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Learn How to Scratch DJ

So, you’ve always wanted to learn how to scratch DJ? While it might look easy when a seasoned DJ does it, you can’t mimic them; you’ll need to learn. 

Different scratch techniques make you a pro on the turntable. The best way to learn is by dedicating a lot of hours to practice.

While it might not be easy, spending hours practicing every week, sometimes double-time, is your best chance at grasping the skills. Here’s everything you need to know to start scratching and become a DJ.

What is Scratching?

Scratching is a DJ technique of rubbing the vinyl record back and forth against the turntable to produce percussive sounds.

Traditionally, DJing was just the art of transitioning from one track to another. A DJ scratch goes beyond that to create sound transitioning between tracks or even develop new music.

What DJ Invented Scratching?

Theodore Livingstone, popularly known as DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore, was an American hip-hop DJ. He’s credited for inventing the scratch technique in the 1970s.

The invention took hip-hop to new levels. Before rappers became a significant part of hip-hop, DJing and scratching were the life of the music. Without hip hop DJs, maybe there wouldn’t be the multi-million dollar hip-hop industry we see now.

Even today, scratching is the force that fuels hip-hop. DJ Grand Wizzard is also known for his mastery of other techniques such as needle drops.

Do DJs Still Scratch?

Yes, perhaps now more than ever. It’s now a DJing culture and a must-have skill for other DJs who want to further their careers.

Apart from being an important skill, scratch sessions are also fun. Showing off your hard-earned skills, mixing the best tracks, and seeing the crowd light up to your scratching is satisfying.

Plus, for most people, scratching is the essence of DJing. Ask anyone to demonstrate what DJing is, and they’ll probably put one hand on their ear to signify the headphones and make a scratching motion with the other one.

Why Can’t Many DJs Scratch?

Every DJ should know how to scratch. However, not many club DJs can scratch.

Scratching can be fun, but it’s also tough to learn. If you’re not dedicated and willing to give up some personal time to learn the craft, you won’t get better.

We’re not trying to scare you, but anyone telling you you can be a pro at scratching after taking a 20 min lesson is lying to you.

Most DJs can’t scratch because learning is time-consuming. They need plenty of time that they either don’t have or are unwilling to invest that much time.

How Long Does it Take to Learn to Scratch DJ?

Although it largely depends on how much you practice, you should be able to perform some basic scratches after about six months.

Everyone learns at their own pace. However, if you are not progressing, chances are you’re not practicing enough, or you’re repeating the same thing.

Learning from seasoned scratch DJs and practicing what you learn will help you get better at scratching. After a while, you’ll be competent enough to play some scratches and continue learning others.

Learning to Scratch Takes Practice

Learning takes practice. The trick is to start with the basics. These are the building blocks that’ll help you understand various aspects of scratching.

After getting a good grip on them, you can then start learning other scratches and perfecting them. You’ll learn faster if you practice with someone else.

What is the Best Player to Learn Scratching On?

If you’re starting, a vinyl player is the best. The set-up should include a jog wheel or platter and a large surface area.

You’ll require a large area for your hands to move. The hands and fingers move back and forth quickly. Thus, the platter should be large enough for flexibility.

Vinyl players offer a lot of room. Instead of struggling with finger placement, the learner can focus on the rhythm and perfect the skill.

The players feature platters that give a tactile feel. Each Scratch gives you a sensation, thus feeling every scratch process. The experience makes every Scratch better than the last.

Related Articles:

  • For basic DJ scratching setups, check out our guide to the Best DJ Controllers
  • For more advanced setups, you’ll need a suitable DJ Mixer to complement a pair of Vinyl players.

How Do You Scratch Vinyl Records?

To Scratch a vinyl record, you drag it forward and backward against the scratching needle on a turntable. Depending on how it’s done, you can produce different scratching sounds.

The set-up includes a controller with a crossfader, jog wheel, equalizer knobs, and other components.

To Scratch, you use one hand to move the vinyl record and the other hand to move the crossfader. The fader helps transition from one track to another by fading out the outgoing track and fading in the incoming. It also allows you to make different sounds in between the track by fading it in and out. 

Do Scratches Ruin Vinyl?

Scratching involves playing the record back and forth several times, and vinyl is a soft material. Consequently, the needle wears the vinyl record over time.

Because vinyl is easily damaged, preventing scratching from ruining them is almost impossible. While you can’t avoid the damage altogether, you can minimize the extent of the damage.

You can do this by:

  • Using a special mat to prevent the record from rubbing against the turntable when scratching
  • Choosing direct-drive turntables
  • Cleaning your hands before handling the vinyl disc
  • Going for a needle with a low record-wear rating
  • Adjusting the weight of your arm when scratching
  • Always keeping the vinyl records in a sleeve to prevent them from accumulating dirt and dust
  • Learning how to scratch lightly

How to Use the Crossfader?

A crossfader is a slider on the controller that you can slide right or to the left. It allows the DJ to control the channel where the music is coming from.

As a result, they can transition from one record to another by sliding the controller, allowing one to fade out as the other one fades in.

You can choose between two fades on the crossfade.

The constant Power Fade is when the volume of the track fading out reduces slowly while that of the incoming track increases, also gradually.

A fast Cut Fade quickly fades the outgoing music and brings up the volume of the incoming music just as quickly. 

A Fast-Cut Curve allows the DJ to quickly enter the Scratch and leave at the right time without causing any interruptions.

The controller has EQ knobs to help with transitioning. They enable you to control the volume from low, mid, and high. However, EQ knobs are only used on slow cuts and never on fast cuts.

While a less complex set-up includes two turntables, jog wheels, and a controller, digital controllers allow you to operate via DJ software.

How to Operate the Jog Wheel?

The jog wheel consists of two major parts.

The shiny, smooth section on the top of the jog wheel allows you to move the track back and forth and perform a drop right at the song’s start.

The platter allows you to adjust the music tempo slightly, either slower or a bit faster. It has a rubbery feel to help you grip easily.

Selecting the Right Samples for Scratching

As a beginner, the range of sounds you can use to Scratch is limited. With only the basics and several scratches you’ve learned, scratching with some beats and sounds might be challenging.

I know you’re wondering, don’t other scratch DJs use almost any sound?

Professional scratch DJs can use anything from music with one beat to bass drum to Scratch. Over the years, they’ve learned how to perfect the craft and enter scratches in the track.

If you’re starting your scratch journey, here are a few guidelines to help you pick suitable samples for scratching.

  • Start with the ‘ahh’ sample and other fresh samples. These are long sounds, textured, and evolve from start to finish. Scratching on a single sound or word until you know the sounds it makes when scratched at different intervals will help you form the basics. You can also use spoken words.
  • Don’t practice scratching with your best hip-hop songs. Songs consist of different components like beats and sound from several instruments, which, when scratched, can ruin your mix.
  • Use instrumental tracks. Practicing scratching over a single word or sound is much better on instrumental music. The absence of vocals allows you to concentrate on the scratching without interference from the beats.

Basic Scratch Techniques

When learning how to scratch records, you should start from the basics and build up. Basic scratching techniques serve as the foundation for learning other scratching methods.

1. Baby Scratch

As a beginner, the Baby Scratch is the first Scratch you should learn. Ensure you know how to Baby Scratch before attempting any other scratching methods as it forms the foundation.

In the simple Baby Scratch, you place your middle and index fingers on any spot on the jog wheel. Then make a backward and forward motion to do a Scratch.

Practice Baby Scratch at different speeds, finger placements, and continuous movements to develop your unique scratching sound and master it.

2. Flare Scratch

To complete a Flare Scratch, the starting position should have the crossfader open. You then move the record and, at the same time, move the crossfader quickly.

In this Scratch, you split the sounds by cutting the fader in then out in a split second. Every time you bounce the fader off, it makes a click sound. Flare Scratches are, therefore, named according to the number of clicks.

For one Flare Scratch, you only need to bounce off the fader once. If you’re fast enough, you can do 2, 3, or even more clicks to make more Flare Scratches.

3. Chirp Scratch

It’s named Chirp Scratch because it makes sounds like birds chirping.

To perform a Chirp Scratch, play the track forward, cut the end of the track, then bring the record back, that is, back-cueing at the cue point and turn the fader on. Repeat the procedure to perform the next Scratch.

You can combine different scratches to make scratch combos. For instance, a Chirp Flare Scratch combines Chirp Scratch and Flare Scratch to make a scratch combo.

4. Tear Scratch

A Tear Scratch is one of the basic scratches.

To perform it, place one hand on the record and leave the fader open. Slide the sample forward using the record hand, stop briefly, then continue sliding forward.

Try performing it in reverse. Instead of sliding forward, start sliding backward, stop briefly, then continue sliding backward again. Usually, a Tear Scratch is performed using a longer sample, such as the ‘ahhh’ sample.

5. Scribble Scratch

The Scribble Scratch is performed with the fader on. Then scratch a little sample as fast as possible. 

With your arm lifted high at an angle and your fingers on the record, make a spasm-like movement to make the record move a little at full speed.

This Scratch is almost like a Baby Scratch, only that you move the record a little and at a faster speed. For some people, a tone arm and wrist are easier to use instead of fingers only.

6. Forward Scratch

For this Scratch, you start with the fader closed. Start when the sound begins at the start of your sample. As the record moves forward, move the fader towards the middle. Then as the sound comes to an end, close the fader and push the record back to the beginning.

7. Crab Scratch

It got its name since your hand assumes the shape of a crab when performing the movements. Rub over the fader using three or four fingers from the pinky, ring finger to the index to achieve this Scratch. Your thumb acts as a spring to cut the sound after every tap.

After the basics, try to crab forwards and backward. Experiment with different swings and timings to tweak Scratch.

8. Backward Scratch

By reversing the motion of the Forward Scratch, you can do a Backward Scratch. With the fader closed, start with the sound at the end. Dragging the record back, open the fader, then close it as you come to the beginning of the sample. Push the record back to the end of the sample and start again.

9. Transformer Scratch

This Scratch requires playing a long sound then cutting it on and off with the fader. Start with the crossfader closed. While pushing the record back and forth, open and close the crossfader to make a pattern or rhythm. 

10. Orbit Scratch

Also known as the Two-Click Flare, it is attained by closing the crossfader twice on the forward Scratch and backward. You get six sounds in total.

You start with the fader open. While moving the record forward, close the fader twice to make three distinct sounds. To reverse, do the same while moving the record backward to attain six sounds.

When learning, start slowly until you’ve grasped the basics, then try doing it faster.

11. Backspins

Often referred to as Spinbacks, Repeat Scratches, or Reloops, Backspins are a fun way to transition to a new track. DJ Grandmaster Flash invented this scratching method. The effect or the scratch sound is produced when you move a record at high speed in the opposite direction.

To transition with a backspin, spin back the record when it reaches the last phrase. Before the record stops and starts rotating clockwise, move the crossfader to cut in a new track.

Conclusion: How To Scratch DJ

Every DJ should learn how to scratch. It gives you a competitive edge, and your audience will love it. If you want to make a career as a professional DJ, be ready to learn the scratches and perform them.

Learning how to scratch DJ is not as easy as it seems. You’ll have to put in a lot of hours to get it right. It may take some time before you are comfortable with your progress but every hour of deliberate practice helps. Ensure you learn the basic techniques of every Scratch. 

Afterward, you can learn advanced techniques, experiment with different rhythms, timings, and swings to develop your unique DJ style, then master it.

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