When it comes to scratching, there’s a huge advantage that traditional turntablist DJs have over the modern DJ.
And that is when a turntablist uses records to show off their scratching skills, they have an insane amount of opportunities to turn the heads of their audience towards the DJ booth.
Today almost all platter manipulations are called scratching, although it stems way back when this was used only for when a DJ would change the track’s properties using just a turntable.
If you’re serious about learning how to scratch, the single main key here is to practice. You will suck at the start but once you get better, you can then start experimenting with different sounds, styles, and scratches which will give you a unique edge and put you miles ahead of the competition.
Stay tuned because you’re about to learn how to scratch like a pro, as well as what gear you need to start. I’ll also show you some different types of scratches and give a few tips on how to generally improve your technique and skills, even if you’ve never scratched before.
What Is Scratching?
Scratching is an iconic technique among DJs. It involves spinning the turntable in a certain way, usually back and forth, to create specific sounds and rhythms. Also known as scrubbing, a DJ might scratch a sample of “drop the bass”, and it will sound like “drop the bass bass-ba-ba-ba-bass-d-d-d-drop the bass”.
The crossfader is used most of the time when scratching because you can quickly shut off the volume to make the scratches sound shorter or longer, or fade from one deck to another.
Scratching emerged back in the ’70s and was used a lot in hip hop culture from artists like Beasty Boys and Grandmaster Flash. It’s an essential skill to have you’re a DJ, and there’s no limits in experimenting how far you want to go.
Getting The Right Gear
There are a few preparations you need to undergo before you properly know how to scratch. These are:
- Finding the right gear
- Get a slipmat
- Build your own collection of records
Now, let’s go into more detail about all of those aspects.
All you’ll need is a direct-drive turntable and maybe a mixer. Some turntables have these two things in a single unit. Most modern turntables allow for scratching as well, so don’t necessarily lock your search to older or more analog models.
You can also wear headphones like the OneOdio Pro 10, which will make mixing tracks a bit easier. If you’re like me and have a small head, then you can check out my article on headphones for small heads.
Use A Slipmat
You should always use a slipmat that is placed between the record and the platter. This prevents you from stopping the whole platter once you place your fingers on the record. Basically any paper or plastic material can do the job if you don’t want to pay extra money for it. Still, anti-static slipmats like Serato DJ Slipmat (on Amazon) are the best choice on the market if when it comes to scratching.
Creating A Collection Of Sample Records
Ask any DJ who knows how to scratch, and they’ll all say you need to have a variety of records to choose from when making music. Basically, any turntablist is also a mixmaster and builds sounds upon the samples they find on records they have in their collection.
Creating music through this style takes a lot of patience and time and ultimately leads to a collage-like style that people are going to cheer you for.
Now it’s time to learn the main types of scratches out there…
The Four Main Types Of Scratches
Every turntablist starts from somewhere, and in this case, the starting point are these scratches:
- The Tear
- The Baby Scratch
- The Spinback
- The Transform
There is no specific order in which you have to learn these, as they’ll soon become a crucial part of your DJ arsenal, so let’s take a look at them one by one.
- The Tear
When you make a stop and start motion, either pushing or pulling with your fingers, you will sort of “tear” the sound into pieces. Tears can go in a lot of combinations – for example:
- Forward, forward, backward
- Backward, backward, forward
Or other variations of these. Rhythmically you can get quite the creative sounds with tears and you can add different sound effects on top of them for added “wow” factor.
- The Baby Scratch
This is the first stepping stone for all scratches. It’s done by placing your fingers on the turntable, effectively stopping the sound and then you push forward and pull back instantly. In order to achieve great baby scratches, you need to do that in a smooth motion following a certain rhythm.
You can make baby scratches before the first downbeat moving it forwards or backward in the song or even altering the way beats flows from one song to another. That way you can make smoother transitions.
- The Spinback
This is one of the more awesome techniques of how to scratch since it really adds spice to your DJ mix.
When a song is near its end place your fingers on the platter and spin it back as fast and smoothly as you can. It will create this sort of winding backward noise and as soon as you feel that it’s matching the tempo, play the next song.
It is a cool DJ transition sound which is used quite often.
- The Transform
This scratching technique’s concept is hard to grasp without visual and sound queues but here is the explanation – when using the crossfader to blend from one song to another, leave it open. This will create a sort of stuttering noise combining sounds from both songs. In the meantime, you can do baby scratches and tear scratches.
Check out this video on how to do the baby, scribble, and drag scratch.
A Few Other Things To Keep In Mind
Not all turntables can handle scratches well. Not because they will break but because the platters won’t be sensitive enough for your needs, nor will their response be accurate enough.
Low-end turntables might only be able to allow you baby scratches and that is it. Still, I suggest that you start from the bottom and work your way up on the ladder of technology. That way you will learn to be more creative with your gear and not spoil yourself.
The basic sensitivity of a 12-inch turntable equals around 133 beats per minute for a single rotation (it spins at around 33 rounds per minute). If you want to make small adjustments to the track with small movements try changing the sensibility to one of your taste.
All in all, a good DJ should always rely on his skills and never on pre-set effects built in his turntable. This is why you should always take the time to practice different crossfade effects and various scratches.
That way your audience will have the time of its life and it will all reflect back on your career.
Pro Tip: A good way to track your progress is to record your transitions and scratches and play them back to either you or your friends.
Practice Makes Perfect
It takes plenty of practice to master any skill, and scratching is no different. As a beginner, there’s no doubt you’ll struggle in the beginning. The best DJs in the world have amazing scratching skills because they put in hundreds of hours devoted to practicing.
Practice isn’t just solely for learning and creating new routines, it’s also done to perfect body tricks, combos, and of course, scratches. These techniques all require plenty of practice.
You should think of scratching routines as a type of performance that’s made up of several parts including advanced and intermediate techniques and basic scratches. The way they’re put together is what will showcase your skills, helping fans differentiate you from another DJ.
But practicing can be pretty grueling and it requires creativity, persistence, and patience. While it can be very tempting to repeat the scratches you’re already comfortable doing, the goal is to try new challenging techniques.
If you’re feeling low on energy, or you’re getting frustrated, you can certainly take a break with learning new techniques by switching to ones that you’re more comfortable with. But if certain moves have you stumbling during a performance, those are the ones you’ll want to focus on the most.
As a beginner, scratching won’t be as fun at it looks. Practicing daily will soon start to feel more like a chore, but if you want to become a scratch DJ, you need to create a practice routine and stick to it. Keep pushing yourself to learn basic techniques until you’ve mastered them. Only then should you move on to bigger and better tricks.
Is there a particular DJ you admire and aspire to be like? Are there certain sounds you want to achieve? Do your research online, checking out videos on YouTube, listening to tracks on SoundCloud, and hitting up DJ forums. Learning and talking about DJ’ing and watching the pros use different techniques should also be incorporated into your daily practice sessions.
Basically, if you want to take scratching seriously, you need to study it. These days, there are countless resources available online, take advantage of those resources in order to continue to grow as an artist.
As you’ve learned by now, learning how to scratch is easier with the right gear and by using the proper techniques. Becoming a great scratcher will take dedication, persistence, and daily practice.
Once you’ve got that motivation to keep going and you’re practicing every day, you’ll soon notice yourself improving. You can watch hundreds of videos and go to dozens of shows, but if you’re not practicing you’ll never get better.