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.
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.
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.
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!