The Necessity of Ultra Pitch Turntables

At the time that I am writing this article, ultra pitch turntables are common place. It is not a stretch to say that you could easily order one right now and enjoy all the benefits it has to offer. Yet, many scratch dj’s have not taken that step and remain on what is essentially outdated gear. This is unfortunate considering all of the expressive scratching options that will open up as a result of acquiring ultra pitch turntables.

Imagine you owned a piano and you were very accustomed to the full pitch range that it has to offer from the first to the 88th key. With such a rich range of pitch your ability to express yourself tonally is very full. Now imagine you get up one day and walk over to your piano only to find that over 70 keys have been removed, leaving you with just one octave in the mid range to play. Most likely you’d be devastated by the drastic decrease of your expressive options.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the piano, you’d be hard pressed not to notice that any great piano music covers a wide range of octaves and would not be nearly as expressive if it were all suddenly reduced to one octave. Unfortunately, that is similar to how popular turntables like the Technics 1200 are designed. Now I’m not out to bash Technics, but if we’re going to be truly honest, we have to admit to ourselves that its pitch range is extremely limited.

Excuses vs. Moving Forward

If you’re hesitant to dump old gear and move on, you could have several reasons. Perhaps you’re sentimental as you might’ve had your current turntables for awhile. You might feel that your current turntable is built like a tank and has proven its reliability. You may even be a pretty advanced scratch dj despite the limitations of the pitch range on your turntable. However, you should recognize that these are all merely excuses and by not moving on you are avoiding a key that will unlock many doors.

The First and Most Obvious Benefit

Let’s say you have a sample you want to scratch over a beat with, but the tempo of the beat doesn’t match the sample. You want to let the sample play all the way out, but it won’t stay on beat. The obvious solution, regardless of what kind of turntable you own, is to adjust the pitch of the sample so it will match. However, in this case the pitch is so far off that using a turntable without ultra pitch will result in the sample still playing off beat. Clearly, if you were using an ultra pitch turntable this would not be an issue whatsoever and you could solve your problem almost instantly.

Further Options

Let’s look at another example. Say you have a really cool vocal sample to scratch with, but it sounds way too high and nasally. You can already tell that if you only dropped it down 10 percent or so that it would still sound piercingly high. Without an ultra pitch turntable you’d be likely to toss the sample and forgo what could have been a worthy addition to your arsenal of sounds. On an ultra pitch turntable you wouldn’t have to make such a sacrifice because you could continue to drop the pitch down incrementally until you find an ideal setting.

What About Serato?!

With technology like Serato you could actually record your scratch sounds into your DAW, adjust the pitch of each sample to whatever you like and then drop it into serato or use a plug-in for Serato called Pitch ‘N Time and the above problem would be solved. However, while these are workable solutions, they aren’t the most ideal for on the fly situations. Using Serato for pitch issues also negates the advantage of slower platter speeds which I’ll speak more about below.

Record Control on a Whole New Level

When you scratch on a turntable without ultra pitch you are forced to learn to control the record over a platter speed that may be too extreme for your current skill level. However, when you drop the pitch down considerably the platter spins much slower and the amount of resistance that you experienced with scratching before is lessened to a great degree. This makes it much easier to gain the necessary record control it takes to be really expressive when scratching. When you gain control at those speeds, going back up to standard or extreme speeds becomes much easier to tackle because now you only have to deal with the challenge of extra resistance from the platter.

Recommendations

Now that you have a clear picture of why it is so vital to use ultra pitch turntables, I’d like to give some recommendations of turntables that have an ultra pitch option. The main ones I think are most noteworthy are the Vestax PDX 3000 and the Numark TTX. The PDX 3000 being on the higher end and the TTX being somewhat lower. There are other options, but I think you’ll find that those are the most worthwhile. So in closing, take a leap and don’t look back. I wholeheartedly believe you’ll have zero regrets.

3 Keys to Effective Scratch Sentence Phrasing

Scratch sentence phrasing is kind of elusive. Many want to do it well, but few seek out strategies for making it more effective. Even worse, lots avoid scratch sentence phrasing altogether because they perceive it as too difficult. This is unfortunate considering it can be one of the most powerful tools for capturing people's attention with scratching. Particularly people who aren't scratch dj's because it's easier for them to comprehend.

A Clear Definition

Before we go any further let's establish what scratch sentence phrasing actually is. A scratch sentence is a series of words put together on a record to form a sentence such as "say what" or "cut like a guillotine". Phrasing is actually not specific to scratching and is really just a way of soloing with more emotion. Good phrasing is similar to a good conversation as it will have a variety of pauses, punctuation, rhythm and mood. For good examples check out artists like John Coltrane and Marty Friedman.

Scratch sentence phrasing is simply combining those two elements. In other words manipulating scratch sentences in a creative way. It is very common in scratching to move back and forth between two to three words in a sentence, playing them off each other. D-Styles is a master of this and you can hear him do it most often with "say what".

Key Number One!

Now that we've covered our bases, let's get into what you need to do to be more effective. You must have excellent timing. Phrasing never sounds good if it's not timed well. A common way to establish good timing is to treat your scratch sentence phrasing like scratch drumming. In fact, a lot of the coolest phrases are really just drum patterns in disguise.

The easiest way to improve your timing is to take a two word sentence and time it to the beat you're scratching over. Often times the first word of the phrase will land on the kick drums of the beat and the second word of the phrase will land on the snares. In terms of a 4/4 rhythm, that would be the first word on the 1 and the second word on the 2. Scratch techniques commonly used for this style consist of forwards and stabs.

Key Number Two!

You must sound extremely clean. Scratch sentences usually consist of sounds that are short in length and arranged close together. If you're the slightest bit off, you'll sound sloppy because you'll end up going too far forward or too far back into other words of the sentence or even land in a silent spot. Even if you scratch precise with the record you will likely run into synchronization issues with the fader.

To gain precision, always watch where you're at in the record so you don't lose track. A common way to do this is to mark the label of the record you're using with a sticker that lines up the beginning of the first word of the sentence with the needle. You can also add an additional sticker below the first to mark when the second word of the sentence begins.

In terms of improving your fader and record hand synchronization, this can be done in isolation with stabs using one word of the sentence. Granted stabs are just one element of scratch sentence phrasing, but they're a primary element so it will do you well to pay close attention to them. Clean stabs pulled off consecutively give a strong feeling of precision that tapping a sampler is known for.

Key Number Three!

You must have a variety of scratch patterns. If all your scratch sentence phrasing consists of are drum like patterns they'll become boring. This is where phrasing in the style of traditional musicians comes into play.

Typically when we scratch we use sounds like "Ahhh" and "Freshhh". As mentioned, phrasing is meant to flow like a good conversation. There are no limitations to what techniques can be used.

A great way to break in and out of drum pattern style phrasing into traditional phrasing is to treat each word in your sentence as you would an "Ahhh". Just take one word and do a variety of scratches with it. When you decide to revert back to drum style patterns is up to you, but if you mix these two ways of phrasing up enough you'll greatly reduce the chance of sounding dull. Phrasing is an inexhaustible topic and to go into more depth is outside the scope of this article. However, you can learn a ton about how to create high quality phrasing here: The Definitive Guide to the Tear Scratch.

Get Fresh

A great way to bridge the gap between drum pattern style phrasing and traditional phrasing is to use the sound "Freshhh". Sense you're likely already used to using a variety of techniques and patterns with "Freshhh", the next step is to break it into two parts, between "Fre" and "shhh". You can apply drum style patterns to each part as well as traditional phrasing. This will get you in the habit of phrasing as you would with a scratch sentence and also establish some really good, transferable patterns. Most importantly, it'll help keep you from making excuses to not work on phrasing as not working on it is worse than even the smallest bit of effort.