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.