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!

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.