• in-depth beatmatching (and other odds n ends) tutorial

    Introduction:


    What is beatmatching? Well, have you always wondered what the DJ was doing behind all that fancy (not to mention expensive...) equipment? Have you ever heard a DJ mix before? Have you ever wondered how the DJ made one song go to the next without noticing much of the transition?


    Beatmatching is the core fundamental of DJ'ing. Whether the DJ spins techno, trance, drum and bass, hip hop, or any other electronica dance music genre, beatmatching is what ties everything together. So what is beatmatching you ask? Beatmatching is simply taking two songs and matching their Beats Per Minute (a.k.a. BPM...more on BPM later) so both songs can harmonize together. When a DJ is doing his/her thing, he/she is beatmatching the two songs so they can flow together in harmony...This is called mixing, and the finished product of beatmatching or mixing, is called a "mix" or "set".


    What's so special about beatmatching? Beatmatching is used to make transitions from song to song much smoother than just playing one song over the next and fading the volumes. If all a DJ did was just play one song after the other, then might as well just bring a radio and hook it up to some speakers.


    Why would a DJ want to beatmatch? A DJ beat matches songs in order to make a mix. That mix is what gets the people going and gets them pumped up. Just playing one song after the other is not enough. Actual beatmatching helps keep a constant flow of energy and as a result, makes the crowd happy. Things wouldn't sound as nice if DJs didn't beatmatch, songs would collide with each other and create a disastrous overwhelming sound that will turn people away.


    Mixing is used as a medium of transportation for delivering energy and excitement by the DJ to the crowd. Without beatmatching, DJ's would just be jukeboxes playing one song after the other and that is what someone like you (an aspiring superstar DJ) does not want to become. (okay, I'll end the philosophical junk and get on with the tutorial for you eager people...sheeesh...)




    Getting Acquainted:


    In order to learn how to beatmatch, you must understand what exactly are beats and BPM's. If you have played the drums, or have taken lessons on musical theory and the like, beatmatching will be a lot easier if not basic to you. For those of you who are less musically inclined, it might take a little longer for you to get the hang of beats and musical structure.


    Beats per minute, or better known and often referred to as BPM, are how people rate the speed of a song. It literally means how many beats occur within a minute time period in a song. For those of you who know a thing or two about music, BPM will dictate the speed or tempo of a song. The more BPMs in a song, the faster, and the less BPM's in a song, the slower it is. For instance, a 135 BPM breakbeats track (song) is way faster than a 102 BPM hip hop track.


    To beatmatch, you will need to know what beats are. The best way I can explain to you what a "beat" is, is that a beat is a "marking place" in the song. A musical beat is NOT a sound, nor silence. It is simply a place on musician's sheet notes that tells him/her when to play his/her instrument and when to stop. The musician could play a few notes for eight beats, and then rest for two. In other words, there is sound for eight beats, and no sound for 2 beats. Notice how a beat is not necessarily sound nor silence, it is just an "instruction" for when that instrument plays. Please do not confuse beats with actual percussion hits. When I started out, I misconstrued musical beats as actual drum hits because I used my "street knowledge" and thought that a musical beat was pertaining to the actual beats, as in the actual music and sounds I was hearing come out of the speakers. If you make the same mistake I made, you will end up with a wrong calculation when you count BPM's. Boy was I way off when I started out...
    Counting Beats:


    Counting beats is fairly simple once you figure out what beats are and how to train your mind to broaden its short attention span. You may take that as a joke, but seriously, counting beats can be really confusing to those starting out because of all the overwhelming sounds and different elements of the song that are colliding in their ears.


    Counting beats is crucial to beatmatching. DJs count beats in order to find a track's BPM (beats per minute). Keep in mind that BPMs are how fast or slow a song is. You will want to count beats so you can determine one track's BPM and see if it is "compatible" with the next track's BPM. By compatible, I mean that the BPMs will be in a reasonable range that you can make pitch adjustments to beatmatch them, usually a reasonable range is +/- 3% of pitch adjustment (any more than 3% of pitch adjustment can significantly alter the melody and the way the song sounds...think high pitched and squeaky voices...). Once you determine a track's BPM you can decide whether or not it works with the other track that you want to mix with. Once you make this decision, you can get on your way to mixing these songs.




    Making The Calculation:


    Now that you know what beats are and why counting beats is important, you can begin counting them. First, pick a record with a track that you not only like, but one that you think is fairly simple and not too "busy". Start the song and wait for the first beat. When this first beat hits, put your hand on the record and hold it there. Get acquainted with the one beat and move the record back and forth. In most cases, the first beat will be a kick drum (see bottom of page if you do not know what a kick drum is). Then, pull the record back so that the one beat plays again, and this time, when the beat hits, count aloud "one".


    Depending on your musical genre, the second beat is usually a snare. Especially in genres such as hip hop, drum and bass, etc., the second and fourth beat will be a snare. For explanatory convenience, lets say that the second beat is a single snare. So far, the pattern has gone kick, snare. When you hear the kick hit you count "one" and when the snare hits you count "two".


    This is when things get a little more tricky. When counting beats, you will notice that songs have a lot of "extra" sounds added in, and those extra sounds will most likely confuse you when you start off. In the previous two paragraphs, there was only one percussion hit per beat. We had a single kick drum for the "one" beat and a single snare for the "second" beat. Now it begins to spice up. On the "third" beat, you'll hear more than just one sound. When the pattern began it went: kick (one), snare (two), but now there will be more than just one sound. Keep in mind that musical beats are just marking places on sheet notes and that beats will be consistently and equally spaced out from each other throughout the song. Lets say the pattern goes like this: kick, snare, kick-kick. Notice how there is more than just one percussion hit, these two percussion hits will sound quicker and right after the other. Do not let this confuse you and think that the "kick-kick" results in two beats. This is how the beats should be counted so far: kick (one), snare (two), kick-kick (three). This is how to NOT count beats: kick (one), snare (two), kick (three), kick (four). So you can see that just because there are two kick hits that does not mean there are two beats.


    NOTE: when I use a hyphen/dash ("-") such as in "kick-kick", I mean that the two percussion hits occur quickly right after the other. It's sort of like shooting a gun. When ever you see a cama (",") you shoot the gun every two (2) seconds, but when you see the hyphen/dash, you shoot every one (1) second. So it sounds like "bang, bang-bang".


    Counting the "fourth" beat can be just as hard. In most cases, the fourth beat will just be a single percussion hit, but if there are more than one sound, you will be prepared to handle it correctly. First, lets say that the fourth beat is a single percussion hit, and because most genres are structured this way, lets say that it will be a snare. So this is how your pattern goes: kick (one), snare (two), kick-kick (three), snare (four). It's simple, right? Now lets make it a bit more harder. Instead of having just a single percussion hit, it will have two. Treat this the same way you did when counting the "third" beat earlier. So here is how the pattern goes: kick, snare, kick-kick, snare-snare. Remember that beats are consistently spaced equally apart from each other in a song. So, if we had the "third" beat fall after the second percussion hit, the "fourth" beat will have to occur after its second percussion hit.


    This is what I mean: Kick (one), Snare (two), Kick-Kick (three), Snare-Snare (four)...Notice how each beat is equally spaced from one another? Good...


    Congratulations, you just counted your first bar (4beats=1bar). So far you have only counted four beats, but you will have to continue counting in order to determine the track's Beats Per Minute. To do this, you have to keep counting, this is what it will look like: Kick(one), Snare(two), Kick-Kick(three), Snare-Snare(four) | Kick(five), Snare(six), Kick-Kick(seven), Snare-Snare(eight) | and so on and so on... You get the idea that you keep counting even though the pattern ends and repeats.


    Now how long do you count for you ask? That's simple. We are counting beats to determine Beats Per Minute (BPM), so, yup you guessed it, you will be counting for a whole minute! But you're too lazy to count for a whole minute, right? Lucky for you, there's math. Instead of counting for a whole minute, you can count for as long as any multiple of 60 (60 seconds=1minute). What I mean is that you can count for say 30 seconds (half a minute), and then double the amount of beats you got. So if you counted for 30 seconds and got 64 beats, multiply 64 by 2 and you get 128 BPM. You had to multiply by 2 because you only counted beats for half a minute. You can count for as long as you want, but make sure you multiply the number of beats you came up with by the correct factor. If you count for 10 seconds, be sure to multiply by 6, and if you count for 20 seconds, multiply by 3, and so on and so on.


    NOTE: for all you English aficionados out there, I know that I shouldn't type using the Arabic numbers, I should spell them out. I only used them to make explanations easier to understand, nothing more...


    Carrying on...The longer you count beats, the more accurate you will be, so if you count for a full minute, and count correctly, you will have the most accurate BPM you can have. Although you want to be as accurate as possible, this is DJ'ing, not rocket science! Keep in mind that it is alright if you are off by one or two BPM when counting beats (you probably will be anyway). That's fine though, the main goal here is to get an understanding of the tempo, how fast is one song and how fast the other is.




    How To Train Your Mind and Ear:


    One of the major problems that discourages a beginner is that their mind and ear are not adapted to hearing the music, and they become overwhelmed and confused. Yes, we have all listened to and enjoyed music, but when you were listening to and enjoying music; you didn't have to pay attention or try to do anything with it. When beatmatching, you'll have to get your brain used to "separating" the different instruments being played in the song. Good DJ's will be able to tell the difference from one song's kick drum from the other song's kick drum. Good DJ's will also notice the difference in sound when two songs are being played together at the same time, as opposed to having one song being played at once. They will be able to hear the exact change in sound of the instruments being played when the change occurs.
    What Can I Do to Help Myself?


    A good way to start training your mind and ear is to listen to more music, more often. Of course you have listened to music before, and you're probably rolling your eyes at me for suggesting this, but this actually does help. When you casually listen to music, you'll listen to a song, move your head, tap your foot, hum the melody, and probably think "Well this sounds pretty good." But what you are not doing is analyzing the music.


    I like to call it "studying" the music. When listening to music, listen for all the different elements of the song. Mainly focus in on the different percussion instruments, particularly the kicks and the snares (if you don't know what these are and would like to find out, see the "Sounds" guide at the bottom of this tutorial). What you are doing is trying to figure out when the kick drums and snares occur. You're also training your mind to filter out and separate all the extra elements of the song such as the melody (unless you're into harmonic mixing, which is something far beyond advanced for you right now) so you can focus in on the percussions. By doing so, your mind will eventually be accustomed to hearing a song as a whole and in "pieces", or in other words, you'll be able to listen to a song and tell someone, "Oh yeah, the snare comes on the second beat, then three kick drums, and a hi-hat on the fourth."




    Cueing


    Cueing is simply synching two tracks together so that their beats correspond with each other. Why is cueing important, and how is cueing going to help me mix?


    Well look at it this way. Say you have two cars, and each car is traveling at the same speed. Let the two cars represent two tracks and the cars' speed represent the tracks' BPM. Since both cars are traveling at the same speed, then the tracks are playing at the same BPM. Since both cars are traveling at the same speed, then theoretically they will finish the race at the same time. But, in order for the two cars to finish the race at the same time, the two cars have to start at the same time. Cueing is similar to this concept. Even though both cars are traveling at the same speed, if one car is given a head start and starts ahead of the other car, then the two will obviously not finish the race at the same time. This is equivalent to having two tracks playing at the same BPM, but one track is not synched or "started" at the same time, thus their beats are not corresponding or playing together. One track's beat pattern will be ahead of the other, and will create an audible atrocity.


    So without cueing two tracks of the same BPM, you will have two tracks with their beats playing on their own as opposed to having the beats of both tracks harmonize and play as a single unit. In other words, when you don't cue tracks you'll hear a whole bunch of unorganized noise that sounds like "boom-boom-boom-boom-boom" instead of hearing two tracks speaking in harmony as a one, "boom, boom, boom, boom".




    How to Cue


    Now that you know why cueing plays a vital role in mixing, you can begin to cue. To start off, take two copies of the same record. Again using two copies of the same record that you not only enjoy but that is not too complicated. (Note: I am explaining how to cue using two of the same record for the sole purpose that using two of the same track will already have the BPMs matched, thus making explanations more convenient.) Now place them on your turntables, and first, only play one record. Get acquainted with its beat pattern. Now you can cue your incoming record.


    For convenience, let's have the live track playing on Turntable 1 through Channel 1 and the incoming track playing on Turntable 2 through Channel 2. Since we're just starting out here, lets have both channels on full volume so you can hear what is going on when you're cueing the incoming track. You may not always want to cue this way, but I will talk more about the different cueing methods later on.


    Let the live track play and while it's playing, start the other record, and find the first "one" beat in the incoming track (you should be capable of distinguishing the "one" beat by now). When you find the incoming track's "one" beat, put your hand on the record to stop it. With the incoming record stopped at the "one" by your hand, release the record whenever you hear the same "one" beat from the live track. So when you hear the "one" beat from the live track (turntable 1), release the incoming record (turntable 2) so its "one" beat plays precisely at the same time as turntable 1. In other words, when you hear turntable 1's first kick, release the record on turntable 2 so its kick drum plays at the same time as turntable 1. Keep in mind that the goal here is to get the two tracks to "start" at the same time. Just remember my little story about the two cars...


    If done properly, you should hear both turntables playing together as one. If the beats are off, and you're hearing a bunch of clutter and chaos, you either cued too early or too late. Bring the record back to the one and wait again to release at the proper time. To stay on beat with the live track, you can try nodding your head or tapping your foot. Keep trying until you can get the beats "locked" together and have them sound as smooth and natural as possible.


    Just to let you know, you can cue using different beats. In my explanation, I explained how to cue using the "one" beat. In almost all cases the "one" beat will be a kick. Sometimes you might want to use other beats such as the second beat. In most genres the second beat is a snare, and for some people (including myself), it is easier and more natural to cue using a snare drum instead of a kick drum. Figure out what works best for you and go with it.




    Different Cueing Methods With Your Headphones


    Here's a few basic ways to cue using your headphones. These aren't the only ways to cue, and you can develop your own little variation of them to suit your needs and style.


    One ear cup method:


    The one ear cup method is having the live track playing through your speakers while you have the incoming track playing in your headphones. It is called the one ear cup method because you are only wearing one ear cup. You wear one ear cup to hear the incoming track, and the free ear is open to hear the live track playing through the speakers. When I explained how to cue, we had both channels playing through the speakers live, but with the one ear cup method, one channel is in the speakers and the other channel is in the headphones. This allows you to listen to both the live track and incoming track simultaneously.


    Split Cue:


    Split cue is a headphone feature that makes beatmatching a lot easier and convenient. When using split cue, each channel is put into one ear cup. Channel 1 is in one ear cup, and Channel 2 is in the other. This allows the DJ to listen to both tracks at once and helps consolidate the two tracks. By doing so, the DJ can better distinguish which track is either faster or slower than the other, thus making beatmatching a lot easier. As opposed to the one ear cup method, both turntables can be heard through the headphones and when using split cue, you will most likely be wearing both ear cups.


    Although this is a great feature, not all mixers have it, so do not rely on this method. It is a great way to learn but not something to use as a crutch. You don't want to run into a mixer without split cue and not be able to beatmatch...I suggest that if split cue helps, use it to learn, but once you learn to beatmatch, quickly switch to the one ear method. This will prepare you for big (and loud) PA systems and will assure you that you will not be out of luck when you come upon a mixer without split cue.


    Live cueing/Cut:


    There is no real name for this method. Many DJs will refer to this as a cut (particularly hiphop DJs) but call it what you want (I will talk about a different type of cut later on as well once I get to transitions). This method involves having the incoming channel's volume audible and using the cross fader to "cut" in the incoming track. When you are making a cut, you are basically scratching in your record to play live as opposed to cueing it in your headphones and then letting play live. You may want to do this for several reasons. The only draw back of this method is that if you mess up or didn't get the two tracks properly beatmatched then the crowd will hear your error and you don't have the luxury of listening first to see if you made a mistake like you would with a headphone method. Just experiment and have fun.




    Transitions


    So now you've figured out how to count beats, beatmatch, and cue. Now is time to learn how to make a nice transition. What is a transition? Transitions are another element that is tied in with mixing. Simply put, a transition is going from one track to another track. You may think that this part of the tutorial seems a little stupid since you think transitioning sounds simple and is a minute detail, but it can mean the difference between a good mix and a great mix. You'll see that transitions are more than what they seem.


    Fader Placement:


    First we need to establish fader placement. In other words, we need to figure out how you like to use the faders (cross and up-faders) to mix. There are different ways to use the faders to mix, here are the two most common ways of utilizing the faders to make quality transitions:


    X-Fader:


    Also known as the cross-fader, the x-fader can be the weapon of choice when it comes to mixing. Some people like to set their up-faders to full volume (or whatever desired level) and use the cross fader to make transitions. DJs will move the x-fader from one side over to the other in order to introduce the other track. This is the most basic way to transition.


    Up-faders:


    Now this is where things start to get juicy. Using up-faders is always fun because you can control each channel freely and independently. When making transitions with the up-faders, you leave the x-fader in the center so that both tracks will be audible. But, when the x-fader is in the center, you only leave the live track's up-fader at full volume while having the incoming track's volume level completely off. When you want to transition, you don't touch the x-fader. You simply raise the incoming track's up-fader however you want (can be gradual or whatever). Then when you feel, you start to bring the live track's up-fader down once the incoming track's up-fader is coming up.


    This method allows you to control each individual channel independently and freely. As opposed to the x-fader method, you can tweak one channel without affecting the other. This gives you more freedom and a bigger window of creativity, not to mention the control and possibilities.




    Basic Transitions:




    Cuts:


    See, I told you I would get to the other kind of cuts. I'm not a liar!


    Anyway, in transitioning terminology, a cut is a quick transition. It's probably called a cut because it ties in with the cueing type of cut, which you might want to use when you want to create a cut transition.


    A cut is just taking two tracks, beatmatched or not, and cueing them, then switching over from the live track over to the next quickly. You could use this for several reasons such as getting rid of the live track quickly. Or you might need to save yourself from an improper beatmatch and go right into the next song. Just remember, when you do a cut, you're not letting the two tracks play live together long. It's just a quick, in-and-out deal, just think of a one-night-stand!


    Blends:


    Blends are always nice. They let the mix ride out in a smooth gradual manner. When done correctly, you probably wouldn't even notice one song has ended and another began. So what is a blend? A blend is taking two beatmatched tracks and letting them play live together longer than usual. You do this so that they are "blended" together and are playing together. A proper blend is not a quick transition. It's a longer, gradual, and a smoother flow than a cut. As opposed to cuts being a one-night-stand, blends are a romantic evening, it allows the two tracks to "get-to-know" each other better. When done properly, the romantic evening will spark a magnificent sounding result of happiness! Alright, enough of that.


    Note: do not confuse this blend with the other type of blend. The other type of blend I am referring to is sort of the remix kind where you take an instrumental from one song and an acapella from a different song and play them together to make a whole new song. It's like a remix done on turntables with existing songs.


    Style:


    When it comes to DJ'ing, style is key. Without style you will sound like another John Doe in the crowd and no one will ever take interest in you. Style is what catches people's attention and make them say, Hmm. He's different and interesting, maybe I should pay attention. Style is what separates you from the rest of the world, it's what makes you, you.


    A lot of style can be tied in with transitions. If everyone did the same transitions, we would all sound the same and that is no fun. Some people have their own way of doing things. Some DJs like to use a lot of cuts, and others like to use a lot of blends. Some like to use the cross fader to transition while others prefer the up-faders. Find what you like to do and experiment. Get in-touch with your musical imagination and express yourself to produce a by-product of your equipment and your love of music.


    Putting it All Together


    Alright beginners, straighten up and look sharp. We're going to have a review of what to do when you're live in the mix so you don't forget. Here we go!




    Situation Briefing:


    You are playing live at a house party, and it's your first gig and you're nervous. People are starting to arrive and you decide it's go time. You're trying to do your thing but cant concentrate, and then you suddenly remember good ol' d3vi0uz's tutorial. You wipe the sweat from your forehead and take a quick breath. Now the show begins!




    What to Do, What to Do!:


    As people fill the room you put on the first song. You think to yourself how easy that was since you didn't have to any focusing. As the song plays, what do you do? Do you stand around and look good? No! While the song is playing, you should be counting beats to determine that song's BPM. Do this as soon as possible so you'll be ready to beatmatch whenever you want. So now you got the BPM of the current song, say its about 94 BPM. Now you rummage through your crate to look for the next song. Keep in mind you'll have to beatmatch so you want to look for a song that is within reasonable pitch range. You find a track that sounds about the same speed as the current track and realize you're just in time since the current track is about to end.


    You place the record on the other turntable, and what do you do now? You start counting beats, duh! After counting ever so accurately, you find out that the song you chose was 95 BPM. You're thinking, alright, only 1 BPM difference. So you find the "one" beat and get it ready to cue. Waiting for the right beat, you set your pitch adjustment in and around -1% to get it beatmatched at 94 BPMs. You hear the proper beat and then release the cued record. Now listen. You like what you're hearing and the two tracks are beatmatched, now its time to transition.


    There are a few ways you can transition here. You can either make it a quick cut, a nice smooth blend to let things mingle for a while, or decide on some other creative and unique way of introducing the track. Whatever fits your mood and the crowd (very important) and whatever you think is just right for the moment is what you should do here. This is your chance to decide, so I'll just pretend you made up your mind as to what you want to do!


    After you made a full transition, look up and glance at all the pretty party people's faces and smile back, because you just made a mix and the crowd liked it.


    Farewell!


    Congratulations, you have just completed this tutorial and have expanded your DJing horizons a little more. Now go on young Jedi, take what Tha Funky Fader has taught you and use it wisely; the music world can be a rough place. But no matter how big you make it and how famous you become in the future, just remember who showed you the ropes way back when you were clueless...So farewell and til next time!









    written by Flip Tha Funky Fader (A.K.A. d3vi0uz)
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