The Dark Side of Learning New Scratches

There are so many things to learn in scratching. Even if you're not new to turntablism you can still find yourself feeling overwhelmed. This becomes truer as you start to realize that there really is no end to what can be done on the turntable.

Unfortunately many people don't do anything to address their feelings of overwhelm. They simply keep focusing on more new things. While there is nothing really wrong with learning new things, it is only one piece of the puzzle. The biggest reason why feelings of overwhelm start to rush over you and take hold is because you're not giving yourself enough time to get comfortable with scratches you already know.

Imagine you're at a party filled with hundreds of people. Do you think you will make any worthwhile connection with anyone if you're approach is to say hello to each and every one of them? Obviously you wouldn't, but you would increase your chances tremendously if you limited your time to only a small handful of them. Of course you can increase your social circle further over time, but it's always going to be more valuable to invest time developing friendships than to know tons of people without really knowing them.

Mining for Gold

Approaching scratching from a similar viewpoint is crucial if you ever want to get any true value out of anything you know. This isn't a game to see who knows the most scratches. It's about scratching as expressively as possible with what you know. This will always ring true whether it's something you've been doing for years or something you just picked up the other day.

The Ins and Outs of Refinement

When refining your scratching there are multiple things to keep in mind, but the most important thing is thinking about what your biggest problem is with the particular aspect of scratching you're working on. Sometimes this can be clear as day and other times it will not be so obvious. Two things you can focus on that will make this task easier are to decide what you ultimately want the thing you're working on to sound like and what you're doing that's preventing you from achieving your desired result. As mentioned this will not always be easy, but by investing time to figure it out you increase your odds greatly to getting the issue resolved.

Once you have gotten past it you will want to look at what the next biggest issue is and repeat the process outlined above. Once you get that achieved you will continue tackling the next biggest issue until you have arrived at mastering that aspect of your scratching.

Don't Lose Yourself!

I must warn you that I am not saying to take this approach with just one challenge within your scratching at the expense of everything else you know or new things you want to learn. Doing so would be just as detrimental as doing nothing but learning new things. There has to be a balance, so I recommend singling out a handful of what you know and refining those things. You can have different priorities on a daily basis.

On day one you could try focusing on refining just a few things. On day two you could focus on a few others and so on. You could even have a day reserved solely for working on new things as well, but I would recommend you make that about 20% maximum of your weekly practice time.

Figuring out, understanding and staying on top of your priorities is the best way to ensure that you get the most out of scratching with the least amount of effort. Otherwise you will fall into the trap of spending many hours, weeks, months and even years focusing on the wrong things and improving at a much slower rate than anyone would ever care to progress at. I really doubt you want such a poor outcome for yourself so be sure to stay aware of the actions you're taking.

When Nothing Seems to Work

You may find yourself getting stuck on something because you are either unable to discover what is wrong or you are really unsure about how to get past what is holding you back. In situations like this the most effective thing you can do is seek outside advice. A qualified scratch instructor or high quality scratch instructional material authored by such a person is your best choice and will be invaluable in your quest to achieve your goals.

Pitch Variation – A Matter of Urgency

Scratching is a lot like your emotions. It can be very reserved and almost non expressive, or it can be full of intensity. Imagine if you had an emergency and you had to convey it immediately to the person next to you. It’s safe to assume that if you kind of mumbled the message in a lifeless way, they probably wouldn’t take you seriously. However, that is not the typical way we express ourselves during an emergency situation.

The opposite can also be true. If you were at the dinner table and you were asking the person next to you to pass the salt, you probably wouldn’t act too alarmed about it. However, many times in scratching we tend not to express the right emotions at the right times. Even worse we simply don’t express much at all. Working on pitch variation and the timing of such scratch variations is a great way to pull yourself out of the dark cell you may be currently imprisoning yourself in.

Don’t Throw Away The Key

Speaking of prison, if you were in a jail cell and you had the key you’d most likely open the cell and make a break for it. So why is it that we often place ourselves into boxes we think we can’t get out of? Often times it boils down to focusing too much on the problem and not the solution.

A great way to avoid self imposed limitation is to focus in on pitch variation. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced at scratching, you’ve probably painted yourself into a corner enough times. By taking what you already know and working on expanding the pitch range of it, you can greatly expand your expressive capabilities in scratching.

Become a Better Communicator

Various pitches communicate various things. Extremely high pitches communicate tension and intensity. On the other hand, extremely low pitches communicate release or a relaxed state of being. There are times to be intense and there are times not to. Our goal when relying on pitch to express what we want is to use it at the times it is necessary to convey such emotions.

The range of pitch in scratching is immense. For those familiar with turntables that have ultra pitch functions, you realize the pitch can go 50% faster or slower than the original speed of the record. With such a vast amount of octaves to play in, the options reach far and wide. The best part is you don’t even need an ultra pitch turntable to access this amazing pitch range. It can all be done manually when executing your techniques.

This is a great attribute for scratching to have because it represents all the different levels of intensity that scratching can have. Some examples of situations that call for certain levels of intensity would have to do with the melodic and rhythmic content of the beat you are scratching over. If the melody of the beat is laid back, you could compliment the beat with some lower, more even tempered pitches. If the beat is fast and the drums are pounding strong, high pitch scratching would be a great way to add to that intensity. Likewise, you may want to subtract from the mood at times when it becomes too intense by scratching in the lower pitch range.

Narrowing Your Focus

There are times when you may want to cut the variations down and simply stay within a tighter pitch range. Situations like this may include a beat where the overall mood is very static and you want to match that mood throughout the length of the track. Or perhaps the chorus is meant to only express one type of feeling and you want to match that emotion. These examples are by no means all inclusive. The challenge and the fun for you as the artist is to think and discover multitudes of ways to use pitch variation to your advantage.

Reach for the Sky!

As you can see, there’s a myriad of possibilities within the concept of pitch. It is important to realize that for every scratch you can do, there’s a chance to do it in a variety of alternate pitches. It will truly multiply your scratch vocabulary. Whether it’s a scratch you’ve been doing for years, or something you just picked up, the concept of pitch expansion can and should be applied.

A good way to get tons out of this concept is to place limitations on yourself. Imagine you’re a painter and you’ve decided to paint a mountainside. However, you only have three colors on your paint palette. You want to paint a brown mountain that has many different cracks, crannies, nooks and shadows. The three colors you’re restricted to using are brown, white and black. While that may seem like an extreme limitation, the reality is anyone with decent painting experience could tell you it’s more than enough.

Floodgates Unleashed

Now that you have a better idea of pitch and its function in the greater world of self expression, it’s an excellent time to start experimenting with it. Even if you just begin using it a little bit, you’ll notice quickly how much of an impact it will have on your ability to express yourself with scratching more effectively. You may even have extensive experience in building your pitch vocabulary. Despite that fact, it is likely you are neglecting at least some aspect of your scratching that could benefit from a wider range of pitch choices. Start being heard more. Demand people’s attention!

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