Expect the Unexpected

Great thriller movies contain lots of surprising moments, elements of calm and extreme excitement. When you watch a truly good thriller, you are likely on the edge of your seat for a good chunk of the movie. No matter how much you want to believe you won’t get thrown off guard, you always do.

Likewise a bad thriller just comes off cheesy because of the severe predictability of it all. It can potentially become comical because there is virtually no suspense and you have to laugh just to deal with the writer’s lack of imagination. The same can be said for scratching.

Clearly, sounding cheesy and boring are not goals of the vast majority of us. A great way to avoid putting people to sleep is to use a rhythmic technique called rubato. For those unacquainted with the term, the definition of rubato is as follows: The temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening. Or in more simple terms, not playing in strict time.

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

It is a mistake to think that just because you’re scratching over a steady rhythm that you are chained to scratching steady too. If you lock into a groove and spit out a constant stream of 8th notes, it won’t matter how cool your mixture of scratch techniques or pitches are. People will disregard that because they’ll be fixated with your lack of rhythmic variety.

When you use rubato, each note now has its own personality. It’s similar to being at a party and not knowing who’s going to arrive next. All kinds of different people will show up randomly. Although some may be similar, none will possess exactly the same traits. Furthermore, you’ll have no expectation of who each person will be until they show up.

Don’t Beat Your Audience Over The Head

Being constantly unpredictable can be exhausting. If every moment of your solo was wildly random, you would begin to suffer from the very problem you were trying to avoid in the first place. A calm between storms gives the listener a chance to catch their breath and recuperate. Your job as the soloist is to know when the audience is close to full recuperation and then hit them again. You NEVER want them to completely recover.

When you spend more concentrated effort on rubato you may likely run into another issue. Your rubato could become formulaic. Meaning, every time you decide to break out rubato, you get stuck scratching the same way. What you must recognize with rubato and pretty much everything else, is there are always going to be alternate ways to do things. Thus, it’s important that you continually work out several ways of executing the rubato technique.

Tears, Flares And Tear Flares

There are a variety of scratches that are well suited to rubato. Take a tear scratch for example. You can do a two forward, one back tear scratch all in the same rhythmic division or you could break things up a bit. For example, the first motion of the tear could be one long, sustained note, while the second and third motion could be really rapid sounding.

You could also do a 2 click flare, where the first 2 clicks on the forward stroke of the record are quick, but you let the record
continue moving forward and then slowly pullback the record and click towards the end of the reverse motion. This would make for a highly unpredictable 2 click flare.

You could also take the first example of the tear scratch and add any number of flare combos and timing of the flares to it. Now imagine you combine all three of these examples into a string of phrases. By now it should be clear how entertaining your scratching will become with a large vocabulary of rubato at your disposal.

Outside The Scratch World

Rubato is quite an old concept and yet it is so under used amongst many musicians. The most notorious musician and master of rubato is none other than Chopin. While masterful, instrumental piano work from the Romantic Era is a far cry from modern day turntablism, it would do you a world of good to familiarize yourself with Chopin’s works. See a performance of Opus 28 here: Chopin
24 Preludes Op. 28

I’m sure if you take the time to listen, you will hear plenty of great rubato exhibited. A special thanks goes out to my music mentor Tom
, who has helped me to intellectualize the concept of rubato and recommended Chopin as well. I developed my rubato unconsciously as many musicians have. However, once you become conscious of such things as rubato, your level of development will thrive because you now have clearer focus on what to work towards. Not to mention, motivation because of the value that goes along with it.

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