Over To You: Is It Best To Teach Myself To DJ, Or To Get Help?

On Off DJ School

Is a school like this the best way to learn to DJ?
Pic from: On Off DJ School

Digital DJ Tips reader L Todd writes: “I was wondering if you think it is better that I teach myself to DJ (trial and error) or learn from another DJ / class / DJ course. The reason I ask is because I have a DJ who wants to teach me but he uses turntables and I want to be a digital DJ. I don’t have the money to invest in vinyl. My entire library is MP3 files and a few CD that I never got rid of. So maybe I would be better teaching myself to DJ?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

There’s no right or wrong. On your own (trial and error) can take a long time, because it may take you weeks or months to learn something someone could have shown you in five minutes. Many people are fiercely independent like this, but they still end up reading about the techniques, or watching YouTube. Why not just let someone show you? Of course, if you have a friend who’s got time to do so that’s great, but not everyone can afford to pay four-figure sums to take a residential DJ course, so money comes into it too. Also, people always have their own ways of doing things, some of which might not be the way you end up doing it. They may teach you “their” bad habits.

I guess it all depends on the teacher. If your friend only wants to to teach you, say, manual beatmatching – hey, it’s good to know, but it won’t make you a DJ. A lot of DJing is about things that aren’t directly connected to the techniques. Things like building a music library, sorting out set lists, understanding audio quality, and reading a crowd. But arguably the most important stuff is simply learned through doing it. That’s why we always say nail the basics, then start playing in public – often.

If I were you, I’d take your friend up on a few lessons. Skills are transferrable, and it’s always good to be able to use vinyl, or CDJs, or whatever’s there. Just because you want to be a digital DJ, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything massively different from what the vinyl or CDJ guys do. We’re all, at the end of it, “DJs”.

• Don’t forget that our How To Digital DJ Fast intensive online video course teaches absolute beginners enough to play their first live DJ gig, in four weeks flat.

So, over to you. How did you learn to DJ? did you teach yourself, get shown the ropes by a friend, or go to DJ school? Did you take our DJ course? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. I started out in 1993 with 2 old turntables without pitch control which taught me to control the platter speed completely by hand which didn’t always sound the best but a few months of it before i could afford to upgrade taught me a lot.
    I didn’t know anyone else who was a DJ so had to learn by myself. No internet tutorials, books, magazines infact no real idea how to mix at all just heard plenty of mixes on tape and wanted to do the same. It certainly would have been a shorter learning process being taught by someone but i was always proud i’d learnt by myself.
    As i got older i started to scratch, again having no one to teach me as turntablism isn’t big round here. I wish id had lessons now as years of me just freestyling and guessing how to make the sounds has taken me a long time to un-learn the muscle memory but i now have the benefit of Youtube (DJ Angelo make the best scratch tutorials) but i would still prefer to have someone show me up close and point out where i go wrong.
    I would take the opportunity to learn from someone any day if i had my time again and also try out as much different equipment as possible even if your never gonna use it again as like the article says lots of the skills are transferable.
    Never stop learning and always practise.

  2. I taught myself how to DJ mainly because I didn’t have any friends that DJ. Second, I can’t afford the courses. It definitely took me a lot of trial and error and a lot of Youtube views on ellaskins’ tutorials, DJ Tech Tools and of course Digital DJ Tips. I also spent hours on listening to DJ sets to understand how they mix, blend and transition from track to track. It took a while for me to fully understand the basics and I’m no expert still. I think it’s more important that you have a mentor, someone who’s been in the scene or at least who has a deep passion to the craft. Actually the latter is much important. Get all the tutoring and the help you can get. He may not be an expert but you’ll learn bits and pieces that you can add to your style. And yeah, have a go with vinyl! It boosts your confidence if you know that you’re a versatile DJ.

  3. You should learn to beatmatch.

  4. I would say it depends on what kind of a DJ you want to be. If you are looking to make as living from being a DJ and the sooner the better – then take tuition. If you see DJ’ing as an opportunity to express yourself and want to develope your own style teaching your self is more conducive to that outcome. It’ll take longer as it is a process of trial and error and you will have to listen to your and others’ mixes in a critically constructive manner

  5. Mike Blades says:

    Learn all that you can from anyone who you can….but be wary. you dont want to develop someone else’s bad habbits. always try and push your skills to the next level and dont stop learning.

    After 16 years of being a club jock, im STILL learning things, like mixing styles, and song structure and finding old/new tracks and learning something. dont be happy once you learn enough to get you into a club….ALWAYS strive to be better than you can be

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      This is truth! It’s very easy to say “OK, I made it… the learning is over!” When indeed, that might get you a couple of months of celebrity, it’s not the path to walk. Being a DJ is like being a Scholar, you must constantly learn and adapt to what is around you.

  6. Sander Kalsbeek says:

    I think having a mentor to get you started is a great advantage. In the student union where I’m a resident DJ we offer a free course for any member who is interested in learning the trade. It is focused on teaching you the CDJ workflow, beatmatching and background information like how to build up a good set. After this however I think it’s mostly down to yourself. You can teach someone the basics of DJing, but finding your mixing style and mastering different mixing techniques is something you’ll have to achieve by lots of practice. These are things you wouldn’t want to copy one on one from your tutor since they’re quite personal.
    Furthermore I think it’s important to start playing to crowds right away. It’s the only way to acquire necessary skills like reading a crowd. It might be hard to find these opportunities in clubs, but luckily in our student union we let you DJ at parties as soon as we think you’re up to it. At first you’re accompanied by an experienced DJ to give you tips and help you out if things start going wrong, but later on you’ll get to play solo.

  7. Get a book like DJ for dummies etc. just for background knowledge so you can be “practicing” when you are not at your decks as well. Youtube vids from ellaskins are awesome and have your friend show you stuff as well. I have had friends show me things in 1 minute that I did not pick up teaching myself in years. Take all knowledge, using the book as a rough framework to what you need for understanding purposes, and figure out what you need and don’t. If you have the general knowledge from the book, you will not waste whoever’s time is teaching you as well because you will already have some background knowledge.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      This is VERY important: When you’re starting to get comfortable, DON’T get annoyed with someone trying to help you with things and say “I got it, go away.” Chances are you’re doing something that you don’t recognize as wrong and they’re trying to help you save yourself.

  8. Austin Blackwell says:

    I believe it is in most cases always better to teach yourself. In the DJ world you can’t get by just being like everyone else, you need to develop your own style. And this can’t be developed by someone else.

  9. A friend loaned me his CDJ’s for when I was learning to beatmatch, otherwise I taught myself with a lot of practice and by watching others and asking questions.

    With Youtube and sites dedicated to digital DJing there’s no reason you can’t learn the majority of the basics through these mediums, and reserve actual DJ to DJ interaction for questions, practice sessions, and gigs.

  10. Hello again,
    Personally i would save myself lots of the trail and error and if a DJ course was within reach regarding the cost i would surely take this option.

    I started to learn to use 2 decks and a mixer in 1990 and in truth it took me a very long time to get to grips with things , just recently i purchased the DDJT course as i have just switched from decks to a controller, the course in all honesty it blew me away because the instructions get the basics nailed in what seems like 5 mins clearly and very easy to understand,if this type of help was about when i started and knowing what i know now for me a course is a big time saver + as a DJ your always learning it never ends nail the basic then develop your sound.

    Best of luck whatever you do ;).

  11. I can say that I’ve benefited well from having a couple of mentors.

    Not only has it landed me work, I’ve learned a lot from them when it comes to song selection / programming , mic work, and reading the crowd, and these aren’t things that I personally would have been able to learn on my own.

    Software now a days makes it easy for DJs to be able to beat match. Making two lines match up… Anyone with 15 minutes of practice can learn the basics of that. It’s the other stuff that sets you apart from other DJs, and having some DJs teach you how to do this helps you learn faster.

    Grant it, I’m content playing top 40 music and partying with a crowd that isn’t into house / edm music, though I know that’s what a lot of DJs want to play, it isn’t going to make me any money where I live.

    If you just want to learn the skills for your own entertainment, or only plan on playing for friends and family then learning on your own is just fine, but if you get a chance to learn from a guy that’s playing in front of people, jump on it!

  12. DJ Forced Hand says:

    L Todd: There are some things you can learn from your friend who has turntables and one of the best skills being a DJ teaches you is to improvise. When you get taught how to do something with Vinyl (AKA BlaQ CraQ) you should immediately try to emulate that with your digital DJ gear… such as cueing (with nailpolish markers), beatmatching, scratching and (back spinning for) looping but the most important thing your friend can teach you is timing and how they “play the tunes like an instrument.”

    Even the Pros learn from their peers, everything is an influence and knowing how to use a tool doesn’t make you a better artist, what makes you a better artist is being able to bring your imagination to life.

    I hope that makes sense.

  13. Electricbloom says:

    Why hasn’t anyone mentioned Phils very own DJ course, the one linked on the bottom of the article? It covers all the basics very well! I took the course and it was some of the best moeny I’ve ever spent! Totally worth it. Much better then books of other (online)courses IMHO

    That said, if someone offers to teach you, why don’t you take him up on the offer? It’s always valuable to have a real person explaining things to you, and you might learn some things you wouldn’t have otherwise. :)

    • Probably because all the graduates of the course are recovering from their great DJ session last night and aren’t around to be reading this! ;)

      • It’s so funny Phil… Because it’s true! Saturday night was great.
        Your course is wonderful! Just the other day I was getting antsy. Feeling my DJing was in a rut. I wanted to take things up a notch. I went a rewatched the video on cue points, and also the one on mixing techniques. Really made a difference.
        So, DJ courses are great, but honestly, if I had a friend who could mentor me, I’d take it in a heart beat. Who doesn’t want all the tips they can get?

  14. its quite simply… if you hae someone willing to show and guide you then take him up on lessons.. after a few you will have grasped the basics… then you can build on that.

  15. DJ Gatortail says:

    I’ve been teaching myself to DJ over the last three years, getting more and more in depth as I go. I have received no hands on help from any other DJ and minimal input from non-DJ musicians.
    The time spent alone teaching myself has helped me to develop my own style, but might be hampering my ability to progress further.
    I’ve spoken with a big name DJ (he happens to be the resident DJ for many of my areas shitty night clubs and the resident for the only decent one in a 90mi radius) about mentoring or just giving a bit of advice and the only suggestion I got was “keep practicing, mentoring leads to imitation.”
    After many months of practice I’ve started to see what he means about imitation through mentoring but I feel as if there is more to be learned while working directly with someone.

  16. I would see what your friend has to offer. I had a mentor who gave me some times on what songs to play. Then, it was mostly trial and error. As for listening to other DJs as you play? If you didn’t ask for their advice, I would think twice about listening to them. The advice may be helpful. Yet, that same person maybe jealous of you being the one with the dig.

  17. I would say learn to beatmatch as a guy who learned to DJ with a sync button. The article is absolutely right when it says that other things are more important, but learning that skill has been super helpful in a number of ways. It’s helped in deep listening to tracks before I being em out live, and it’s helped with generally understanding how tracks mix worst and best. I would say to train your ear to know how certain beats and sounds go together well before a solid public debut. Sync isn’t a sin like many vinyl purists would say – it actually in many cases is VERY useful, but I personally liken it to many other career aspects – learn the rules before you break em.

  18. (Got cut off sorry!) but for real – if your friend is offering help – TAKE IT

  19. In the end you will pretty much teach yourself whichever route you go, but good to get some pointers to get you going in the right direction. Each DJ ends up doing things slightly differently too (we hope) so you also don’t have to take everything he says as ultimate truth – you can adapt his lessons as you develop.

    Forget about the “I am going to be a digital dj only” thing too. Everything that we have today is built on the foundation of using turntables, so whatever you end up doing having a bit of base knowledge is going to give you a bit of depth. Playing on turntables is quite a different thing and will change the way you think about what you are doing forever. You don’t even have to be any good at it, but spending a few hours with runaway turntables will really help you in the future.

    You’ll never find anyone who says “I regret learning how to play vinyl”, only the opposite regardless of what they’re doing now.

  20. I pretty much echo what everyone else is saying… The most important thing is learning the rules and then finding a way to bend and break them to create “DJ [name here]”. I had a friend show me a few things at first but after I learned the basic stuff I was on my own trying to break the rules. Last thing to note, enough cannot be said about stacking those hours. Practice often and play in public just as much…

  21. I use Virtual DJ Pro 7 and did it myself with tips from a friend along the way. It’s great. Now if you’re using vinyl or discs its a whole different kettle of fish. I fancy Virtual DJ instead. Everything is practically set up for you.

  22. Ok here’s my 2 pence worth.

    IMO a DJ spins vinyl or cd’s without the help of a SYNC button, Now this is not a dig at people who use the Sync button it’s just my view. Using Sync is Ok when spinning 3 or more decks but NOT just 2 that’s just being lazy and wanting instant glory, wether or not your going to use Viynl or cd’s or just mp3s etc it is ALWAYS GOOD to have experience in other fields as well.
    I refer to Djing like driving a car, what I mean is when you pass your test in a car can you drive ? The answer is clearly NO you have done enough to be let out on the road ALONE it is when your alone that you actually LEARN to drive, well it’s the same with Djing.

    LEARN LEARN LEARN & NEVER STOP LEARNING !!

    • “That’s just being lazy and wanting instant glory” – two different things. I use sync because manually syncing tunes is to me just monkey work, not because I want instant glory. It gives me more time to find the absolutely perfect next tune to play, and to mix it in tastefully. I do agree that it’s worth knowing how to do it.

  23. Def recommend having a mentor of some sort who can show you a broad overview of some technical skills, some music theory, and some crowd management ideas. If they tell you “there is only one way” to do something – they are wrong – always.

    DJ’ing is an art, skill, and science all rolled into one activity. There are many ways to approach it, but always let your voice be heard.

  24. I agree you it’s like religion take the time learn all of them then take all the good things you learn from them.. CDJs, Controllers, especially vinyl!!! Learn the roots of Djism who knows you may now want to be a digital dj but you may accidently find out you can really rock a crowd on some CDJs..

  25. I have been learning by myself. watching things on youtube, and taking advice from people who aren’t djs. The first two are very common. As they teach you the basics and get your skills down, but to me the last one is the most important. Most people I play for don’t know the first thing about DJing. So when they tell me things like hey you should mix a sick beat with a rap song you start to get ideas about things you want to try and learn. Just because someone gives you a tip doesn’t mean you should take it to heart. Try it and if you like it then do it otherwise forget it and move on. These decisions help you build your style. But I wish i had people showing me things to help me get the basics quicker!

  26. In the times of youtube there is no need for a real mentor anymore. You got the bulletins for getting comments on your sets… I started DJing in about 2005 and had a board for giving advice on buying my tts and all the other stuff.

    You should have an idea what DJing is from the technical point of view (e.g. two decks, crossfader as the basic idea…) – THEN you can work out using eqs, volumes on your own… last steps be effects, loops, live remixing techniques, whatever you like. For that catch ideas on youtube, read through blogs or develope on your own, like you did before!

  27. Hello!

    I must say learning on your own is a good start, because you get to discover “your own method” of djing. Being organized is half the battle, so having a tidy and well categorized library makes the djing easier.

    But, I have to admit that I signed up for the Phil Morse online class and for someone like me, it was perfect. I still like to go back to it, because Phil is a good teacher and the basics are well elaborated. From there, you can then “forge” yourself on the right path: your own!

    I have a friend that showed me how to dj and it was awkward because he was showing me how he does it; HIS way. It was ok, but confusing because we didn’t speak the same language (although the end result was still the same). The good side of it is the “mentor” can be a good reference in terms of questions and suggestions upon applying techniques.

    Am still learning, am still using my laptop, am saving my $ for an S4 (until something better comes along??? Suggestions?) and am still in my living room. But, that corner venue could use a little beats…. Hahahhaha. Yes, I know: public appearances is the best way to do it. Working on it!!!! :)

    Cheers to all! And thanks a many to digital dj tips, because I’m always happy to get the news, read the blogs and, of course, visit my friend Phil online for that repeat course on whatever subject I need.

    Have good one!

  28. Learning how to DJ and figure things out by yourself is really satisfying. Try it XD!

  29. shuga*foot says:

    I’m self taught. This is the best way for me. Besides all the books, blogs and videos available there are two things have helped me big time. One, I found having friends who are DJs that I can jam with invaluable. They can point out my mistakes and teach new tricks. But THE most important technique I’ve learned – record everything you do. Even if I’m mixing a 3 or 5 song combo or on the decks for an hour or more. Because it might sound right as you’re in the mix until you listen to it. Hearing it like someone in the crowd you can pick up the little details or when the flow isn’t just right. Plus you have great mixed tapes you can post later.

    • Was just discussing that with someone today! If you don’t record what you do and re-experience it as an “audience member”, it makes it much harder to get better.

      • shuga*foot says:

        For me the audience doesn’t know if I’ve used the sync button or not. Yes beat matching is important and sync makes it easier so I can concentrate on other things. But the other thing I listen for in my recordings is how I use the EQ and gain when I mix my tracks. And have I maintained the flow or is there a drop in the energy of my mix or do the tracks make a good match.

  30. I decided to learn on my own, but I found it to be a very long process facing many failure possibilities, now I’ve grown up a little bit and maybe I feel much better on the mood to learn from some experienced person.

  31. Lots to read and lots to leanr by the way. At least the love for good music is always an asset.

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