Why Your Ears Might be Failing You

Listening is one of the most crucial skills you can develop as a scratch dj. So why is it that people rarely, if ever, address it? After all, music is an art form for the ears. You’d be surprised how often you’re not really listening and just going through the motions. Yet, if you’re not truly listening to the musical elements you’re scratching over, you will not be nearly as effective as you would be otherwise.

Ineffective Communication

What do you typically do during a conversation? Listen to what the other person is saying, then respond in a way that correlates well with what they just said? Or do you spend more time thinking about what you want to say while the other person is talking, potentially missing key details that they’re trying to convey to you? Often times we do the latter. You can imagine how much potential trouble this can cause. Especially if the topic at hand is very important to the other person involved. By not listening properly and responding appropriately, you’re likely to upset or even offend the other person.

Self Absorption

When we scratch, we tend to be really caught up in everything we know. From all the scratch techniques we have under our belt, to the patterns we have come to depend on. However, a lot of those things may not be effective for the musical situation you’re in. Remember, scratching is not about showing off everything you know within a minute’s time. It’s about expressing yourself in a way that makes sense for the music you’ve chosen to be a part of.

Going back to the previous example of the conversation, you wouldn’t blurt out every word in your vocabulary just for the sake of doing so would you? So why should you be compelled to do what’s basically the equivalent when scratching? This is why many of your listeners will not be impressed or even remotely enjoy what you’re doing. It’s because your communication style has become ineffective due to lack of listening.

A Solid Approach

Let’s say you’re scratching over a typical beat that you would scratch to. You may think you’ve really been listening before, but I challenge you to actually stop scratching and just listen to the beat. Think about what kinds of techniques and patterns would really sound good over it. Take note of how the beat progresses. Is it steady throughout? Does it build up over time or does it mellow out? Is there a melody or is it just a simple drum beat? If it does have a melody, is there a way you can match what the melody is doing rhythmically? These are all just a sample of many questions you can ask yourself to determine what kind of flow will be best suited for the music.

Additional Challenges

Don’t get discouraged about your scratching if you have established patterns you’d like to use that don’t seem to work. This is actually a good thing because often times, simply making minor adjustments in rhythm and pitch can make the difference. Do you need to increase or lower the speed or pitch? Do you need to use less or more notes? Take time to think these kinds of things through more often and it will start to become second nature. The best part is making these kinds of adjustments will actually increase your scratch vocabulary and give you more options for other situations you come across.

You may even be making appropriate choices already, but it’s easy to get lost along the way. You could choose a series of patterns that all seem to make sense for the part of the music you started to do them, but along the way the music pulled a 180 and you were so caught up in what you were already doing, that you missed the change. However, the audience won’t miss it because it’s the overall music that makes more sense to them. That’s why it’s crucial that you listen constantly and listen well so that you can avoid sounding like you don’t fit in.

Silence as a Reset Button

In the earlier stages of your listening skills development, it will often times be easier to simply take many moments of silence in your scratching, so that you can better assess what’s happening with the music and establish consistent, quality musical choices. As time goes on you will instinctively know what works well and what doesn’t, but there will always be new listening challenges ahead so don’t think it’ll be okay to give your ears a rest. Keep them active!

The Discouraging Side of Progression

Progression is something that we all thrive off of and enjoy. It's often seen as a very positive thing as it should be, but there is a negative side to progression that is quite common. There are ways to cope well with the negativity that comes along with progression, but before we discuss that we need to understand how progression works. What you must realize is that progression in scratching tends to happen in incremental steps. It often takes many twists and turns before something comes out just right, so when a moment of clarity hits you and it all comes together that is actually the result of many smaller steps of progression that lead to that experience.

It really boils down to replacing inaccuracies with correct technique. Often times there are multiple things that are going wrong within any given thing you're working on. Not only do you have to correct these things, but you need to further correct the so called correct way of doing things as you're likely to still be somewhat off from what is truly accurate. This means that you'll be spending much more time doing things incorrectly than otherwise. This leads to developing bad habits that you'll be working regularly to break and replace with good habits (accurate technique).

Negativity Minimized

Unfortunately this is where progression is mixed with regression which is the unfortunate side of progression. It's very similar to the expression, "Old habits die hard." Considering all of this, it's even more devastating to realize that we're mostly unconscious of letting our old habits get the best of us despite learning good habits to replace them with. When this happens it's typical to get upset and feel like all your hard work wasn't worth it. It's only natural to feel puzzled about not being able to do something that we just did moments before.

No Miracle

While there is no miracle cure for this issue there are things that can be done. One of the most important things you can do is always be prepared to write about your major moments of progress as they happen. Yes that's right. Actually stop what you're doing and write down exactly what took place. While it would seem better to keep attempting to do the same thing over and over again after it happened, it can cause too many distractions as your old habits can creep in, adding confusion to what actually worked in the first place. Writing things out brings clarity in your scratching that otherwise wouldn't be there and gives you something to focus on so you can be much more aware of what to do and what not to do.

The Big Picture Gets Even Bigger

The beauty of this strategy beyond making it easier to cope with regression is it actually helps to speed up your overall progression. This is because, once accustomed to this approach, you will be spending far less time getting stuck on bad habits that sabotage your progress and far more time on what does work. This is even truer over longer periods of time. Think of it like a high interest savings account where large deposits are made regularly instead of withdrawals, allowing the interest to yield much higher amounts of money for you as years go by.

A Time and a Place

Sometimes progression will hit you at times where stopping to write about it won't be ideal or even appropriate. Such situations would be jam sessions or live performances. Make sure to fully realize the difference between scratch practice and performance. Understand that what I have laid out for you in this article is a practice strategy. Jamming is a time to let all your hard work shine for you and express yourself to the best of your abilities without having to worry about further improvement. Don't worry if anything passes you by during those times. As long as you are on top of things during practice you'll get more than enough progression out of yourself.

Reflection

You can always reflect afterwards about your performance and what allowed you to excel. I strongly recommend recording your scratch jams whenever possible. You may not always be able to recall what you'd like to since there can be so much to think about during a performance situation. Watching and listening back to what you did can be an excellent way to jog your memory as well as capture the joy of your performance.

Never Get It Wrong – The Power of Isolation

Have you ever tried to learn a simple phrase in a foreign language? Perhaps you were planning on visiting another country and you needed to learn it and most likely other phrases that were critical for communicating things to the locals. In most cases like this, we tend to learn just enough to get by.

Getting by might be acceptable for simple trips, but what if you planned to move there and really immerse yourself in the culture long term? If you really want to be accepted and build strong, high quality relationships with the people there, you'd probably take learning their language much more seriously. Let's take it even further and assume that you want to learn the language to the point where even locals can't tell simply by hearing you that you're not from the area. With a goal like that, there's really no room for error. You'd literally have to talk the talk on a consistent basis.

Of course this may all seem very daunting for someone who hasn't learned a lick of the language yet. However, if you were to focus on simply one word and repeat it incessantly until you get it absolutely picture perfect you'd be hard pressed to ever get it wrong again. If you truly want to master scratching your goal should NOT be to simply get by. It should be to express yourself in the most fluent way possible 100% of the time.

A Big Piece of the Puzzle

This method of isolation that I alluded to in the previous example is a big part of what it will take for you to overcome your challenges in scratching and ultimately perfect your scratch technique. I refer to this method as drilling and if it's not a part of your current practice routine it should be. If you are faced with a challenge in a specific technique, random freestyle scratching and occasionally throwing that technique into your soloing will likely make it take much longer if not impossible to ever get past the problems you're encountering. When you drill a specific technique in isolation you are effectively shutting out all distractions when scratching and allowing yourself the chance to really get to the bottom of what is holding you back from improving.

Taking Things to Further Extremes

In fact it is possible that you may only be struggling at one aspect of a technique. In this kind of situation, you will need to isolate things even further and just drill that one aspect of the technique that is preventing you from performing it correctly. Perhaps things are worse for you and you just aren't grasping the technique at all. The strategy of extreme isolation is still the best way to approach it. Only now there are multiple parts to the technique that need to be broken down into their own specific drills before you'll be ready to put it all back together again and drill the full technique without such severe isolation.

Different Drills for Different Needs

While the above drills work well for techniques you are suffering big problems with, they don't necessarily work for other issues such as phrasing. When phrasing you are stringing together a group of techniques to create something where all the techniques sound like they're really meant to go together. Individually you might seem to have no issue performing any of the techniques you want to use in the phrase, but things tend to fall apart once you begin combining scratch techniques.

There are many reasons why this may be so, like timing, rhythmic feel, and contrast in speed or pitch as well as many other possible challenges. A great way to approach such a problem would be to isolate your phrase to only two techniques at a time. Work hard to see what approach will be best to make the transition from one technique to the next to sound the smoothest. Then once you feel you've achieved something you're pleased with, add an additional technique to the phrase and drill that. Often times it's the transition between one scratch technique to the next that is most difficult so you will likely have to go back to extreme drilling. Only unlike extreme drilling with a single technique, in the context of a phrase you would be drilling the transition only.

Refinement

While drilling is mostly best for getting past major challenges it can also be used to refine scratching that you aren't necessarily struggling with, but are getting close to mastering. This goes back to just getting by vs. perfecting things. Drilling something that you can do well, but haven't mastered will lead you to mastery much quicker than you would otherwise.

Making the Most of Your Practice Time

Keep in mind that items that you are struggling with most deserve much more practice time and things that only need refinement deserve much less attention. If you put too much effort towards drilling practice items that only need refinement you stand to progress at a very slow rate. No one wants to intentionally slow their rate of progress down so be sure to avoid allocating improper amounts of time to what you practice. While it is not impossible to judge what deserves the most vs. the least attention during practice, it's not necessarily easy either. If you need help designing a practice schedule that fits your needs and the amount of time you have to practice throughout any given week, be sure to visit this link: Scratch DJ Training

Pattern Generation – Infinite Possibilities

Ideas are being thought of and expressed all over the world at every second of every hour, all day, every day. One idea shared can lead to a multitude of other ideas, which in turn can lead to many more. At times it can seem like there’s no end to new ideas for better or worse. As a musician this is an exciting proposition. It means if you keep your mind and ears open and continually put effort towards your craft, you’ll never run out of new things to express.

Let’s break this down to something really specific within scratching and that is pattern generation. There are a lot of patterns that exist already within scratching. New patterns are being created all the time. It may be subtle or even obvious, but it’s happening. If it wasn’t, scratching wouldn’t have advanced to the point that it has from its humble beginnings. So then, it’s safe enough to assume that if it’s happening now it will continue for as long as scratching exists.

Essential Ingredients

Pattern generation is a vital part of scratching for a variety of reasons. For starters, it breathes new life into something older that’s becoming stale in the minds of those itching to explore new territory with scratching. It keeps things fresh for the fans that would otherwise get bored of hearing the same thing over and over again. No matter how much someone loves something, the natural order of things is to crave change.

Delving into pattern generation will advance the practitioner by expanding their vocabulary. Thus allowing them to express themselves more deeply and freely. This in turn allows the artform to grow further. Especially when taking into account that it’s not just one person working out new scratch patterns.

No Need For Ruts

It’s important for scratch dj’s to recognize that ruts essentially do not exist. I say essentially because most of us can remember at least a few times where we felt like we were in one. You need not continue to allow so called ruts in your scratching to control our creativity. It’s outside the scope of this article to get into all the strategies of avoiding or getting out of ruts. However, in the case of pattern generation I will discuss ways to keep the spark of creativity going.

Another Way To Skin A Cat

Sometimes you may want to hold back on creating new patterns of scratches. This may seem like a contradiction given that the majority of this article, advocates the benefits of pattern generation. What you need to recognize though is if all you ever do is work on new patterns you will never master the older ones you’ve already learned. You have to place equal importance on getting things down so you can maximize the expressive potential within any one particular pattern.

Potential Realized

Let’s focus on a simple example of pattern generation. Take any three scratch techniques that you know. Arrange them in any order. Now ask yourself the following questions:

1.How fast do I want to do each technique?
2.Do I want to do each technique at different speeds or similar speeds?
3.How many times do I want to do each technique before moving on to the next one?
4.What tempo will the beat be that I will execute this pattern over?
5.Will this pattern be a good way to start my solo or end my solo?

Keep in mind this is just one example of how a pattern can be created. As you can already see a lot of thoughts have been raised by carrying out this simple exercise. There are many more questions you can ask yourself within this example and you can also start the exercise off differently. For instance, take only two techniques and feed them into the formula. Or four techniques even. Math is a great way to play with pattern ideas. It really boils down most times to basic addition and subtraction.

Soaking It In

Feeling the impact of a concept like infinity can certainly be overwhelming. We need not be overwhelmed though. If realizing the endless possibilities of what you can create is too intimidating it can have the opposite effect. Remember, putting a self imposed rut on yourself is not the goal. Self expression through scratching is really the goal here.

Just because there are infinite possibilities doesn’t mean you have to now suddenly pressure yourself to come up with whopping loads of patterns all at once. Take it easy and enjoy the ride. By creating new scratch patterns over time you help create a longer lasting love for what you do. Enjoy the ride.

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
Hess
, 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.

How to Make Your Scratching Super Clean

Being able to scratch really cleanly is something that many people greatly desire. Part of what makes scratching sound professional is executing everything as clean as possible. If your scratching is overly sloppy it is not very appealing to listen to because it prevents you from clearly communicating the ideas you want to express.

Many think that simply practicing regularly will be enough to eventually get their scratching sounding super clean. The problem is that it's very unlikely that your scratch practice is focused on the correct things that will actually lead to clean scratching. This all amounts to a big waste of time with much less results than focusing your practicing on the areas that are essential to achieving your goal of scratching cleanly.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

Imagine you had a really dirty toilet. Now imagine the only tool you had to clean it with was a toothpick. Sure you could scrape off the gunk to some extent, but it would take you a really long time and the end result would likely still be a pretty filthy toilet. Now imagine you had a proper scrub brush and cleanser to clean that same toilet. Clearly the results would be much more to your liking and you wouldn't be stuck with a nasty toilet anymore.

The same applies with cleaning up your scratching. You need to pick the most effective method to get the job done. This method is what I refer to as 2 hand sync. This method involves training the timing of what your record hand is doing with what your fader hand needs to be doing at the same time.

Being Out of Sync is the Biggest Cause of Sloppiness

Now that you're aware of what the most important skill for cleaning up your scratching is, you need to further your understanding of how to harness its power. Just like not knowing what to focus on in practice is problematic, so is being unsure about what to focus on when working on the correct method. Even if you're practicing 2 hand sync you're likely to still have a lot of problems with fixing sloppy scratching. This is because when your hands are out of sync with each other you will not be clicking the fader in time with your record movements.

Better Understanding of Techniques is Important

One of the best ways to get an idea of when to time your fader hand with what your record hand is doing is to know how each scratch technique you are practicing works. Each technique should dictate specific timing. If you lack understanding of how techniques work you will never be able to execute those techniques cleanly.

Techniques like forwards, stabs, reverses and transforms dictate very specific timing. The definition of those techniques clearly states that the fader must begin and end with the fader closed. Timing for techniques like 1 click, 2 click and 3 click flare scratches depend on the fader beginning and ending open, as well as clicking in the middle of a forward or reverse record movement. While you still need a bit more understanding about those techniques and others to really work on your 2 hand sync, the basic definitions provide a good understanding of where to start.

Speed is Very Important

A huge misconception about clean scratching has to do with speed. It is not advised to try scratching at warp speed if you are generally sloppy at slower speeds. This is an obvious sounding point that many people actually are familiar with. However, despite their familiarity they typically run into another common problem that occurs when practicing scratching at slow speeds. They think that because they are scratching with slower more sustained notes that it's okay to open and close the fader slowly.

Unfortunately, this leads to big problems when working to increase your speed later on. While you may have longer periods of time between each click of the fader when scratching slower, it is crucial that every single time you open and close the fader you do it as instantly as possible. This puts you in a much better position for increasing speed because you will not have to train yourself to click faster later on. You'll simply need to decrease the amount of time that passes between each click of the fader.

Mastering the Basics and Taking Things to Another Level

You now have the general guidelines on how to get your scratching sounding ultra clean. What you'll want to do now is begin implementing the advice in this article for each of your scratch techniques, scratch combos and patterns that you want to clean up. You'll want to make sure that you do this in isolation, over a beat and within your freestyles as each context presents its own challenges. Realize, that just because you can do a technique cleanly in complete isolation does not mean that you will be as clean with that technique over a beat or in a freestyle integrated with all your other scratching.

You must also recognize that there are many more facets to improving your 2 hand sync that are often times very personal to your own development. This is mainly because your strengths, weaknesses, challenges and goals are unique to you. This is why if you truly want to excel at 2 hand sync and get your scratching to sound extremely clean and masterful, you need high quality scratch instruction. Come to my online scratch lessons page and discover how you can successfully conquer all your scratching challenges.