The Enemy of Stamina

Have you ever set out to scratch for a few hours and ended your session much sooner than planned? Mentally, it seemed you were there. You had lots of scratches to work on and many ideas were flowing, yet physically you couldn’t persevere.

You were likely pretty disappointed because your mind didn’t shut off, but your body did. What’s worse is you were probably unaware of the true reason behind your apparent lack of stamina. Since you were not aware of the real cause, you likely went back with the “Try, try again” attitude, expecting that if you forced yourself to regularly practice long hours you’d eventually be able to endure it.

Unfortunately this is the wrong approach and will only lead to either causing unnecessary exhaustion or cutting down on your scratch practice time. There are many reasons why one’s endurance may suffer, but the key reason behind such an issue is excess tension throughout your body.

The Tension Antidote

Tension can be equated to stress. When we are overly stressed we tense up. Our neck gets stiff. Our shoulders tighten. Our back gets sore. These are all symptoms of stress and shouldn’t be neglected.

When we seek to combat stress we do so through activities of relaxation. We might take a nap, drink a cup of warm tea or meditate. Regardless of what you may choose to do when faced with lots of stress, we all have the same objective. We want to get relief.

Tension is no different. It can also be dealt with through relaxation. However, if you’re in the midst of a scratch session, you’re not going to just stop the moment you feel overly tense and take a nap. Thus you must learn subtle ways of relaxing that tension when scratching so you may continue for as long as needed.

The First Step Is Awareness

Before you can remove unnecessary tension, you must become aware of it. Since this is not something that typically comes naturally, I will take you through a quick exercise. Stand as you normally would when you are scratching. Squeeze your right shoulder muscle and hold it for 2 to 3 seconds. Notice the feeling of tension this gives you. Also take note of other areas that feel tense when you do this, as your shoulder will not be the only area affected. Next, completely relax and take note of how that feels as well. Now repeat this exercise with all other muscle groups.

When you are finished familiarizing yourself with the presence of tension throughout your body, you now have a working model to go by the next time you scratch. In fact I recommend that, time permitting, you go to your set up after completing the exercise and scratch.

Focus while scratching on how your body feels. Are you experiencing any feelings similar to the ones felt during the tension portion of the exercise? If so don’t worry about fixing it yet. Just be very aware of it and know that you are much closer to increasing your stamina than you were moments ago.

The Art Of Letting Go

Now you are ready to start releasing tension as it crops up. Since you are more aware of how unnecessary tension feels your task is easier. Unfortunately, tension can be a relentless pest and so you must be extremely vigilant of its presence.

Think back to the tension exercise at the moment you released the tension. You are shooting for a similar feeling when releasing tension while scratching. Since you’re not standing still as you should’ve been during the exercise, you might be required to adjust your body a little bit. This could mean lifting your chin up if your neck is craning too far forward, dropping your shoulder if it is positioned upwards towards your ear, having a wider stance if your feet are too close together, etc.

The Jellyfish Syndrome

You must be warned that it is possible to over relax. While it is true that too much tension can cause discomfort and weaken endurance, too little tension can be just as detrimental. When you are too relaxed it becomes difficult to execute much of anything. In a case like that, all the stamina in the world is going to have little value because you will just sound sloppy and non expressive.

Too Little, Too Late

While it is good to be aware of and fix issues of excessive tension, it does not always equal out to increased stamina. Tension will often creep into our system without us realizing it at the moment it happens. By the time you become aware and diffuse it, you’re body has already grown more weary than it would have if you had addressed the problem when it began.

This doesn’t mean that you are doomed to never endure extended scratch sessions. It simply means you’ll have to work on your relaxation technique long term, continually increasing your awareness while scratching all the while. The best news of all is that eventually this will become second nature. This is great because once the process is natural you won’t have to cloud your thoughts with issues of tension and can instead focus on having fun when you scratch and expressing yourself.

How to Shred Like a Scratch Beast

Scratching super fast is a skill that the vast majority of scratch dj's strive to acquire. Unfortunately, the typical approach you likely have taken for building extreme speed is severely ineffective. There are several things that must be considered if you want to build speed effectively. Missing any of it will prevent you from scratching at the most extreme speeds possible.

The Average Strategy is Tempo Boosting

While boosting the tempo has its benefits, it's not the sole way to build speed. Most people assume if they keep increasing the tempo and trying to scratch over it that they'll eventually be able to scratch faster. However, as already mentioned, a lot more must be considered and consciously worked on if you are to achieve any major results.

Think about it like driving at extreme speeds. If you are driving on a race track built for insane speed it doesn't guarantee that you will be able to drive extremely fast. You still need the right kind of vehicle and highly developed skills to fly through the race track at a lightning pace.

Efficiency of Movement is Crucial

If your record hand and fader hand are moving inefficiently then you will never scratch as fast as possible. Being efficient means achieving maximum results with minimum effort. Typical examples of inefficient movement are moving the record forward and back too far from the starting point, opening the fader too far from the cutoff and releasing your fingers too far away from the fader.

Clearly, the more movement you use in your scratching where it isn't needed, the longer it will take to do those things, thus the slower your cuts will be. What you want to do is identify where you're being inefficient, how inefficient you are in each area and how to become more efficient when you scratch.

Relaxation is at the Heart of Speed

One thing you may have noticed when scratching at faster tempos is it can be challenging to relax. What you must realize is that the more relaxed you are the more easily you can scratch efficiently. This is because when you tense up, you tend to overdo your motions even if you're consciously making an effort to move efficiently.

That's why it's very useful to scratch over more mellow tempos, such as 80 bpm and below, so you can focus on learning to scratch in a very relaxed manner while still attaining higher levels of speed. When you successfully do this it enables you to handle much higher tempos in a more relaxed mental and physical state.

While mellow bpm beats will help naturally put you in a state of relaxation, you still have to learn more aspects of the physical side. Learning to optimize your record hand pressure, fader hand tension and overall physical relaxation when scratching will greatly increase the fluidity of your movement which all leads to greater overall speed.

Good Timing Equals Further Relaxation

In addition, you need to time your fader movements well with what your record hand is doing. This will allow you the chance to rest between record movements, so that you are not building up unnecessary tension in your fader hand. The better you are at doing this, the more consistent your relaxation will be and the more you will scratch clean and fast, because you are learning to click the fader at the right moments.

Measuring Your Speed Leads to More Speed

It's essential that you also have some set parameters so that you're aware of how fast you're actually scratching. How many notes you execute per beat will determine how fast you are at the current tempo you're scratching over. 1 note per beat is quarter notes, 2 notes per beat is 8th notes, 3 notes per beat is 8th note triplets, 4 notes per beat is 16th notes, 6 notes per beat is 16th note triplets and so on. This is assuming you know basic counting over a 4/4 beat which is the typical time signature for most scratch beats.

It will be partially helpful to know how many notes there are for each scratch technique and combo you are working on, but you also have to keep in mind repetitions per beat. For example, if you are performing one technique per beat, then how many notes that technique is made up of will represent your speed. However, in order to increase your speed without increasing the tempo you have to add repetitions of that technique.

The more repetitions of a technique you can do per beat will represent your true speed of that technique at the chosen tempo. It is only when you have maximized your reps of a technique or combo per beat that boosting the tempo will be necessary to further gain speed. Remember though, it is all the areas of your scratching that I've discussed that will need to improve for you to actually gain speed. Boosting the tempo once you have maximized your speed at a lower tempo only puts you in a position to continue accurately measuring your speed.

Don't Underestimate Building Speed

While I have covered a lot about dramatically increasing your speed, there is much more detail that will need to be understood and applied to truly reach your full potential. Often times it isn't just the depth of each topic associated with speed building, but also your own personal weaknesses and strengths. These personal aspects of your scratching are best addressed by a high quality scratch instructor who knows from their own experience how to scratch at extremely fast speeds and has successfully taught others to do so as well. Bottom line, the fastest way to learn to scratch extremely fast is to seek help from a mentor who can and will help you reach your goals.