The Dangers of Playing it Safe

We all know that the key to improvement is to challenge yourself, but how much are you actually challenging yourself? Are you guilty of being too realistic? What do I mean when I say realistic? Well being realistic in terms of scratching and the challenges you take on, simply means assessing you're current scratch skills and then creating challenges for yourself that don't go too far beyond your comfort zone. While this is actually not a bad strategy for decent gains in skill over the long term, it is not a be all, end all way to approach scratching.

Lack of Comfort Creates Comfort

Sometimes you have to take a challenge that you normally face and double or triple its difficulty. The benefit to this may not be obvious at first. Of course your natural instinct is to feel that if you're already struggling with an easier challenge, why is multiplying its difficulty going to be any easier or less frustrating? It starts in the mind. Your mind is virtually capable of doing anything you set out to do, so if you're always playing it safe, you're just setting your belief system up to think you can only achieve minor things.

Being Unrealistic Pays

When you get more accustomed to thinking unrealistically, what seemed unrealistic before becomes reality. Aside from the mental aspect, you need to become physically used to high levels of physical difficulty. You'll never get a feel for what it's like to scratch at ridiculously high speeds for example, if you never attempt to do so. Sure you could wait until you're truly ready, but you're going to do that anyway. You might as well attempt to now so when the time comes for you to scratch comfortably at such speeds, you're already mentally and physically prepared to do so.

Don't Get Carried Away

I realize that my advice may sound amateurish, but that's only if taken out of context. I am not saying to do what many beginners do and scratch wildly out of your comfort zone regularly. I'm merely pointing out that you should integrate going way beyond your level of comfort into the other scratch skill building strategies you are or should be using to reach the level of scratching you aim to achieve.

There are many times where multiplying the difficulty of what you're working on will not be so helpful. Just as being realistic is not the only way to achieve your goals, neither is being wildly unrealistic. You must find a balance between the two as one feeds the other and vice versa.

Being Unrealistic in the Real World

Here is a challenge to give you a better feel for how you can actually apply this strategy. This exercise has to do with increase of speed, but keep in mind that what I've spoken about thus far is not only limited to challenges dealing with speed.

Put on a 4/4 beat that you can comfortably execute four notes per beat over. A regular challenge would be to increase your speed to five notes per beat. Instead what you will attempt to do instead is scratch eight notes per beat. Don't worry about how comfortable you feel or how clean it sounds. Just push yourself as hard as possible and keep trying even if you don't achieve it by the end of the exercise.

After you complete the exercise, drop back down to the more realistic challenge of five notes per beat and see how much more comfortable and at ease you feel now. When you started the exercise, four notes per beat was your comfort level, but now five notes per beat, whether you can execute it yet or not, will seem like nothing compared to the extreme challenge of doubling what you're currently able to handle.

Mental Barriers Come Tumbling Down

Navigating through such extremes will take the edge off more realistic challenges and you'll begin achieving higher levels of scratching faster. This happens because your mind is your biggest barrier to achieving anything. If you don't believe you can handle something with ease than you won't. It's really that simple.

Unfortunately suspending one's belief is easier said than done, which is why creating physically demanding challenges like the exercise above, will force your mind to accept the truth that lies behind mental barriers in scratching and what it takes to push past them. Seeing is believing rings very true here. Thus, I invite you to get creative by thinking of, then trying many ways of being unrealistic.

Scratching Away From the Turntable – Mental Scratch Strategy

Improvisation is a very important part of scratching. Although there are methods for writing scratch solos such as TTM, scratching has a rich history of being primarily improvisation driven (more commonly known amongst turntablists as freestyling). A typical approach to improvisation is to take what you already know how to do and create solos on the spot with your current skill set. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, what happens if you run into a physical limitation because the idea you want to use is beyond your current ability? Typically we might work around such a problem by either avoiding it completely or by working on that idea later in isolation.

If you choose to avoid the idea you are intentionally hampering your creativity and will eventually hit a brick wall should you make avoiding such challenges habitual. If you choose to work on it in isolation you will likely have an easier time integrating it into your improvisation as time goes on. However, if the idea is too challenging, it may take quite awhile before you’ll be able to successfully integrate it and even worse, you may fall back on avoiding it out of frustration.

Good improvisation is like any other skill and will take time and patience to develop. That being said, there is a way to speed up the process and significantly increase your scratching creativity. Imagine you have no physical limitations and can perform any idea that comes to mind. With such ability, your creativity could really soar!

Believe It Or Not, This Is Something You Can Do Right Now!

Let’s take a few steps back and picture that we are an abstract artist and we want to create a very expressive painting. Before we even set foot near a canvas, we’re already thinking of the mood we want to create, what kind of colors we want to use, different kinds of shapes and other abstractions that will make the painting come alive. More importantly, our ideas of what we want to paint are vivid and we can envision it clearly. During this thought process there isn’t a single notion about being unable to create the painting. We are completely absorbed in our own creativity.

This type of approach is something you should be doing regularly when working on improvisation. When you create improvised solos in your mind nothing is off limits. The tempo, note groupings, speed at which everything is executed and every other element is all up for grabs. You can create scratch solos that are not only outside of your own current skill level, but above and beyond anything you’ve ever heard before as well. This is why improvising in your mind is such a powerful tool for your creativity and will allow you to be very self expressive.

There Is A Time And A Place

And that time and place can be literally anywhere at any time! Think about what it takes to actually scratch. First off you have to make time to do so. Secondly you have to be somewhere that a turntable and mixer is set up. I’m sure you can think of plenty of times where you had the desire to scratch, but didn’t have the time or access to gear in order to make it happen. Furthermore, I’m sure there are plenty of times throughout the day where you are doing something that doesn’t require a lot of thought, such as driving to work, taking an elevator, waiting in line at the grocery store or simply trying to sleep.

These are all great times to work on mental improvisation. For one thing it will make those types of activities much more enjoyable. For another, all of the time you spend working on it during these moments of your life adds up pretty quickly. By the time you are back in front of your set up and ready to scratch, you’re really excited and have a whirlwind of ideas to explore.

That Excitement Turns Into Motivation

Not only are you excited about all the possibilities, but you have a much clearer picture of where you want your scratch style to go. This can be extremely motivating when you come across physical barriers in your technique. Now that your creative ideas are stronger in your mind, it won’t be a question of not being able to do what you want, but more a matter of looking forward to when you can. With this type of mind set, patience and persistence becomes virtually unlimited.

Additionally you will have more focus on what to work on and likely won’t waste time on things that don’t fall in line with what you want to express. Once you have obtained this level of focus, you can speed up the learning process of scratching exponentially.

So How Do You Get Started?

If this concept is new to you, it might feel a bit abstract and possibly overwhelming to attempt. A simple remedy to this is to listen to the type of beats you would want to improvise over and mentally solo over them. In this day in age with all the mobile devices that exist, you can do this pretty much anywhere. Of course once this concept of mental improvisation is firmly planted in your mind you should have little need for such a crutch, but it’s a great way to get the ball rolling.