Do you want to spin a more coherent set? Some DJs get a bad reputation for just being “button pushers.” Many think that all you do is consistently press the “Play” button. However, DJing involves in-depth categorizing of your song inventory and ensuring that tracks and beats match.
This technique is what separates professional DJs from a person with a decent Spotify playlist. It’s an essential skill if you want big clubs and festivals to take you seriously. You’ll need to beat match every track in your set.
Fortunately for you, this article will outline everything you need to learn how to beat match. We’ll break it down into easy-to-follow steps and address the most pressing questions related to DJ beat matching. It’s time to learn how to get the perfect beat match.
What You Will Need Before You Can Begin Beat Matching
Before we learn how to beat match, let’s go over the equipment you’ll need:
You can beat match on most basic DJ controllers and turntables. Whatever your current system is for DJing, you should prepare it for beat matching by checking all the buttons and options your device has.
Your system should have a mechanism to adjust the tempo of your song and a slider/mixer so you can play two tracks at one time. The other thing you’ll have to consider is if you’re using a digital DJ setup or an entirely physical hardware setup like a CDJ (compact disk jockey).
Digital DJ tables are turntables used in combination with DJ software. Hardware setups are external turntables that function independently from software. Whichever you prefer should not impact the beat matching too much, but a digital DJ might have some AI assist options to make beat matching easier or even a tutorial.
It’s much easier to beat match on a digital interface because it will assist you throughout the process. On physical or hardware DJ systems, you’ll be primarily relying on your ears and any notes you took before the performance.
A digital DJ setup will have a software component that can be helpful when you’re just starting with beat matching. It will provide valuable information on each song for your sets, like their BPM and musical key. You can even put notes in the software to help mix songs.
When selecting a DJ software, always make sure it’s compatible with your controller and your computer. If the software isn’t compatible, it can shut down mid-performance or overload your computer’s CPU. Familiarize yourself with the software before you perform for the best results.
An audio interface and an external mixer will help get better quality sound from your mixer/computer. It will also lessen the burden on your computer’s processing power, especially if it’s a high-quality sound card.
Wherever you plan on performing, make sure they have a sound system mixer compatible with your controller. Every controller has different hook-ups, and while one will work with an XLR cable, some may require a jack output. Verify with the venue and always bring extra cables/adapters to remain on the safe side.
What is Beat Matching?
If you’ve ever wondered how the DJ knows the perfect song to play in a set, it has a lot to do with beat matching. Whether two tracks are from the same genre or have a similar key, blending them through a volume transition alone is challenging.
Instead, professional DJs will slow or speed up the following song to match the beat of the previous song. This process can also be called pitch cueing and can be done through pitch-shifting as well.
When done correctly, beat matching results in two tracks blending perfectly at the same tempo. Once the songs are matched, it’s up to the DJ what to do next. You can speed track B up to its original tempo, add another song to beat match, or even go back to the original song.
This is just one aspect of the larger category of beat-mixing. Beat-mixing describes the entirety of a DJ set’s ability to flow and blend two tracks so that you have one coherent body of music instead of several songs one after another. It also involves matching specific structures, genres, pitches, and phrasing to make a consistent sound throughout the entire performance.
Who invented Beat Matching?
The first person to practice beat matching during a live set was DJ Francis Grasso. He first started in the 60s and 70s and would match beats and songs together using only his ears and musical knowledge.
He wouldn’t have been able to do it without the invention of a mixer that let him listen to tracks independently of those being played live to the crowd. Now, new inventions have made the process even easier.
Most digital DJs and CDJs have smooth pitch control options, making it easier to speed and slow songs. There are also digital workstations that can match your play track and track B in real-time.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Beat Matching?
Several factors will impact how quickly you learn to beat match. The first question is, how long have you been DJing. If you don’t know how to beat match, probably not that long. However, any kind of musical knowledge or experience will expedite the process.
Knowing how to play an instrument or having music theory knowledge will allow you to hear what you need to sooner. You’ll need at least a rudimentary understanding of how tempos and timing work in music, as well as pitch and key. You can then apply that to beat matching to make the process a bit easier.
The next factor is how you intend to do it. As we mentioned earlier, it’s much easier to do it on digital controllers because the software will have features that can assist you. If you’re learning on a CDJ or classic turntables, it will take longer because you’ll have to do everything by ear.
How Do You Beat Match by Ear?
To beat match by ear (or beat match manually), you’ll need to understand how tempo and pitch work. You’ll also need to be able to hear the differences in these variables between the two songs. Finally, you’ll need to use the spinner (jog-wheel) on your table to move the tracks forward and backward in coordination with the tempo/pitch slider.
The tempo and pitch sliders are essentially the same as pitch works in conjunction with tempo when DJing. If you make the pitch of a song higher, then you are also speeding it up because you’re bringing the soundwaves closer together.
The opposite happens when you lower the pitch. The spinner, platter, or jog wheels only moves the song forward or backward. Moving it to the right will push your track forward. Moving to the left will rewind it.
If you want to practice beat matching by ear, then the first thing you’ll need to do is cover the screens on your controller. This prevents you from checking the BPM’s of the songs and allows you to focus on the music. You should also scramble your pitch fader, so neither song is at its original pitch.
The best way to start is to over or under-pitch the second song while listening to it in your headphones. This way, when you hear track B start, you’ll be sure which direction you need to move the slider to get it to match. Afterward, you should mark the first beat of the song with a cue point so that it starts on time.
Then you just need to practice through trial and error. Use the cue point in the second song and listen to the beats, paying attention to how long it takes them for the two songs to fall out of sync. The longer it takes, the closer the two songs are to being beat matched.
You’ll also need to use the platter, rewinding the second song as you adjust the pitch slider to ensure the beats don’t fall too far out of sync. Just listen to the kick drum to tell if they’re synced.
How to Pick Tracks to Perfectly Beat Match?
The first track you beat match should be relatively straightforward. Electronic music like Techno is a great genre to start with because most of the kickdrums follow the same pattern, same with Reggaeton. Try finding two songs in these categories for an easy first match. House music and dance music are a bit more complicated because of all the melodies.
Don’t start with any complex melodies or structures if you want to beat match your favorite genre. It’s possible to beat match any two songs, but this will only make your life harder and discourage you.
Most DJs recommend finding two songs with a kick and high hat around 120 BPM. Then you can repeat a 16 bar section of each track and try to match them together.
Pick Tracks with similar BPMs
As a general rule, you should try to match beats within 5 BPM’s of one another. Tempos that are more than five beats apart are usually completely different genres and won’t blend well (you’ll end up with a super slow or super-fast version of one of the tracks).
However, you’ll also want to pick tracks at the same speed as they are too easy to beat match. Also, make sure that the song you plan on playing second is slower than the first. Music doesn’t usually sound good slowed down, so you’ll want to speed up the second track to match the first.
Be sure that your tempo sliders have as low an accuracy percentage as possible (around 8%). Higher percentages will increase your adjustment intervals and make the songs harder to match.
How Do I Beat Match on a DJ Controller?
If you want to learn about beat matching on a DJ controller specifically, follow the steps below.
Step 1: Load up Your Next Track
You’ll be able to find your track from the folders on your software. When the first track is ready to play, select the second track and load it into the opposite side of the deck. Remember that the tempo for this track should be lower than the first but not by more than 5 BPM.
Step 2: Adjust Tempo with Pitch Slider
The first tracks playing to the crowd will keep them busy, and you can listen to track B through your headphones. Follow the alignment steps we mentioned above and navigate the slider so that the kick drums and other components of the beat hit simultaneously.
Listen for the second track and determine if its beat is coming before or after the first track. If it’s too slow, turn up the pitch. If it’s too fast, then lower it. Starting with the pitch slider in an extreme position makes this easier because you’ll only have to adjust in one direction.
Step 3: Prepare Musical Phrase of Your Next Track
After you feel that the tempos have been synced, you can choose the next song section you want to start with. It can be a chorus or a cool part for transition. It doesn’t matter which section you choose, but make sure you mark it in the software and on the controller so it starts in the right place.
Step 4: Match both Track’s Musical Phrase
Now that you know where you want your second track to start, you just have to wait for a good moment to introduce it. Pay attention to the musical phrase of each song and choose a place where they can flow into each other well. You don’t want to cut the first beat in the middle of someone speaking or before a particular melody is finished playing.
Step 5: Nudge The Next Track into Sync
Once you start the second track, it’s still possible to be slightly out of sync. You can use the jog wheels on your controller to nudge it back into place. Adjust the wheel to the right every time you hear the beat falling out of sync while manipulating the pitch to match the speed.
Step 6: Rinse & Repeat
Over time your track will still fall out of place. Beat matching is not surgical in its accuracy, and you’ll need to listen carefully to see if the beats are still synced. Once you hear them begin to fall out, you’ll need to nudge or adjust the pitch again.
Bonus Step: Listen Out for Revealing Signs & Refine
Listen for the kick and other aspects of the beat the entire time you’re performing. If you start to hear a messy combination, you’ll know it’s time to adjust again. Refine the matching until you get a near-perfect match. You can repeat these steps for any tracks you have following.
Why Should You Avoid Using the ‘Sync’ Button When Beat Matching?
The “Sync” button is a button on your controller that will automatically adjust the tempo of your second beat so that it matches the first. There are two reasons you should avoid doing this: it’s not perfect, and it’s not respected.
While the “sync” button has a computer’s accuracy, it also fails to recognize nuance. Matching two beats together this way will only work based on the computer’s reading of the song’s tempo. This reading isn’t always accurate, and if the computer makes a mistake, it will result in a cacophonic mess that is difficult to clean up. In other words, it limits your creative control.
The second reason is that other DJs won’t respect you. People who love to DJ consider beat matching a fundamental component of the craft that. If you don’t know how to do it, then you’ll appear like an amateur DJ.
How to Beat Match on Vinyl?
Beat matching on vinyl is similar to the other steps but requires more work and coordination. You’ll still need to listen and nudge the tracks so that they remain in sync, but you’ll also have to work the vinyl records so that you get the section of the track you want.
You’ll have to hold the vinyl for the second song in place after finding the section you want to use. Then you’ll need to let it spin, find the tempo, and nudge it to match the other song. Once you have them matching, you can rewind the record and start it from your desired location.
How to Beat Match with a Laptop?
Since most DJ software works with a controller, beat matching on a laptop is essentially the same process. The only difference is that you’ll follow the tracks’ progression on your screen instead of the hardware.
One thing you’ll want to be careful about is the visual cues. Most software will give you a cue point to tell you if your track is playing too fast or is out-of-sync. These can be very helpful but also distracting if you’re trying to focus and hear the music. It’s better just to ignore the cue point and use your ears.
Can You Beat Match Any Song?
Any song with a steady rhythm can be beat matched. Unlike live drummers, recorded and digital music has a set tempo, and that’s all you need to match a beat perfectly. However, songs with dramatically different tempos may sound silly when you match them.
For example, if you try to sync an old RnB track with drum and bass, you’ll end up with a super-fast version of the RnB track during the match. This is fine, but it can be tricky to find the perfect sync for two different genres.
If you decide to do it, we recommend doing the beat match only for a few seconds, cutting the first beat, and returning track B to its original tempo.
Why are Good DJ Headphones Important for Beat Matching?
Low-quality headphones only pick up the most significant parts of any track. You’ll be missing out on full sounds, which will put you at a substantial disadvantage when trying to match the beats.
Hearing every sound in the headphones while the first beat is playing is pivotal so that you have a clean mix when you shift the tracks over to the live speakers. Your headphones should have clear and accurate delivery of the kick drum, snare, high hats, cymbal, bass, and clap.
Also, keep in mind that hearing everything in a quiet room is very different from a crowded nightclub. With that much audio competition, you’ll need high-quality headphones to get the best results.
Do I Need Good DJ Monitor Speakers for Beat Matching?
The DJ monitor is just as crucial as the headphones. It will represent what the crowd is hearing while you mix the second track. If you only have monitors facing the crowd, you won’t hear every part of the beat, making it harder to combine them.
Having a good monitor is essential for DJs in general. Without one, you’ll have no idea what the crowd is hearing on the dance floor if your mix is synced and how well your DJ adjustments are matching the songs. This monitor will also give you a more precise reading of your mix compared to the crowd’s audio. This is because the room’s noise and reverb muddy the sound quality.
Final Thoughts on How to Beat Match
All the great DJs know the beat matching process, and now you do as well. We hope you take this knowledge and use it to improve your sets and grow your repertoire.
Beat matching opens a whole new world of playlists that you can adjust and flow together based on tempos and pitches alone. You’ll have a wide selection and can select whichever playing track and match track your heart desires.
We hope this article was helpful and wish you luck at your next gig!