Scratching In A Band – Expand Your Opportunities

Scratching in a band is not common place. There are many instances of a turntablist performing with other turntablists. However, seeing a turntablist perform with guitarists, bassists, drummers and other types of musicians is a rarity.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, it is unfortunate in the fact that an art form as enjoyable as scratching is getting passed over by many people that would likely welcome it with open arms. The lack of tablists performing with bands stems from the background it sprung from.

Hip-Hop birthed scratching and the bulk of Hip-Hop is based around programmed beats. This eliminated the need for a fully fleshed out band and also brought in a very cool way of performing music that was extremely unique for the time. A lot of great innovation came out of Hip-Hop which has continued to be built upon over the years, not least of which is scratching.

What Breaks Tradition Also Creates It

While Hip-Hop decidedly walked a very different path than other forms of music, it now suffers from the very standards developed to define itself. Like Hip-Hop, turntablism was a significant break from the genre that birthed it, while still maintaining some real roots to the music it came from. In fact I would consider turntablism to be not as disconnected to Hip-Hop as some may think, but rather a dramatic expansion in expressive dj capabilities. Hip-Hop has always been about taking other genres and creating something new out of it and turntablism is really no different. Thus there's no reason to chain tablism to lots of set standards and unnecessary limitations.

What Music Stands To Gain

Looking more in depth at other genres of music, you'll tend to notice at their best, they sound extremely expressive. Yet there's a lack of uniqueness that turntablism so easily captures, simply because genres like jazz and rock aren't nearly as new to the world. Also, in a lot of ways tablism is really an answer to people that don't recognize how truly expressive the turntable is as an instrument.

Turntablists have taken huge strides over the last decade and a half in developing a scratch vocabulary that easily puts them on close to, if not equal footing as other musicians. That being the case it seems only natural to take the next step and join forces with non scratch musicians, continuing to expand our expressive options within music. This is especially beneficial to our development considering the fact that most live instrumentation encompasses much more variety than a typical 4/4 Hip-Hop beat.

They Don't Understand

One issue that crops up when gaining exposure for turntablism, is it tends to be tough to comprehend for people that don't practice the art form. In its most hardcore style, scratching is very percussive and somewhat dissonant since there really isn't a way to generate exact notes within any particular scale. In a lot of ways you could relate it best to rap which also significantly lacks melodic content. However, the beauty of scratching is you're not limited to scratching in such an in your face style.

You can take any melodic sounding record and chop it up in a variety of ways while still retaining the melodic content of such a record. In a band context this means you'd have to be ultra vigilant that the sounds you use are generally in tune with the rest of the band. This doesn't mean that tablists seeking to play in a band should abandon much of the complex scratch vocabulary that exists. In fact possessing a high level of technical aptitude in scratching makes melodic style scratching much easier to facilitate. It also allows you to break up the more melodic style with hardcore cuts should it sound appropriate to do so based on the music your band is performing.

Reaching Ears and Opening Minds

Scratching isn't necessarily a hard pill to swallow for people. It has more to do with how it's presented. Scratching in a more melodic style within a band as described above, is a very effective way to introduce people to turntablism. Seated among music that people already enjoy, scratching can really spice things up in a nice and ear friendly way.

Examples and Ways to Get Started

While it is rare for turntablists to be in a band, it is not unheard of. Some examples of songs or bands featuring scratching that you should check out include: Herbie Hancock 'Rockit' (featuring scratching from DST), Praxis (featuring scratching from TurntablistDisk), Gunkhole (featuring scratching from D-Styles, Ricci Rucker and Mike Boo. The best example being their DVD 'Live In Bologna' which involves a drummer, standup bass player, as well as a sax and flute player) and Secret Sidewalk (featuring scratching from Mike Boo). I have also played in a band and a quick segment of one or our performances can be found here: Live at 19 Broadway

Joining a band isn't as intimidating as it may seem and can be as simple as linking up with even one musician that's not a tablist. Simply place an ad on craigslist or network on sites like twitter and facebook and go from there. Just remember, the goal is making music that's enjoyable regardless of being in a band or otherwise, so have fun scratching and soak in everything that will come your way as a result.

Why Confusing Jamming with Practice is Detrimental

Practicing is the most important thing you will ever do as a turntablist. How you practice determines everything you will ever accomplish with scratching. If you practice regularly and effectively you can basically guarantee that you will achieve the results you desire and achieve them at a rate far quicker than someone who is practicing ineffectively. Unfortunately, many do not understand the importance of practice, much less what effective scratch practice entails.

To most, simply putting on a beat and jamming freely over it is what they consider practice. While this is not a complete waste of time, it is certainly not an effective use of practice time and quite frankly is not actual practice. Real practice consists of determining categories of specific items to work on and how much time must be spent on each item in your practice schedule based on your current strengths and weaknesses. If you are not doing this, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Avoiding Problems vs. Creating Them

Think back to any conversation where you misinterpreted what the other person was trying to communicate to you. In most cases, that misinterpretation probably led to a problematic outcome. Had you truly understood what they were trying to get across in the first place, you would've had a much better chance of preventing whatever problems resulted from misunderstanding them.

When you confuse jamming with practicing you're essentially doing the same thing. This can be much worse than misunderstanding a simple conversation. Afterall, if you never gain true knowledge of what effective practice actually consists of, you could potentially waste years and years of your life never really achieving many of your scratch goals.

The Flip Side

Keep in mind, there is still a time and place for jamming. In fact, you can have the opposite issue if you get too heavily involved in practicing. While practicing effectively should make up the bulk of your scratching, if you never give yourself time to freely jam over a beat, you're not really giving yourself a chance to flex all the scratching muscles you're developing during practice. Ultimately, scratching is all about expressing yourself and stirring up emotion in your listeners. Thus, it's very important to set aside some time for jamming regularly where you can leave all your concern for the problems you've been working on behind for a bit.

Common Jamming Pitfalls

If you're truly working to progress regularly with an effective scratch practice strategy, it will be tough at times to shut out the inner critic when you're strictly jamming. What I'm advocating is not to avoid critiquing yourself when jamming, but to not be overly critical. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes when scratching. You can take quick mental notes as you encounter problems, but you don't want to start breaking into practice exercises to fix those issues in the middle of jamming or you'll break the flow of your expression. You can always attack those problems later during your actual practice time.

An even better way to not let your worries drag you down during a jam is to record yourself scratching in audio or video and critique your jam afterwards. This will give you a much better chance to enjoy jamming and also make it easier to determine what the actual issues you're facing are. Often times in the moment of jamming, it is much more difficult to figure out what is being executed correctly or not. With a recording you have the opportunity to hear yourself from an outside perspective, as well as the ability to continually review anything that stands out to you as something to be concerned with.

With True Clarity Comes Great Responsibility

Now that you have a much better picture of what jamming and practicing are, you owe it to yourself to start creating a much more effective practice strategy for yourself. Understandably, this isn't always easy to do. Depending on your experience, you may not really know yet what specific areas deserve your attention during practice. To help get you started, I highly recommend you check out this great resource of practice topics I have written about here: Effective Scratch DJ Practice Strategies

While the topics I've covered should be of great help to you, you'll likely have more indepth issues that are very specific to you as an individual in need of attention. If you feel this is the case, be sure to go to this page and contact me directly with your concerns: Scratch DJ Lessons

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