5 Reasons Why All DJs Should Learn To Beatmatch By Ear

Analogue mixing

Analogue DJing: when the only way to beatmatch was to do it by ear.

I feel lucky to have been a DJ way before digital. I can happily whip a tune out of a box, throw it on a turntable, mix it in without using headphones, and (apart from the first beat or two), get it beatmatched straight away. The thing is, I’m really nothing special – all DJs who’ve ever DJed professionally with vinyl can do this. To DJs like me, it’s like riding a bike; if you do it often enough, you’ll never forget. But do you still need the skill if you’re a digital DJ?

Some people say “no”. Not when software can beatmatch music for you, and algorithms can show you your music in so many different ways. (I love Serato ITCH, for instance, and its three waveforms, all of which are great fun for visual DJing, or waveriding.)

But many still say “yes”. One of the most frequent things I hear from young digital DJs is “I want to learn to do it properly”. and I think they’re right. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. BPM counters don’t always work – This is the big one. BPM counters are not always accurate. Some songs just don’t get auto BPMed well by software. Others vary in tempo half-way through. Others are played by live drummers and have natural drifts of tempo. Others are just plain weird and the BPM counter can’t do anything with them.

A good DJ, though, can try and mix anything with anything. How good is YOUR DJ software at BPMing indie, for instance? Not very good, I’d say. Accapellas? Nope. So you need to be able to beatmix because you can’t be relying on machines all the way through your DJ career. You WILL get caught out one day.

2. You never know what kit you’re going to be asked to DJ on – What if someone asks you to play a DJ set on vinyl or CDJs and you only use your controller with “autosync”? What if you want to use someone else’s kit? What if you are asked to DJ at a party, or your gear breaks down, or someone is just testing you to see if you can do it? Would you want to say “I can’t”?

DJing with vinyl

We won’t often advise you to ‘ditch the digital’ on this blog… but it can work wonders for your DJing if you do every now and then.

3. It teaches you about the BPMs of different types of music – You could learn by studying your BPMs and listing those of your favourite genres, and of course with digital gear you can ultimately mix anything into anything (especially with modern timestretching features), but actually DJing with straight tracks, no timestretching, right out of the box (or “virtual box” in the case of us digital jocks) is the real deal.

So if you want to know how much tunes can be sped up or slowed down before they sound rubbish; how quickly you can get from one BPM to another without your crowd noticing; tricks like going from dubstep to drum and bass (or techno to chillout) by doubling (or halving) the BPM; how going from straight 4/4 (eg house) to breakbeat can feel “slower” even though the BPM stays the same… if you want to learn any of these things properly for yourself, you need to experiment with mixing tunes using your ears, not your eyes.

4. It teaches you about how rhythms are constructed – To manually beatmatch a tune over another, you have to listen to its rhythm, which I define here as “any bit that repeats over and over”.

You latch on to a hi-hat, or a cymbal, or a handclap. You hear a distinctive kick drum. You notice that a synth stab is adding percussion. By identifying sounds in rhythm, you become a better listener to music. DJs need to hear things others don’t – how can you surprise your listeners with great, intuitive mixes, leaps of genre and other little nods to this or that otherwise?

5. It’s one of the cornerstones of DJing – I said the first point, but on second thoughts I feel that actually this point is the big one. Accountants use spreadsheets, right? But they learn to use calculators first. And they learn to add up, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads before they are even allowed to do so on paper, way before all of that!

DJ Kool Herc

Legendary mixmaster Kool Herc – no autosync BPMs for him…

“Doing your dues”, and learning the trade from the bottom up, really should matter to you. It means you can take advantage of all the gifts digital DJing has to offer, while knowing you’ve got the basics mastered. It means you can walk before you can run. And once you can beatmatch by ear as well as by sight, you’ve got more time to enjoy yourself, interact with the crowd, and generally be more confident behind the decks. You’ve earned it.

Do a bit a day…

So you do need to be able to beatmatch two tracks by ear. However you teach yourself – whether by using a friend’s turntables, or using CDs and covering the BPM counters, or putting masking tape on parts of your laptop screen to cover your DJ software’s waveforms and BPMs, try to do so.

If you learn this skill (and although it’s tricky at first, it gets easier and easier), you’ll set yourself up for enjoying the best of the old and the new ways of mixing your tunes together – whatever they are.

How important is it for you to mix by ear? Are you an old vinyl DJ who can’t stand it when people don’t learn? Or do you think it really doesn’t matter? Tell us!

Comments

  1. I started off on vinyl and learned things the old way. I also agree that ANY DJ out there should know how to operate and mix with CD players. Plain and simple.

    If you can use a CD player, then you can pretty much mix in almost any venue out there…as I have yet to see a venue that doesn’t offer CD players.

    Vinyl was where it started and where many favor it, but even my move to digital was mostly because of how many venues I’d walk into where the 1200s were broken or faulty. It’s why in any last-ditch situation – laptop might not be working, turntables are broken, etc…that one can at least do a set with some burned CDs and the players.

    I agree though that every DJ should know manual beatmatching. I did a gig in Slovakia and simply was told to bring files. The setup was Virtual DJ on a Win7 laptop with a mixer. I did fine using the sync for most of the set, but I would check in the cueing before hand to make sure things would sync. Late in the set, I dropped the old school cut “French Kiss” by Lil Louis, and could tell the sync was off in the cueing. I wasn’t sure how to fix the beatgrid, so I went back to basics and did things manually with the + and – buttons.

    Basic skills. Plain and simple.

    If you ask me, any and all DJs should be very well skilled in BLENDING and PROGRAMMING. By blending I not only mean beatmatching, but also using the EQs and volumes to make songs fluidly work together. You can get beats matched, but if the songs clash, then it’s a mess. Same deal on programming. It’s not so much just “what” you play as it is also about “when”.

  2. I agree! i also think that all dj’s should learn to beatmatch by ear… Im sure that it will come handy one day or even it will save the night if you have any problems with your gear!

  3. I’ve seen this said so many times that I now feel the need to learn it. What I need to know is… where do you start (outside of listening), what does it entail? Are you using only the deck pitch-sliders to accomplish the match? How does one go about doing this when the back end is software?

    In Traktor Pro the sliders don’t work if the tempo is not defined and a drop marker set… a little point in the right direction is all I need.

    • Hi GB,

      One more thing. If you have Traktor and a controller, just load your track(s), try not to look at the BPM at all. The minimize Traktor (to remove some of the temptation to look at wave forms and whatnot) and start your first tune. If you’re on a desktop, even better…shut down/unplug the screen completely.

      Hope it helps a bit.

  4. Squirrel M@ster says:

    This article reminded me of when I started mixing vinyl. My friend DJ Scottie D. got me started.

    I had no clue. I couldn’t beat match–I couldn’t even seperate the songs in my head. Slowly, but surely I got it. Sorry, I didn’t mean to call you Shirley.

    It takes time and practice. So, for everyone that’s starting off: be patient, persistant, and have fun.

  5. I think it isn’t hard at all, like a begginer dj, when i first used traktor (i love it!) my songs where beatgrided but the mix just sound awful, then i start practicing beatmach by ear on a pair of cdjs and by the time, i can mix smoothly even when a beatgrid doesn’t match.

    For your point, i agree that every one should learn how to do that and i will be practicing harder to match quickly :D

    As always, great post Phil!

  6. GB-4double, best place to start is to put doubles of a track on…one on each deck. From there just match them together and use the pitch control or even the + and – buttons if you have those on whatever you use.

    I’ve noticed even many times that Torq (what I use) will get the BPM right, but sometimes the beatgrid will be a tad off…so your sync will be together, but sound a tad off. Again, it’s why knowing how to beatmatch is important.

    Once you get the idea on how to manually blend two of the same track together, then try it with two different tracks, like you’re playing in a club. Use even the BPM readings to get an idea of where to set the pitch, and then go from there.

    Once you seemingly get that down and can match well…then go the next step and try to determine the pitch by ear. That means you simply go trial and error to get the right setting on the new track to get it to match the old.

    Like Squirrel said, it takes time and patience. I don’t knock someone for using the waveforms or the BPM reading as a help in the beginning. My personal point is simply that one should be able to manually adjust something when it’s seemingly off.

    Even bigger challenge…try laying an accapella on a track. When you get that down, you’ll start wanting to do more with the multiple decks in Traktor.

    • I love your attitude there “Phil Morse”, I used Virtual DJ Pro (with a skin) a seperate USB Soundcard to Headphone Monitor initially, without using the Synch Button or the “+” and “-” Buttons, used my mouse to tap the “Virtual Platter / Jog-Wheel” until the Bass-Beats or Hyats matched (depending).

      A week before Christmas 2011 I bought a Numark Mixtrack Pro controller: suddeenly I found I could do a lot of things at the same time (instead of using my mouse and a few keyboard shortcuts), so I am Hands-Free and things are just easier!

      Seriously people should learn to Manually Beatmatch, because during a 2 hour set: you will find 2 tunes which will not Match using the Synch Button, and if you cannot match 2 beats together, what will you do then? Perhaps Chop-In for ever more?

  7. Great read, I never really used vinyl, but I learned on cdj’s, a lot of the time without headphones, using just the monitor. It took me awhile to get used to matching it by ear, especially with people coming asking for songs, friends etc. Ive since changed to a controller setup, which makes things a lot easier, but there are times when the software doesn’t map the song right, or the bpms are off and that is when the experience comes in.

  8. dj quickmixx says:

    AMEN!!!!!!TRUE TALENT LIES WITH THE CATS THAT CAN DO ALL THAT STUFF LIVE WITHOUT PUSHIN BUTTONS!!!

  9. Amem to that Phil, great article. Also, I see learning to beatmatch as a way of honouring and continuing on the history of DJing. I think its important that while the technology improves vastly, we shouldn’t lose sight of the first DJs (like Francis Grasso, who used a metronome to gauge the bpms of all his records). The question is ask is; if someone can’t beatmatch, are they really a DJ? And as I view it as such an essential skill, I don’ think so. Every DJ out there needs that fundamental skill base

  10. I agree that it’s important to know how to beatmatch in case you can’t use your digital stuff, but I don’t agree with dj quickmixx about ‘true’ ‘real’ and ‘talent’. The skills of a dj (in my opinion) are not about beatmatching, but about getting the crowd crazy. Whether you do that with the push of a button or with a few pitch and bend movements: nobody cares. It’s about your tracks, eq-ing and timing, beatmatching has got nothing to do with that (again, in my opinion ;-)).

  11. Learning to beatmatch is an important skill in DJing. Your brain has to learn to separate 2 tracks and listen to them individually, even though they are playing at the same time. This is an invaluable skill for digital DJing even if you aren’t having to beatmatch.

    I learned with vinyl many years ago, but now DJ with Ableton Live. Being free from having to beatmatch means that I can concentrate on mixing-in-key, getting the cue points down exactly and applying creative FX, but I wouldn’t be able to do that well without learning the fundamentals first.

  12. “Your brain has to learn to separate 2 tracks and listen to them individually.” – Well said. That gets close to the heart of it I think.

  13. StrangeMatter says:

    The crux of the matter has already been covered but I don’t think it can be stressed enough. Put simply, it’s a rite of passage for ALL DJs, no matter whether you’re digital, vinyl or CD. You will never make it as a DJ if you don’t have this skill.
    You need flexibility as laptops can fail, both Mac & PC, which will leave you with two options:
    1. Play on the club’s Pioneers with some of you set tunes cheekily burned to a couple of discs (your just-in-case backup pack) and prove you’re a skilled professional, or…
    2. Stop playing, alienate your fanbase and ensure you’re never hired again.

  14. Knob Jockey hit the nail on the head. I learned to beat match back in 94 and spent years doing it. Now I am strictly a Traktor user.
    The time I am saving by not having to beat match is insane and in reality, nobody benefits from the time a DJ spends trying to beat match two records. In fact you only ever think about beat matching when someone screws it up or train wrecks.

    The only time this would not be a benefit is if someone isn’t making use of that extra time. My live sets are merging on music creation now thanks to software like Traktor. Taking small slices of tracks and looping on 4 decks allows me to be completely spontaneous and create new music every night.

  15. this is so important. i’m sick of hearing people abuse beat repeat and other corny effects while two tracks are perfectly robotically sync’d together. its lifeless and tacky.

    learn to beatmatch and play live. your set will have more tension. its not about whether you make a mistake its about how you catch it and fix it. how the two tracks get swung against each other as you nudge one slightly forward. you cant get that from an ableton set, I’m sorry. they just feel dead.

    i’d take a good dj, alive, raw, trainwrecks and all, over some kid pushing buttons and standing looking foolish, doing filter sweeps to pass the time, ANY DAY

    • “Learn to beatmatch and play live. your set will have more tension. its not about whether you make a mistake its about how you catch it and fix it. how the two tracks get swung against each other as you nudge one slightly forward. you cant get that from an ableton set, I’m sorry. they just feel dead”

      There’s some truth in this. It’s why I like Serato ITCH not having a beatlock. Think about a real band – to introduce tension, the drummer will play a bit ahead of the singer leading into the chorus, for instance. In the same way, some records just sound right a bit, well, wrong! Beatgridding and locking tracks in sync loses this.

      • Believe me Numark Mixtrack Pro hasn’t a Beat-Lock either, and many of a time the 2 tracks have wondered off-beat half way through (especially when I am doing something else) and I had to rectify it damned fast, luckily enough within the “7 Second Watershed!” PMSL

  16. I agree.. i got into djin a little while before the digital phase and learnt the basics.. which i believe is hard to avoid anyway. But i am glad i learnt cos as mentioned in the write up.. it allows for you more time to enjoy the experience and interact with your crown instead of keeping your eyes glued to your laptop screen.. i am glad one of the skill i learnt is so essential ..bless

  17. Jim BobMcSlaughterhouse says:

    5. It’s one of the cornerstones of DJing

    Its the bedrock of DJing, from which everything else can rise.

    The man speaks the truth.

    It helps you to get to know your music too, the phrases and the builds; how to place and manipulate your transitions etc.

    It lends credence to the art.

  18. Yes, definitely agree that all DJs should know beatmatching by ear.

    I started off with Traktor some years back, mainly as I was unable to get CDJs at the time. I recall naively using it to try and “mix” with auto sync a couple times and failing in a pretty embarrassing way because (i) automatic beat grids are not perfect, and (ii) some tempo detections are usually off.

    So I followed that by mixing manually by ear on Traktor. I did this for a while and learned a whole bunch of things. I now beatgrid and set tempos manually, etc..

    Learning beatmatching is like rewiring your brain.

  19. Years ago when I first started I used to mix on denon racks such as the 4500 which had poor bpm recognition and had to do most beatmatching by ear. I now use traktor but i pitch manually with the faders and not to the exact same bpm, adjusting with the jog when it goes a little off… it s true that it feels livelier and the resulting swing can be quite nice
    plus i feel that sometimes when auto syncing the bass drums lose power, i guess its the result to some sort of wave phase cancellation… has this happened to any of you? i mix on an external mixer

  20. Ask anyone that knows how to beat match to use ableton and play LIVE with it, meaning not using other people’s music but their own. Even harder to do!! people need to get on with the times and move on. I know how to beat match and all but now i find it very boring cause I wanna play with as many tracks as I want and don’t wanna limit my creativity just for the idea of beat matching… To know it is great, though, there are FAR more innovative ways to entertain that it just seems odd to stick with something that only benefits the person doing it. And, who cares if someone asks you and you dont know how to do it?? all that matters is if fans enjoy your music. HOW ABOUT LEARN TO PLAY AN INSTRUMENT!!! many call themselves musicians and dont even know how to read music.. SAD!!

    • dreamy.queen says:

      Incredibble comment! I totally agree. We should respect musicians who are well trained, play instruments, use Ableton and their own pieces of music as much as we respect djs who beatmatch. It´s a tought job on both sides. At the end, what really matters is to hear great, amazing music when we go out and pass a beautiful few hours experience.

      • dreamy.queen says:

        And one more thing, since I started clubbing back in the 2000, I heard a lot of times, even famous djs doing bad beatmatchings, tracks gone out of control…hhrrs!! Fortunately, these days, thanks to Controlers and Traktor, we can hear finer mixes, with less bothering sounds for our ears. Machines are not perfect for beatmatching, but human mistakes also exist.

  21. I use CD-J’s but I can’t beat match correctly so I use the bpm display yeah 1 out of every 30 or so tunes sound slightly off but it’s OK I mix fine should I really lock myself on my decks for 2 years and master it?

  22. You are a DJ when you can beat match by ear.

    • I would say to call yourself a DJ means nothing, it is when a crowd, or your listeners (like on Internet Radio) can hear hear you mix, if they call you a DJ, then Job-Done!

      I also agree Beatmatching is one of the Basic-skill for someone who wants to mix to master!

  23. “it feels livelier and the resulting swing can be quite nice
    plus i feel that sometimes when auto syncing the bass drums lose power, i guess its the result to some sort of wave phase cancellation… has this happened to any of you? i mix on an external mixer”

    Yup, that’s it! It’s a music thing, holding two tunes together manually, and it introduces a swing, and you’re right, if the kicks sound better slightly apart – please, I want the ability to choose to have them slightly apart! I agree with you entirely :)

  24. StrangeMatter says:

    @doodie. As I pointed out before. Laptops can die. Even the best maintained Macs AND PCs. What are you going to do if yours does?
    My old laptop died on me a few times mid-set and refused to play ball. Did I stop playing? Hell no! I know how to beatmatch and had a few discs in my bag.
    I appreciate what you’re getting at. When I’m clubbing, I don’t pay all that money to see a guy beatmix all night, I want to be entertained. But I also expect the show to go on, come-what-may. If I was at a club and the DJ stopped playing because his laptop died, I’d want my money back. Unless you’re a Deadmau5 or a Paul van Dyk, I wouldn’t expect you to get hired again in a hurry.
    Yes there are more inovative ways of rocking a crowd, but without this essential skill, you are relying on a single point of failure without any backup plan.
    Whether you use it in your normal style of play or not, it’s still something you should know how to do.

  25. In my opinion you’re a dj when you can take your crowd on a trip; you play the right tracks at the right time. The technique you use is inferior. It’s all about setting an atmosphere. That someone is a perfect beatmatcher doesn’t make him a good dj.

    Did someone ever care, when experiencing a great set at a party, if the dj was beatmatching or autosync-ing?????

  26. Great piece of writing on the reasons to learn manual beatmatching!I agree whole heartedly.I myself started of on 1200′s and im a better dj for it.The skill set gap
    between todays dj’s and the dj’s of just 5-7yrs ago is widening.The core of djing & the lost art of being able to beatmatch with no digital aides is only getting worse.Dj’s are inundated with countless controller after controller that promise to do more & more til your not really doing much.If the crowd doesn’t think your really doing anything, are you?All new dj’s should ask themselves this question.Again great article!

  27. Wow!Martijn says…You’ve spoken like a real “new” dj.
    Your take on taking short cuts is apalling at best.So I guess you need no technique to do anything or be the best at it.

    So why even mix in the 1st place?Just load a computer with the last and greatest tracks and set it to shuffle and repeat.You’ve basically said dj’s aren’t even needed.
    Just rely on the computer to “sync things up”.The hell with actually doing anything!

    You can have your buttons..and keep pressing.

  28. @Jack F. I started dj’ing early 90′s and until 4 years ago I only played vinyl (and yes, I can beatmatch on ear :-)). I didn’t write, that mixing is not important. What I wrote is, that the technique you use for mixing isn’t important.

    DJ’s are very important, because building an atmosphere (and a great set) is not about just playing the latest or greatest tracks. Picking the right track at the right time is what makes a dj great and that can never be automated.

    “So why even mix in the first place?” – You can’t create a flowing/ongoing set (and again, create an atmosphere) when tracks just start and stop. You want to build highs- and lows in your set in a natural flow; that’s why I mix.

    Again, I think dj’s are very important and can never be replaced by an automated system. A dj is important in how he is building a set and about its track-selection. That makes a dj unique. Not in the technique he uses to achieve that.

    Dj’s Adam Beyer, Chris Liebing, Matthias Dettmann, Dave Clarke didn’t became top-dj’s just because they have good mixing-skills…

    • Martijn,

      i agree with you totally…. but 1 thing:

      Dave Clarke DID become the god he is by his skills (No. 1 fan here);

      i mean, the man started playin’ punk (wich must be an true art DJ’ing ^^), & in my eyes stays “the baron of Techno” for his technical skills, he plays with the gear & crowd as if it was nothing…. i remember an interview on radio during I Love Techno 2001 , the interviewer asking a guest (DJ T-Quest; FUSE-cub Belgium) how he thinks ’bout Dave Clarke, & the answer was simple….. the man is a technical wonder….

      I myself am an artist, i DID full Live-sets in Ableton, play clarinette, can’t beat-match, but i can warp in LIVE ;) …. But when Dave is DJ-ing, finding all that time for his FX (another proof of great beatmatch-skills) i only can look &amazed…

      All hail Dave :)

  29. Phil Morse says:

    I think we’re agreeing more or less here guys… you need to be able to beatmatch to a certain standard, because you’re not going to be confident otherwise, but programming is THE single most important skill. I’d actually say that once you can competently control DJ equipment (including performing competent mixes), programming becomes the #1 skill.

    It’s when mixing can ADD to a well programmed set, though, that you become REALLY good. So it kind of goes full circle, no?

    Thanks for the insightful comments/debate.

  30. It’s true. I’d rather pose as a ‘DJ’ than a digital human jukebox.

  31. Jon Cravenwood says:

    I agree with this article. I DJ digitally using Serato itch which don’t get me wrong its a great programme, but its all too easy. You don’t really beat match, you wave match and to be honest anyone who sits down and does it for a couple of weeks can get the hang of it, just like playing a computer game. After reading this article I’ve started learning to beat match by ear and I must admit it is a little frustrating, especially when you know you can do it all perfectly digitally. However I am thinking of selling my DJ midi controller and going backwards and buying some cdjs as it I now think it is essential you know how to use them, if you want to dj in clubs (which I hope to do in the future as I have just started producing tech and electro house). Do you think this is a good idea or do I keep my midi controller and just cover up the bpm counter and everything else that assists you? Thanks

    • Phil Morse says:

      The latter. CDJs are horrible things, the worst of both worlds. Remember, they also have BPM counters so it’s not as if you’re really beatmatching properly by ear, not like with records. Having said that it is worth knowing how to use CDJs if you want to DJ in clubs (at least in Europe, Serato Scratch is the norm in DJ boxes in the US). To be honest a good DJ/producer should be able to command a Line In on the club mixer for his controller – after all many DJ/producers use Ableton both to compose with and DJ from.

  32. How can I learn to beatmatch by ear? I have virtual dj and soon will purchase mixtrack pro. However, I don’t know where to begin. Can I take a class? Are there tutorials? I live in L.A. Any suggestions anyone, anyone, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller??

    • Chris Argueta says:

      Art, I don’t know if you still want to learn to beatmatch by ear or if you already did, but I’ll teach you bro, for FREE.

      I live in LA, too. I use Virtual DJ, too (which I love).

      I can teach you on turntables with vinyl. This is me, the second guy on the turntables, the only guy with hair: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJz9i9r1sMM

      Or, I can teach you on CD players. Or, I can teach you on my Hercules RMX and Virtual DJ. Or on your MixTrack Pro.
      Just friend me on Facebook and send me a message to remind me who you are: http://www.facebook.com/djchris73

      • Chris,

        I’m all set on learning beatmatching. Nevertheless, thank you very much for your offer. Very kind of you. Cheers.

  33. Phil Morse says:

    We have a book we are releasing in the new year that will cover this. Meanwhile, try YouTube – there are loads of tutorials.

  34. thanks!

  35. I dont believe you have to learn to beatmatch on CDJ’s or decks specifically as you can learn on a controler. But I definately think you need to be able to beatchmatch by ear. 

    Most decent dj controlers (the ones you would take to a club anyway) have all the same functions as a cdj so as long as you know how to beatmatch you will be able to use the clubs Cdjs with very little trouble, Sure the layout might be strange at first but you’ll be fine after 10 mins! Its like driving a new car for the first time! 

    I made the switch from vinyl to controller completely missing out CDJs. But have plsyed many club gigs using cdjs despite neverv owning a pair! 

    When I mix on my controller i personally dont use auto sync as i enjoy the task of getting tunes together sure ill use the bpm counter to get me in the ball park but i fine tune by ear. However i know that regardless of what the screen says ill always get it in time. 

    This skill cant be underestimated as it allows you to have complete control over the blend. If two bpms appear the same but dont match the ONLY way to solve this is by matching by ear. So regardless of whether you use a controler or a cdj the only way to prevent this situation occoring when in a live situation is to have this skill in your armouray. 

    In the long run its a much more rewarding and enjoyable experience as you can have total control and not get caught in a situation where you cant mix tunes together. Also it means when asked you can truly say you know the skill of djing and not just the ability to press auto sync and beat grid! 

    • Chris Argueta says:

      98% agree with you. You’re right, you DON’T NEED turntables or CDJs to learn to beatmatch when controllers have all the functionality of seperate decks and mixer.

      But learning on turntables does make it easier; more rewarding in the long run, IMO.

      I’ll try to justify my opinion:

      1) Turntables have way longer Pitch sliders than almost all controllers (sidenote: this is the one thing I hate about controllers and dual rack mount CD players). This allows for a more precise mix. You learn to ride and feel the mix. Small anectdote: My friends got so anal about their vinyl mixing that they refused to touch the record or platter to make small adjustments. They would only use the Pitch slider. They claimed that you could ruin the mix if you touched the record while the track was live in the mix.

      2) Turntables have WOW and Flutter. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wow_and_flutter_measurement. All this means to YOU is that turntables are not as stable/accurate as digital. This, in my opinion is essential for learning, but a pain in the ass while playing live for an audience. Usually not a problem with well-maintained 1200s, because they are very stable; therefore have minimal wow and flutter. Small anecdote: I learned how to beatmatch almost 20 years ago on belt-drive Gemini turntables. I would NEVER trade in that experience. If you can ride the mix with a pair belt-drive Gemini XL-100s for example, you can ride the mix on anything! LOL.

      3) There is NO “SYNC”, “AUTOMIX” or any other life vests with turntables. This is crucial, IMO, when LEARNING. You do not want to handicap yourself with this. Not necessarily true when playing for a crowd, though.

      Conclussion:

      I’m NOT advocating going out and buying a pair of used or new Belt-Drives. Not at all. But if you ever get a chance to play/practice on some, do it. Test yourself. You will find out if you really know how to beatmatch or not.

      That being said, I want to say that I don’t believe that you have to know how to beatmatch to be a “real” DJ. Being a great or “real” DJ is about TRACK SELECTION, period. There is no there skill or talent that is more important than knowing what to play and when to play it. You can be a great DJ and never have learned to beatmatch.

      What I will say about beatmatching is that it is a skill that if acquired, can possibly (and I stress possibly) have the potential to make you a better DJ. It’s a skill that could provide you with a certain perspective about our craft that you can’t even begin to imagine if you never learned it.

      • Phil Morse says:

        All true. I learned on belt drives too!

        However, in this day and age I don’t think anyone would begrudge a new DJ learning on CDJs, and it is possible to set up a controller to cut out all the “help” (ie don’t push sync, cover up the BPM controls etc).

        Finally, there are some great long-throw pitch controls on CDJs, especially the Denon DN-SC2000 (to quote one I saw recently).

        Thanks for commenting!

        • Chris Argueta says:

          Phil,
          Great points. The only thing I don’t like about the DN-SC2000 is that they don’t have a soundcard. So now, you’re using up an extra USB port for a sound card. But maybe that isn’t an issue if you can hook up two of these DN-SC2000s to a USB hub. The layout is pretty cool. That is a REAL pitch fader.

  36. DEEPDOWNINSIDE says:

    Giles Peterson one of the best selectors on this planet we call earth. But I saw him live and I don’t think he can beat match to save his life. However, he doesn’t even try to fade to the next song. The place was packed everyone danced and had a great time. I remember it being one hell of a musical journey. We were so glad he visited our corner of the world.

    http://www.gillespetersonworldwide.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_Peterson

  37. Really awesome article! that’s what i was looking for, an opinion or tips from professional DJs about beatmatching nowadays. This is mostly dying and the upcoming djs are just accomodating to the sync button saying that they can mix (except for live acts that are different things). For example with me, im just 16 years old and since i started to get into the electronic music world, i got my little but good digital equipment (bcd 3000 + traktor pro) and i’ve learned a lot on how to mix. The importan thing was that i didn’t get lazy on just using the sync, cause i knew that using it wouldn’t lead me to anything good (also im kinda perfectionist) so by my onw ways i taught myself the basics and how to beatmatch properlu (not perfectly but at least good) !

  38. I also agree! The best way is to learn without the digital helpers. It´s beacause after a while you begin to hear the tracks in other way than a normal listener. Nowadays when i hear a track in my mind i can see all the single instruments as a waveline, just like a screenshot of ableton. This ability will only get who listens exactly to a song and analyses their tracks by ears ! It definitly makes you a better mixer !

  39. I started mixing vinyl about 5 years ago with nu skool breaks and jungle so feel extremely comfortable beat matching vinyl within a couple of seconds. Having now moved on to controller mixing (due to my music productions becoming more popular and not being able to afford £30 dub plates with a 50 play limit and the fact that I make drumstep of which there is practically no vinyl being pressed) I must admit I feel like I am cheating somewhat.

    This being said even though I’d feel comfortable beat macthing on cd-js using the pitch bend buttons; when it comes to controllers the pitch faders are usually so small that the tiniest of adjustments can cause wild increases/decreases in pitch especially when doing mash ups that require a greater pitch range than 8%! I end up spending the whole blend keeping the tunes in sync and unable to focus on eqs, effects chopping etc. I’ll happily admit that during my electro set I shamelessly use the sync feature as this allows me to drop my tunes at the exact point I’d normally be fading it in! Obviously a good vinyl DJcan beat match, cue and drop straight in without too much fuss but these feautures just make it so much easier!

    I think all DJs should cut their teeth manually, but I don’t think that beat macthing “makes a DJ”. you only have to look at some of the s4 demo vids (especially the crazy train one) to realise that what you do with your tracks is much more important than how you match them.

  40. Cosa nostra says:

    I totally agree with this article. A DJ who has learned the basics on vinyl will forever stand apart from those who think are born in the digital era and who scoff at the old heads. Beat Matching is an acquired skill that can only come with lots of practice.

  41. I DJ with Traktor, and always use the sync button; doing this gives me more time to concentrate on my mixing, effects, loops & just generally using that extra time to be creative.

    But… i learnt to DJ (and therefore beatmatch) on vinyl, and i very much agree that beatmatching is a fundamental skill for any DJ to learn.

    The main reason, for me, is so that you are able to hear 2 or more tunes playing at the same time as separate tracks, not just a load of noise…

    This is incredibly important to achieve a good balance of sounds when mixing, and not just pummel the crowd with a loud, confused mess.

    Anyway, like the article mentions, DJ programs don’t always get the sync info right. I almost always have to make some fine adjustments to the beatgrids in Traktor, and it’s being able to hear this fine detail that only comes with a trained ear.

    Respect to people who take the time to learn how to do something properly, and are much better off for it!

  42. There’s a great video I always show people when this topic comes up. It’s Richie Hawtin explaining why he uses the sync feature in Traktor:

    • Nailed it!

      “Allowing the computer to do one thing is only boring if you don’t use the time that the computer saves you to do something else.”

      Very inspiring, thanks for sharing!

  43. Learn How To DJ says:

    Great comments everyone

    Each track has its own rhythm (high hat, beat, bass line, etc)and trying to distinguish between the 2 different rhythms while listening to both tracks at the same time is the key to keeping beats matched.

    Cheers,

    Ron

  44. dj Rick M Haiti says:

    HI.. it’s normal to beatmatch with the ear.. we are the ones who listen to MUSIC the computer dosen’t , it can only apply what information we give to it and only PLAY music you ask. It is a TOOL that we use to record and play our music.. only our ears listen and enjoy music…so if you realy want to be a DJ you must learn as much about MUSIC… BPM is part of it.

    ONE LOVE!!!
    DJ RICK M HAITI.

  45. I’ve been mixing a little under a year and just starting to be able to beatmatch. I use Traktor with mixtrack pro and some midi modifications. I’ve removed BPM from the HUD and avoid looking at screen. When it works it works and feels great;its a skill and one all DJ’s should have in their arsenal!!

  46. all done with matching by ear on traktor http://soundcloud.com/dj-florez/heaven-and-hell-mix

  47. Even though I use the Traktor sync, I rely heavily on the waveforms to establish sync accuracy before mixing and to establish music compatibility for a seamless and musical track transition. The waveform tells you a lot if you are a former musician like me and have an ear for music. I have also found that heavy syncopated beats can throw the sync off so I “ride the jog wheel” to keep it in sync during some mixes. I started DJing in the vinyl age where we had to develop that real mixing talent.

  48. Alex TC says:

    If only DJs who have never mixed on vinyl knew how cool and sweet it is by itself, they´d run to the nearest store and buy a pair of decks just for the sake of it.

    I know use SYNC all the time without even thinking about it, eventually correcting and perfecting things the old fashioned way (ie using the pitch slider). It´s a godsend. But boy do I feel lucky like Phil by having spinned on vinyl for almost 20 years before the advent of CDJs and now digital DJing. We could beatmatch without phones while having a conversation on the booth, it´s insane how the brain works!

    Even today the smell of vinyl and paper covers on my fingers after a good mixing session on some MK1200´s immediately brings pretty sweet memories of countless parties in the 80´s and 90´s! Go for it guys, there´s no down side to this proposition indeed!

    Cheers!

    • Hi Alex:

      That is why I have kept my original SL1200s and all the vinyl singles. Many of those original extended dance tracks are simply no longer available and irreplaceable.

      • Arne Maes says:

        DJ Blade Sparx; I hope someone takes it upon them to start digitalizing their old school dance tracks, vinyl rips can be quite good these days.

  49. The first reason hits home with me. Did a party last weeked where I had to mix in some Disney songs of all things, with glitch hop. It went well, by the digital BPM counter definitely did not work on those tunes!

  50. shaunie baby says:

    Having a family full of Dj’s (Dad and uncle, much more) I pretty much been surrounded my whole life with old school acid and house.They would always go on their decks and bang out the tunes, which along the line I got cd players with a mixer and amp. To tell newcomers, starting out may seem like a daunting task at first and it is but eventually you will pick up the basics. You will sometimes totally be out of tune when you introduce a song but dont worry about it, everyone has to experience that along the line sometime. Just play songs that you like with similiar beats and keep on practicing, some time along the line you will crack it. However it doesnt just happen over night, it does weeks of practise for lucky ones but generally a few months for others.

  51. I’ve only been at this for 8 months and I’m strictly bedroom status so far. That said, I respect what I’m doing and have taken the time to learn the basics of beats, bars, when to drop a new tune, and such.

    That said, I would never use the sync button. I’d rather have my beats drift than fake it. Also, unless I’m indulging my love of old school early 90s house, I’m more of a breaks and hip hop dj.

    Phil, is there any way to augment your awesome site with some tips strictly for breaks and hip hop?

  52. I disagree. I learned to beatmatch on my tech 12′s, which i still have. I love them and will never part with them. But nowadays, i dont think there is simply the need to learn to beatmatch. It’s a waste of time. When i gig, i take my own laptop and midi controller with Traktor 2. Venues anticipate dj’s use laptops now, and their mixers are usually setup for it. Beatmatching isnt the test of a good dj, set building and the way in which tunes are mixes (i.e they flow) does. i prefer quick mixing to that of the 90 second blend, its the tunes i wanna hear, not the mixing. The sync button is here, and its here to stay. If it helps me loop, and gets stuff in time instantly, then it laves me time to be more creative rather than worrying and focussing on beatmatching and keep stuff in time.

  53. As a young newcomer to DJing, I simply would NOT be able to get into DJing using vinyl. I just don’t have enough cash to be dropping tons of money on hard to find records, especially when I already have the exact same music on my computer.

  54. I came across this post as I’m trying to set up Traktor and my S4 to be used in a more traditional DJ format. I used to DJ with turntables in the early 90′s and thought I would get back in to it with the S4. I was a bit disappointed to see how easy it was to beatmatch, even without using the sync button, just by using the on screen visuals that show how far out your track is!
    Apart from covering up those parts of the screen, are there any other settings that would help me achieve a turntable style set up? Perhaps adjusting the sensitivity of the jog wheels?

    • Sounds like you need to just accept the fact that these tools are there :)

      Make sure you have vinyl mode switched on so your jogs control the music like record decks or CDJs would, but at the end of the day, you’ve bought a DJ controller and these things are designed to control DJ software, which comes with all the bells and whistles you don’t seem to like. There are other controllers that operate from USB and don’t have a computer/waveforms – maybe one of those would be more suited?

  55. Robert Wulfman says:

    Nobody ever tells the guys who started on CDJs to learn to beatmatch by ear. Also, you probably shouldn’t prepare too much for a vinyl only gig. Chances are they won’t come up and you can’t exactly play your mp3 library on vinyl unless you have DVS, which still has sync and bpm readouts and such.

    Still, good advice none the less.

  56. I got into Dj’ing right as the digital CD tables were starting to become available instead of vinyl tables, but I went with traditional tables to begin with. I wanted to learn to beatmatch properly. I felt like if I didn’t learn on vinyl I was betraying myself & the tradition of mixing at the time. So I learned to mix by ear which now I can throw just about any record on and tell where the tempos are at. It took some practice but eventually I got it and now it’s like riding a bike.

    I also believe you should learn to beatmatch by ear as others have so elegantly put it and the article it helps you in case you have to do it that way & it keeps the tradition alive.

  57. Being able to match beats by ear is critical. If you can’t do that, your basically at a disadvantage. If you rely on a BPM counter, or any technology, your mix is at the mercy of that technology. That type of stuff can and will always fail. Regardless of what you use and how you use it, knowing your tracks well, and being able beatmatch them by ear is a great advantage to have.

  58. Mikey Wilson says:

    This is a great article. I have been a dj (paid) for around 2 years now. I’m a 33 woman, I’ve been playing instruments since I was 11 and became a sound engineer when I was 16. I’m in such a weird position at the moment. Up until this week, i had never used a laptop to dj. I had my first guest spot a few years ago at a club in Sydney, only because i begged the dj every week to let me play and eventually he got sick of me asking so he let me play 3 songs.Then i moved to Brisbane where I got a job at a club as a sound engineer. One night our DJ for the night was sick and the manager said to me ‘come on, you could do this with your eyes closed’ and well, I kept my eyes open but I did it. My dance floor was packed for most of the night, sure my fade in and fade outs were questionable at times but it was exciting and I work well under pressure. The punters loved me so I got a regular monthly spot, which eventually went to weekly, then I got offered 3 times the amount of money to work at the club next door. Earnung $2K for 3 nights work, I could get used to this. The thing was, I wasn’t working with house/electro/dance or anything that can be beat-matched easily, sync button? what’s that?. I was playing at a retro club playing ‘retro’ music, everything from cher to bon jovi to nirvana and abba. I would sing songs in my head to match keys (being a musician that plays by ear helps’ and i would count and tap intros. On my second night i started using loops and cues on the cdj’s and even then I felt like i was being lazy. I have been so obsessed with music my whole life, been making mix tapes since I was 9 and now play at several clubs in brisbane including my own club night which has sold out the last 2 nights. I still have never used a laptop live and have only just this week got a laptop and downloaded virtual dj. I played with a friends mac a few months ago and made a few live mixes without headphones and put them on soundcloud. Sure they aren’t great but I had no headphones, all the mixing was done by counting and knowing my music so well that I’d know all the cue points in my head anyway. Now here’s my problem, I’m starting to get work in clubs where everyone uses laptops, after having one for a week it has definitely helped me with bpm’s and keys but really, anyone who can click a mouse can use virtual dj. IT’S NOT DJ’ING. I can’t imagine ever just fading in and fading out, all i want to do is loop keywords or beats and chop a song up and get creative because I absolutely love it. Do I need to move to a laptop? is it the way of the future? will it make me a better dj? I’d love to hear what people have to say.

    • Hello Mikey

      I know what your talking about been in the mix since he late 80′s (yes I am old) :-) I started way back in history with 2 1200′s and a realistic mixer from radio shack. I learned to beatmatch from copying radio mixes I heard and trying to copy them and got the hang of it. I have done a lot of gigs from my back yard,clubs, 100′s of weddings and corporate events. Do you need to move to a laptop? YES you do….I had a hard time transitioning to a lap top but now that I have learned most of the features I have a whole new out look on djing…so much fun to see the crowed react to your set. Will it make you a better dj? I don’t know if it will make you a better dj sounds like you are a great dj….all I know is it has made me a lot more creative I use a ddj-sx and if I am not giging I am in my living room creating some crazy mixes. Good luck with you transition to the digital era of djing. Keep your passion for djing alive!!!

      Dj Tiny!!

  59. This manual beatmatching vs syncing debate is just going out of proportions. Some vinyl purist has even gone to the extent of killing a digital dj after his show.. yeah you read that line right.

    http://equalizermag.com/news/vinyl-purist-identified-as-primary-suspect-in-slaying-of-22-year-old-traktor-dj/

    Now what i personally feel is that learning to beat match manually is absolutely no pre-requisite to be a dj. Being a DJ is all about knowing when to bring the right toon at the right place and reading the crowd vibe. The legendary DJ Tiesto says it himself in this video.(08.42)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-eKmLkbYCM

    Vinyl,CDJ,Traktor- it just doesn’t matter. None of the crowd out there has paid to come and check if you beat match manually. They’ve come there to have a good night.

    However, learning to beatmatch manually does have its advantages too. Like someone else pointed out, if you’re laptop decides to act weird at some point of time during the set, then you could quickly switch over to the club’s cdjs and rock the night. that is, if you learn to beatmatch manually.

    Learning to beat match is not all that trouble. It’s all about practise and perseverance. At first, you can start out with the same toons on both the decks, start one of the toons a little later than the other, and then try to line up the beats using your ear and not using any visual cues like the waveforms or phase meters.

    There are a couple of nice tutorials on the web(free), that’ll teach you to beat match manually. Head over to djtutor.com and you’ll see what i’m talking about. If you’ve chosen to be a DJ and you’re in it for the music, then rest assured you’ll be successful no matter what you DJ with.

    Beat matching manually ensures that you’ll be able to play on other setups than digital. However, it is absolutely not a pre-requisite to be a good DJ.

    Let me know your comments on this.

    K.Alex

  60. I’m learning to beatmatch manually so people don’t make fun of me.

  61. I’m extremely torn here. Part of me agrees, and has tried to learn beatmatching by ear. But the other part of me (the part that’s deaf in one ear), kinda hopes you’re wrong. I honestly don’t know if I’d ever be able to beatmatch effectively without the visual assistance. With mono-hearing it’s almost impossible for me to distinguish two songs apart to truly tease out which one with early or late on the beat… and I’ve been practicing forever. I can always tell that one song is slightly off, and but I can’t ever determine which one that is, so I have to have a visual cue to make adjustments. I’ve tried for a while now removing the visuals, and I cannot seem to bridge that gap. FYI, I started mixing on cdj’s, and did alright, but after losing my hearing in one ear, I had to switch.

  62. As much as I agree a good DJ should be able to beat match I tend to see Digital DJs as something else. Their has been, for many years now, a name for us laptop jocks and that is Controllerist DJs. Not to be confused with the traditional DJ. Technology moves so fast and if you decide to use your laptop live then you are stepping into the realms of making new music on the fly or planning out clips from tracks to facilitate live mashups and remixes. I would say I fall into this category, I never learned to beatmatch. I am unsure if I want to because what I do with my laptop onstage is so far removed from what you would do with a traditional setup (much respect to the traditional DJs, its a skill that takes time and effort). I think that a distinction needs to be made between these two worlds. I came from a production background and playing live in bands as a guitarist so I have paid my musical dues and I understand what it takes to perform live, be it controllerism or playing an instrument. As for laptops breaking it does happen. I carry around a pre mixed CD of about an hour for emergencies so the music can keep flowing (DJ Tech Tools tip) but most times it is all good and I perform live, working each and every track. It is not traditional DJing but it is how I choose to perform live. As with everything in life, nothing is ever hard and fast. Technology moves on and eventually even laptops will be outmoded, in fact they almost are with iPADs but for those of us willing to step into that world, the musical possibilities are endless. As I have spent most of my life writing music, sound designing patches for my own music and engineering live bands, I wanted to find a way to perform that encompassed all that. I use Ableton, Launchpad, LPD8 and a nanokontrol 2. It is not traditional DJing, infact my point is that it is not DJing but controllerism, a whole different way of doing things. The two overlap heavily, that’s a given, but I would suggest that if you are looking for ways to perform to a crowd then their are other choices than being a DJ. If you decide to take to the CDJs or vinyl then you most definitely must be able to beat match. Yet if you go down the laptop route and go into the brave new world of technology you need to learn how to mix (EQ, I learned as a sound tech and producer, took me years), know your music and most importantly learn the limitations of the gear you use, as more often than not creativity arises from that. On a final note I try to bring a spare laptop to gigs if possible with all the same setup. Its a hassle but worth it. No different from Vinyl DJs carrying around boxes of records or a drummer with a full kit in the back of his motor. Do what you do and learn to make music. That is my philosophy. Don’t be scared of things breaking just fix em and get on with it and don’t let anyone tell you that you are doing it wrong because its not the way they would do it. Respect the skills others posses such as beat matching, blending but understand that as a controllerist you are just as skilled in other areas. Iv seen both sides screw a gig up by not knowing their craft properly so it makes no difference how you “crack that nut” just get good at it and learn how to perform to a crowd. Simple as that.

  63. mattmessina62@gmail.com says:

    Just just started learning to beatmatch and when I’m trying to figure out if i’ve lined up the beats correctly I like to put my finger tips on the subwoofer of my monitors and feel the vibration from the beats. If the vibrations match up with the beats in my headphones I know I’ve done it correctly.

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