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.

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