music, from the traditional cavemen stick hitting rocks rave parties to complex classical music and of course popular modern music. The keyword is music. For music to be music, it has to follow some rules, just like a recipe of making bread or building a skyscraper, there is a process, a framework of putting it all together.

In DJing, phrasing, refers to alignment of phrases of two tracks in a mix. This allows the transition between the tracks to be done without breaking the musical structure. One of the most important things a DJ can do when lining up two tracks is to match a song's phrasing.

It is very important to learn the art of phrase mixing. Most beginner DJs who are starting out get confused between beat-matching and mixing. Beat matching & mixing are two completely different core skills to learn. Learning to beat-match doesn't mean that you also learnt the art of mixing. Beat matching is simplify synchronising beats of the two different tracks simultaneously. Ofcourse that's very important to learn but what is more important is to learn the art of mixing the elements of each beat (drum bus) like kick & the snare and to that in time and in phrases so your DJ sets flow together without breaking energy of your room.

ok let's go back and talk about phrasing

So music is built on what we call ' musical phrases', for example, an intro, or a verse, chorus, bridge, break, solo, main part, etc, these sections are building blocks that make a song, these are phrases, so let's take a chorus as an example, this phrase is made up of 8 bars of music. So a phrase has 8 bars, we are drilling down from 1 phrase into 8 bars. Now a bar has 4 beats, we drilled even further, so we can say that 1 musical phrase has 32 beats (8 bars * 4 beats). So let's keep it simple, a phrase has 32 beats. Usually, a beat is a drum kick, and the example above fits what we call a 4/4 time signature, which is 98% of all modern music.

For example techno, house, Hip Hop, Trap, Trance, UK 2-step Garage, blues, rock, funk, disco, country music, etc... is 4/4 or four on the floor, means 4 beats / 4 measures (a bar).

I like to count to 8, four times, and use 4 fingers to keep track

1-8 thump

9-16 index

17-24 middle

25-32 ring finger

The phrasing process is so important. We established that your 2 tracks have to be at the same speed/tempo, they also have to be in the same phrase too. They both have to play on the same beat. Both songs need to go together:

I want you to listen to your favorite track, and once you hear a beat start counting from 1-32 and repeat, again and again, you will hear that every 32 beats, your song develops, some new element is introduced, something drops... there is some change happening every 32 beats, make sure you start at the right place otherwise it gets confusing. If you lose the right spot, wait till you hear the break, and once you hear the next beat, start counting again.

I know you might be thinking, "Is this lady is retarded?" She is telling me to count correctly till 32 at the start of the phrase... Can't be that hard... Well I tell you good luck, just do it and fingers crossed you will get it right, with practice, your brain will hear the musical cues and anticipate what and when things change... And this is a skill like any other

I explained two core skill beat-matching & phrasing in this post as simplified as I could but it definitely needs to be practised to fully understand this post.

Now that we got an idea about beat-matching speed & beat counting as well as in-depth idea about phrasing on point, in our next post of creative guide to DJing part 5, we will talk about remaining core skills including Gain Control & EQing.


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