If You Don’t Breathe You May Choke – The Benefits Of Silence

Good phrasing in scratching is a lot like writing a good sentence. If done well it will contain all the necessary punctuation to get your point across. If you have a lot to say in one sentence, it helps to break things up by adding commas (or even parenthesis). Sometimes you may need to blatantly pause… for effect. All of these elements create a conversational tone to what you are writing.

If you choose to ignore punctuation in your phrasing, at best you are most likely irritating the listener. It is very typical for a lot of scratch dj's to do this. They go and go, yet rarely stop to see if the listener is still paying attention. When that happens the listener will usually tune out due to overwhelm. Fortunately enough for us, this issue can be remedied.

Are Your Ears On Break?

It may seem obvious that there are countless ways to use silence in scratching. In all honesty though, there are a lot of ways that I was unaware of. One of the key ways is to become a better listener when scratching. Even in a conversation, if you’re the dominant speaker, it helps to give the person you’re speaking to the chance to acknowledge what you’re saying. This can come in the form of words like: okay, yes, right I see.

When this concept is used in a scratch solo, the other person becomes the beat you are scratching over. If you never pause to hear the beat, it can be difficult to know if your scratching is really meshing well. In fact, if you really aren’t paying attention you can really start to clash rhythmically. This is similar to when someone is ready to respond to what you’ve said and they do, but you don’t notice because you’re still talking. It can be a total train wreck!

Picking Up The Pieces

Clearly, unless you enjoy embarrassing moments, avoiding the above scenario is desirable. So let’s define your goal. You want to captivate people with your scratching and give them an enjoyable and memorable experience. If they really enjoy what you do, they’ll likely be back for more.

Pausing regularly, even for brief moments, is a great way to keep track of where you are in the beat and stay in sync with the rhythm. When this happens you will flow more smoothly. You’ll be more at one with the beat and the listener WILL notice. Even if they aren’t really into scratching, you have a better chance of capturing their interest. If they enjoy the beat you’re scratching over, they’ll likely be more into you, simply because you’re blending in with the beat more successfully.

A Strong Accent

There are defining moments in a beat that you should definitely pay attention to. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by taking advantage of this. One such typical way is to pause at the end of a loud snare drum. If one particular snare drum is louder(more dynamic) than the rest, try pausing as soon as it ends. This will naturally bring out more strength in that part of the beat and your solo.

I get an image of a drumhead being punctured or a speaker popping. It’s also similar to adding multiple exclamation points to your sentence!!! Be wary not to overuse this idea as it can become too predictable, but when used in moderation it can really catch your listener off guard. As we all know, being too predictable equals boredom. The opposite is also true. When no one knows what to expect it makes for VERY interesting scratching.

No Need For Crutches

So as you can see, boredom is not a friend of ours. We need to take extra caution to make sure that we’re not over dependent on silence in our scratch solos. The saying, “all good things in moderation, including moderation”, applies here.

There are times when silence can actually be detrimental to what you’re trying to express. You may have a whirlwind of fast, crazy emotion to unload on the listener. If you were to use silence throughout that part of your solo, much of the impact would be lost. By waiting to add silence after you’ve expressed those emotions, you not only get the full idea out properly but you add extra impact by ending in an abrupt manner.

The Balancing Act

Ultimately we want to control silence. Not let it control us. You do this by developing a great sense of when to use it and how much of it to use. Experimentation during scratch practice is a great way to further improve upon this skill. I highly recommend recording and reviewing your scratching to hear if you are violating or emulating the principles laid out in this article.

It may be painful at times to hear mistakes you are making. However, awareness of one’s faults is extremely vital to effectively improving as a scratch dj. You may not even catch all of your mistakes. If you are new to this concept it can be tough to perceive what is right or wrong. That is okay. Going through the process of thinking things through on your own, will do wonders for your awareness. Thus, you’ll find that you’re increased awareness will lead to improvement in many other areas of your scratching.

Magnifying Your Flaws

The ego is a funny thing. When it comes to our musical skills, most of us don’t let our ego rage out of control telling us how amazing we are. We tend to believe that we have a pretty firm grasp on what our current ability of scratching is. Unfortunately, even the most level headed, conscientious individual will have trouble being highly aware of all their scratching flaws.

Sometimes what we want to hear and expect from ourselves becomes what we hear despite the fact that it is not what’s actually happening. Consider a singer who has nearly mastered a popular song. The line between nailing the song and almost nailing it is very thin. As time goes on their vision of what they’re working towards could seemingly come into reality. However, another singer who is also very familiar with the song could likely spot some mistakes that the first singer is making such as occasionally going out of key.

If that person was to be informed that they’re having problems, it may be difficult for them to take the critique seriously. A situation like this could benefit greatly from a recording. If they listened well to a recording of themselves they’d likely catch the mistakes that their mind wasn’t allowing them to hear in the midst of actually singing it. This is great for the singer because they now have the dose of reality they need to tackle the last parts of the song that are preventing them from getting it down cold.

What This Means From A Scratch DJ Perspective

Since scratching is much more physical, video recording would actually be more beneficial for catching all the flaws that are holding you back. With scratching there are so many things that could be improved and in order for it all to sound like you mean for it to sound, you must be very precise. Often times you can be barely off in your scratch technique or timing, so it’s crucial that you have the ability to review your scratching with a critical ear and eye since it’s much harder to catch such minor issues while in the act.

How Often Should You Video Record Yourself?

Well, it really depends on your skill level and needs. However, a good general guideline would be as often as once a week and no less than once a month. If you are practicing scratching daily a month is a long time to go without giving yourself the type of feedback that video recording affords you. Since we’re naturally prone to miss a lot of the flaws without such perspective, letting months and months go by can be dangerously risky.

Even a week can be a long time if your practice efforts are efficient and effective. If you’re working through a quality daily scratch practice strategy your progress should be notable each week. In fact, recording weekly could be an eye opener that your practice strategy may not be as effective as you assumed it was. Video is a good way to review your victories and defeats and gear the following week’s practice schedule towards your scratching problem areas so you can continue to speed up your scratch progress.

Is There Such Thing As Too Much?

While I do believe that weekly recording sessions can be extremely helpful, I understand that it might be tough mentally for someone who doesn’t feel they’re progressing at the rate they want. If you are that type of person you might want to dial back the amount of recording you do to a monthly basis. I must caution you though that you’re probably worrying too much about your feelings and not enough about what you can do to ensure that you will increase your rate of improvement at scratching. The beauty of recording often is the pressure that comes with it melts away. It just becomes a natural and essential part of what you do.

It’s Not Just About Mistakes

Not everything that you want to fix will be a technical issue. You may be doing plenty of things that are technically correct, but don’t necessarily sound good to you. This is an excellent opportunity for you to note what you like and don’t like about your scratch style and begin crafting a style that is much more pleasing to you. This is where your personality starts to shine through a lot more because you’re making personal choices about how you want to ultimately sound when you scratch.

Excuses Will Not Get You Far

Nowadays the cost to record is dirt cheap. Granted it won’t be the ultimate in high definition recording if you go low budget, but that’s irrelevant. You just need a clear enough picture and sound so you can catch all the details of what you’ve captured. Many of you already have a device that captures video like a webcam or cell phone, so even if you plan to get a nice camcorder later on you can still get started today.