Since the technological advancement of DJ equipment, the age-old art of beatmatching has become a big discussion in recent years, old-school DJs had no choice but to master this art form while modern DJs can achieve this with the click of a button. This brings us to an all-important question, is beatmatching still an important skill to learn? The answer is yes, it is a fundamental skill of DJing and learning it can take your music to another level entirely.
What Is Beatmatching?
The art of beatmatching was invented and used during the ’60s and ’70s by an American music pioneer by the name of Francis Grasso. His technique completely changed the dynamic of DJing and is still the foundation of modern DJing today.
The art and skill of beatmatching are fundamental in creating immaculate transitions between two tracks or more. This is achieved by adjusting and matching the tempo or BPM (beats per minute) of one track with another so that all the elements of the track are in sync with one another, particularly the kick drum.
In today’s age, this can be accomplished simply by the press of a button on your hardware or software while manually achieving this requires the use of a pitch fader, jog wheels and the DJs ears. This has led to a debate on whether beatmatching is still an important skill to learn if technology can do it all for you, we believe it is a vital piece of a DJs arsenal, let us explain why.
Why You Should Still Learn How To Beatmatch
There are many positives from the technological evolution of equipment, there are multiple visual aids on hardware and software these days, you have waveforms, BPM counters, track times and more, so why learn how to beatmatch manually if you can just press a button? While that is a valid point we believe there are many other factors to take into consideration;
- Enjoyment & Fun – First of all, you will get so much more enjoyment out of mixing and blending tracks together yourself rather than just simply pressing a button. Its so much more rewarding and adding the human element creates a completely different blend compared to a computer.
- Paying Homage To The Craft – Its an integral part of the art form to beatmatch by ear, you will be mixing with other people and learning this skill will gain you respect amongst other DJs.
- Teaches You About Music It’s Rhythm & Structure – Using your ears you will gain a deeper understanding of your music, rhythm, tempo and the way tracks are structured which ultimately will help you develop as a DJ
- Sync Technology Is Far From Accurate – There are multiple technical issues with sync software, the technology cannot anaylze the beat grid accurately all the time leading to the tracks not being matched correctly and BPM counters do not work all of the time.
- Improves You As A DJ – Simply using the sync button does not account for DJing as a whole, there is also EQing, volume levels, finding tracks that blend well together and on top of that, using effects to your enhance your performance and sound.
Related Read: Check Out Our Guide On How To Use A DJ Controller Here
How To Beatmatch
When it comes to beatmatching the process is the same whether you are using vinyl turntables, CDJs, phones/tablets or DJ controllers. The idea is to adjust the tempo of one track so that it matches with the other to create a seamless transition between both or more, depending on your level of expertise.
1. Selecting Tracks To Play Together
As DJs, a part of the art is selecting tracks that blend well together, this in itself is a skill. Exploring different genres and tempos in music is great, it will enhance your knowledge and will help you shape your sound as you progress as a DJ, but for this beatmatching guide, we will keep a more simple approach.
Most DJs will tend to stick to a genre or genres of a similar BPM (beats per minute), for example;
- Hip-Hop: 75-95 BPM
- House Music: 115-130 BPM
- Techno/Trance: 120-140 BPM
- Dubstep: 135-145 BPM
- Drum & Bass : 160-180 BPM
For beginner or novice DJs we recommend finding two tracks of a similar genre, within 2-8 BPM of each other but not tracks of exactly the same BPM as you will not gain any knowledge from this.
2. Loading Both Tracks To The Decks
Once you have selected your tracks, you can now load them onto your hardware of choice;
- DJ Controller
- Vinyl Turntable
- Mobile/Tablet Software
You are now ready to begin your set, load track 1 onto deck A, this track will be playing to the crowd while track 2 will be loaded onto deck B and will only be playing through your headphones. You can adjust the cue mix level in your headphones which allows you to also hear both tracks through the headphones, but we recommend having just one track playing through the headphones while listening to the other track via the speakers.
3. Playing & Cue’ing Tracks
You can then begin to play track 1 through the speakers, this is the track that will be playing out to the crowd, while track 2 will be playing in your headphones.
You can then set a cue point within a track, this is where you would like to start the track from. It is easiest to start out with a more dominant sound such as the kick, snare, hat or clap but we recommend the kick drum for novice or beginner DJs.
For CDJs and DJ controllers there is a hot cue button, this allows you to set a particular point in the track that you want to start from i.e a certain kick on a breakdown. Starting at the beginning of the track will help at first.
For Vinyl Turntables you will need to hold the vinyl at the desired starting point using your fingertips and let it go in time with the track that is playing, this is the old school method.
- Once set, the cue button can be tapped, this helps you get in the rhythm of the track before letting it go.
- Sliding the vinyl back and forth with your fingertips before releasing helps before letting the track go.
3. Adjusting The Pitch Fader & Using Jog Wheels To Nudge The Cued Track
Now it’s time to use the pitch faders in order to get both tracks playing at the same tempo, At first, you will hear the tracks will go out of sync, the tempo of the cued track that is playing in the headphones will either be faster or slower than the main track being played out of the speakers.
You now have the main track playing through the speakers and the other track cued at your desired point, it’s time to begin to adjust the tempo of the cued (track in headphones) track to bring it in line with the main track playing.
You now have to listen intently to both tracks in order to identify if the cued track ( in headphones) tempo is faster or slower than the main track playing through the speakers, by using the pitch faders you can adjust the tempo in order to bring it in line with the main track.
Once the tracks are at the same tempo you may still find the musical phrases are out, this may mean the kick drum or percussion of the cued track is not hitting at the same time as the main track.
This can be adjusted by nudging the jog wheels back or forward, this will incrementally adjust the position of the track in order to sync the tracks together so the percussion is hitting at the same time.
Many DJs use both the faders and jog wheels simultaneously, they adjust the pitch faders while nudging the jog wheels until both tracks sound in sync with each other.
This process is difficult and challenging at first and takes practice to be able to master this but continue to repeat and practice and you will soon be able to carry this out more and more easily.
4. Time For The Main Mix
When both tracks are at the same tempo and lined up correctly you can begin to bring the cued track in and blend them together.
Using the volume faders and tweaking EQ’s you can bring the cued track in, for example, you may reduce the highs of one track whilst introducing highs from the other, you can begin adding effects and getting really creative with your mixing.
The end goal is to create a seamless transition between the two or more tracks, again with practise this becomes easier and you will become a more skilled and confident DJ.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s a great feeling when you learn how to beatmatch by ear and it will dramatically enhance your mixing capabilities. You will understand more about phrases, structure and rhythm which will urge you to practice and develop your skills further.
As you develop you can begin to explore different tempos and genres and try different ways of adjusting the pitch faders and jog wheels to suit your own style and most of all enjoy the process.
It will be hard at first, but sticking with it and mastering this skill will be so beneficial for you in becoming a better DJ.
Tips For Beatmatching
When you first start out learning to beatmatch, it will be difficult and sometimes frustrating. You are training your ears, mind and hands to all work together in unison, this skill will take some time to develop.
Below we have listed a few tips to help you along the way;
- Match The Same Track – Beatmatching the same track can work well, mix the tempos of the same track up and begin to adjust the cue’d track so that it sounds smooth and in line with the track being played out the speakers.
- Mix The Same Genre – Try to stick to the same genre at first, as a novice, mixing multiple genres can be hard to begin with.
- Simple Tracks To Start – Pick simpler tracks to mix, tracks that have a consistent and dominant kick drum or snare will make it an easier process to learn.
- Similiar BPM Range – Picking tracks that have a similiar BPM, tracks within 2-8 BPM are good, any more than that it will become more difficult.
- Pick A Good Starting Point – Start and cue the tracks from the first beat of the musical phrase, for example the kick from track 1 and the kick from track 2.
- Tap,Tap,Tap – Many DJs use their toe to tap along with one track in order match both tracks BPMs together.
- Help Yourself Out – You can always increase or decrease the speed of the cued track compared to the track playing, this way you know you will have to decrease or increase the track speed, this allows you to make small adjustments in the direction.
- Cover BPM Counter On Your Device – If you are using a laptop or you can see the BPM counters on your device, try covering them over with some tap and then trying to match the BPMs, when you are finished you can remove the tape in order to see how close or far away you were from matching
- KEEP PRACTISING – This is the most important part, at first it wont be easy but the more you work at it, the better you will get.
If you are in the process of choosing a new, or your first piece of hardware be sure to keep a few things in mind that will help you with beatmatching;
- Pitch Faders – The quality of your pitch faders is important when beatmatching especially as they adjust the tempo of tracks, the length and resistance are the two most important factors. Having long faders and solid resistance allows more precision when beatmatching.
- Jog Wheels – Jog wheels are what you use to nudge the track forwards and backwards, the more solid and responsive they feel in the mix will also assist with the precision of your beatmatching.
Related Read: Check out a few of our guides here;
Beatmatching On Different Hardware
The beauty of learning how to beatmatch is the skill is the same and can be applied whether your mixing on CDJs, DJ controllers, Turntables or smart devices.
The setups may be different, for example, a turntable will look and feel different to a CDJ or a DJ controller and will not offer visual information such as waveforms and BPM counters that a CDJ or DJ controller has, but the method remains the same.
A couple of differences between a DJ controller/CDJs and vinyl is the visual information you have at your disposal using DJ controllers or CDJs compared to turntables. This information includes BPM, track information and waveforms, having this information at the glance of an eye is a huge help to a DJ, it allows you to see the structure of the track via waveforms, how much time has elapsed, the current BPM of the track and more while vinyl DJ does not have this information making it a more difficult task for the DJ as they have to rely more on their musical knowledge.
The other difference being the jog wheels on a DJ controller vs the platters on turntables, these have a completely different feel to each other. Platters tend to be motorised, which means they will spin when playing, while jog wheels tend not to be motorised as they are digital and are not needed to be, for this reason, they are lighter and cheaper in comparison to turntables.
The final decision comes down to personal preference, for DJs that have always mixed on turntables may opt for vinyl or a DVS set-up, while new and beginner DJs may opt for jog wheels.
Either way being able to beatmatch will give you confidence in your mixing ability, knowing you can turn up to any venue, club or party and not worrying if the device or hardware you are playing on has a sync button.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The most important thing is to practice, as you progress you will find your ability as a DJ will increase and the better you become the more enjoyment you will have. You will gain a deeper understanding of your music, how to control the energy of your sets and express yourself more as a DJ.
Beatmatching is a difficult but essential skill to master, if you have aspirations to be playing in clubs all over the world we believe it’s a vital part of a DJs arsenal. We hope to have helped you in understanding why beatmatching is such an important part of DJing while using the sync button can be detrimental to your growth and musical education.
Thanks for reading!