From The Forum: How Can I Better Learn My Tunes?

Phil Morse | Read time: 3 mins
music library song structure
Last updated 16 November, 2017


Developing your ‘waveform intelligence’ and learning to use cue points to your advantage are two ways of jogging your memory about the structure of tunes in order to mix them better.

Digital DJ Tips forum member Chris Webb writes: “How do you get to understand and ‘remember’ your tunes? To what level can you recall them when you’re thinking about what song to play next?

“I’m really new to digital DJing (still got my SL1200s but they’ve been gathering dust for a while!), but I love music – always have. I listen to a lot of it and regularly, and yet for some reason, even with those songs that I’ve listened to all my life, I still only ever seem to have a ‘vague’ memory of them before they’re actually playing (it’s more of a gut feel that ‘oh, this track would go well next’).

“I usually can’t remember how they start (unless it’s a blindingly obvious intro), nor how the initial intro breaks into the bassline etc. I’m really interested to know the level of detail other people have with their music and how they get that level – is it instinctive, or do you listen and ‘actively’ remember in some way?

“Do you have special tips on how you practise mixing with new tunes to get a better feel for records? Do you use cue points for anything other than markers for use in the mix (I have considered using them as a labels to give me a quick review of a track once it’s in the deck)?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

I think you’re right to think about this, but the fact that you instinctively “know” what you want to play next is about a thousand times more important than remembering song structures. I offer you that fact as encouragement, because you can learn to mix pretty much anything into anything, but knowing what to mix is much harder (and much more important).

Using cue points as memory triggers is a great idea, because you can save them with the track so quickly work out what happens and in what order. If your software lets you save loops, you can save a loop of the beats at the beginning of a track which will give you infinite beats to mix into as well, meaning you don’t have to be so sure how a track starts every time.

If your DJ software marks the waveforms every minute with a small line in the display, you can work out how far into the track certainly things like the first break occur, just by looking. Ditto the “sound” of the track, as long as the waveforms are coloured, as it’s easy then to spot if the track is predominantly bass or there are mid (eg melody/vocal) bits going on.

I am a big fan of annotating my tracks in the comments. I use “MWW” to indicated “mixes well with” and then note any tunes I’ve mixed well into our out of involving that track, which means you don’t have to start from scratch in working out a great mix every time, but you can take it even further than this if you really want – look at the DJ notation system invented by Philip Age for a truly organised way of tagging your music!

I also believe in keeping a lean “A list” set, and listening to it often. Have your main playlist on your iPod, in the background on your home stereo, in your car, at work, and just have it going in the background. You can eliminate tunes you don’t like, and at the same time you’re subconsciously “learning” all the others. Just because you’ve known a song for years, doesn’t mean you can remember much about it – you have to constantly listen and remind yourself. (How many movies have you seen? How much can you really remember about most of them?)

• Our readers Terry_42, Rodders, Steelo, DarioJ and others go into more detail on many of these points over on the knowing your tunes forum post that this question originally appeared on.

What are your little tricks for learning your tunes? What do you use to jog your memory when you’re DJing? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Click here for your free DJ Gear and software guide