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.

Pattern Generation – Infinite Possibilities

Ideas are being thought of and expressed all over the world at every second of every hour, all day, every day. One idea shared can lead to a multitude of other ideas, which in turn can lead to many more. At times it can seem like there’s no end to new ideas for better or worse. As a musician this is an exciting proposition. It means if you keep your mind and ears open and continually put effort towards your craft, you’ll never run out of new things to express.

Let’s break this down to something really specific within scratching and that is pattern generation. There are a lot of patterns that exist already within scratching. New patterns are being created all the time. It may be subtle or even obvious, but it’s happening. If it wasn’t, scratching wouldn’t have advanced to the point that it has from its humble beginnings. So then, it’s safe enough to assume that if it’s happening now it will continue for as long as scratching exists.

Essential Ingredients

Pattern generation is a vital part of scratching for a variety of reasons. For starters, it breathes new life into something older that’s becoming stale in the minds of those itching to explore new territory with scratching. It keeps things fresh for the fans that would otherwise get bored of hearing the same thing over and over again. No matter how much someone loves something, the natural order of things is to crave change.

Delving into pattern generation will advance the practitioner by expanding their vocabulary. Thus allowing them to express themselves more deeply and freely. This in turn allows the artform to grow further. Especially when taking into account that it’s not just one person working out new scratch patterns.

No Need For Ruts

It’s important for scratch dj’s to recognize that ruts essentially do not exist. I say essentially because most of us can remember at least a few times where we felt like we were in one. You need not continue to allow so called ruts in your scratching to control our creativity. It’s outside the scope of this article to get into all the strategies of avoiding or getting out of ruts. However, in the case of pattern generation I will discuss ways to keep the spark of creativity going.

Another Way To Skin A Cat

Sometimes you may want to hold back on creating new patterns of scratches. This may seem like a contradiction given that the majority of this article, advocates the benefits of pattern generation. What you need to recognize though is if all you ever do is work on new patterns you will never master the older ones you’ve already learned. You have to place equal importance on getting things down so you can maximize the expressive potential within any one particular pattern.

Potential Realized

Let’s focus on a simple example of pattern generation. Take any three scratch techniques that you know. Arrange them in any order. Now ask yourself the following questions:

1.How fast do I want to do each technique?
2.Do I want to do each technique at different speeds or similar speeds?
3.How many times do I want to do each technique before moving on to the next one?
4.What tempo will the beat be that I will execute this pattern over?
5.Will this pattern be a good way to start my solo or end my solo?

Keep in mind this is just one example of how a pattern can be created. As you can already see a lot of thoughts have been raised by carrying out this simple exercise. There are many more questions you can ask yourself within this example and you can also start the exercise off differently. For instance, take only two techniques and feed them into the formula. Or four techniques even. Math is a great way to play with pattern ideas. It really boils down most times to basic addition and subtraction.

Soaking It In

Feeling the impact of a concept like infinity can certainly be overwhelming. We need not be overwhelmed though. If realizing the endless possibilities of what you can create is too intimidating it can have the opposite effect. Remember, putting a self imposed rut on yourself is not the goal. Self expression through scratching is really the goal here.

Just because there are infinite possibilities doesn’t mean you have to now suddenly pressure yourself to come up with whopping loads of patterns all at once. Take it easy and enjoy the ride. By creating new scratch patterns over time you help create a longer lasting love for what you do. Enjoy the ride.