Scratching at its best can be very soulful and funky. Why is it then that so many people under use the techniques necessary to create that funk? I’m sure all of you are very familiar with James Brown. Undoubtedly he has influenced generations of musicians. More importantly though, he has influenced many singers. While some may argue, I believe his strongest influence lies in the grunts, howls and screams he would emit throughout his performances.
Let’s take a closer look at his grunting technique. While this is not technically hard to pull off for most singers, it undoubtedly adds a punch and a feeling to the music that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Like any technique, there are countless ways to grunt and thus many possibilities for soulful expression open up should you choose to explore them. Now picture if you will, a James Brown song without the grunts. If you honestly do this, I’m more than willing to bet you noticed part of the life of the song died.
Getting Caught Up in Flashiness Can Consume You
If most of your energy becomes focused on advanced and flashy technique, you’re like James Brown without the grunts. The backbone of your solos immediately diminishes. Obviously, this is something that should be avoided if you want to develop a truly well rounded, soulful way of expressing yourself.
When you focus on the basics of scratching it helps to highlight the more advanced stuff by breaking it up into more easily digested fragments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating against advanced technique. Advanced technique in scratching is a big part of what makes modern day scratching so amazing and enjoyable. However, the reality is most listeners naturally can’t handle a constant slew of rapidly executed advanced technique. Adding quality, basic technique into the mix more often is like sugar to help make the medicine go down.
Adding Punctuation Makes Your Cuts Pop Out
One of many great ways to use basic technique is as a punctuation mark. After a flurry of flare combos it will usually sound nice to end off with a simple two click transform. This could be seen as a period to your sentence. Alternately, you could end off with a faderless technique, such as a tear. That could be more like an exclamation point.
Some of you may be familiar with my article, ‘If You Don’t Breathe You May Choke’ which focuses primarily on silence as a technique to break up your solos. The concept here is similar, but instead of silence, basic technique is substituted to gain a similar effect on your audience. Check out that article for more information here: ‘If You Don’t Breathe You May Choke’
Shredding is Not a Bad Thing
As previously stated, I’m not advocating against advanced technique. Scratching at a rapid pace has a killer sound all its own and has an amazing impact on anyone who really loves scratching. If you’re in the midst of a run consisting of some really hardcore flare combos, extending that run before tossing some basics in could really make a huge impact. Likewise, if you were to end the run too early with a basic technique, the wind in your sails would get knocked out. This would make for a wimpy sounding phrase that doesn’t grab the listener nearly as much as you may have intended.
So What Basic Techniques are Worth Focusing On?
The first thing to recognize is that all basic techniques, once highly developed can be considered or lead to advanced technique. This distinction is important, because as scratchers we tend to divide techniques up into basic and advanced categories. While this is helpful it can also be hurtful if you fail to realize that even basic techniques can be highly advanced with the right amount of development.
As stated in the early part of this article, a singer’s grunts can be expressed in a myriad of ways. The same is true with basic technique in scratching. A tear scratch for example has tons of variations to discover and perfect.
All that being said though, here is a list of techniques that I recommend using when implementing the concepts in this article:
Keep in mind this list is actually quite incomplete as there are so many variations of each of these scratches to do. However, for now it’s best that you discover these variations on your own. It is out of the scope of this article to go further in depth. In future articles I will spend more time discussing certain techniques that I believe deserve attention.
Isolation, Then Integration is Key!
Now that you have read this article you may be tempted to jump right in and start combining basic kuts with advanced ones. While I don’t think this is a bad idea, I strongly recommend that you work on your basic scratch technique in isolation. By doing this you give your basics more room to develop into stronger sounding technique with wider variety. The more you work in isolation the more impact you’ll make when integrating it with your advanced techniques.
Some experimentation will be necessary as it’s typical that not all variations you come up with will integrate smoothly into an advanced run. You will have to really listen and pay attention to hear if the basic technique you have chosen truly compliments what you are combining it with. This takes time and is the hallmark of many an outstanding musician.