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DJ Equipment – BPM (Beats Per Minute) – Your First Mix

dj direct-drive turntables, cross-faders

Now, on to beat mixing: in Part I I discussed the basics of DJing and promised I would return with some more advanced hints on the magic of beat mixing, but in case you forgot (or you have not yet read the last issue), a brief re-cap of the basics of beat mixing:

Beat mixing is using the pitch adjustment on your turntable to match the tempo or Beats Per Minute (BPM) of the next track with the one you are currently playing. You do this by listening to the next track through the headphones and comparing the tempo to the track currently thumping the dance floor.

The best way to learn beat mixing from the beginning is to try to get two identical records. Obviously, two identical records can’t be out of synch if you set the pitch control to the same setting on both tables. If you don’t have two of the same sides, next best is picking two discs that are both nearly the same tempos and have clear rhythmical sounds. This means a big bad bass kick at the start of a bar and a clear snare hit or high hat sounds marking the other beats in the bar. Pick tracks that go right into beats and not into soft strings or other ambient sounds.

Now we’re ready to do your first mix:

Start by setting one record to play and "cue" the next record up. Make sure the cross-fader is over to the side that has the playing track so that no sound comes out of the speakers from the cue channel. Cue the new track by putting the needle at the start of the record and let it play out past the static. Stop at the first sound of music. The cue channel should be coming out of your headphones.

The turntable platter should be rotating underneath the record while your finger holds the record stopped in position. If you do this right, you’ve cued the sound to the first beat of the first bar of the track. You should hold this beat so that the sound in the groove (in the vinyl) is underneath the needle. When you move your hand the beat sounds slowly through your headphones.

The tricky part now is to start this beat at the same time as first beat of the bar of the currently playing track.

The beats should now overlap as both tracks play at the same time. Dropping a cue track in time with the track playing out is not easy. And for some people, like AudioMan, might be impossible!

But for the rest of us, with enough practice, you can get the hang of it. Hey, if it was too easy no one would need a DJ!

Overlapping the beats (having two tracks "in time") allows two tracks to play simultaneously without sounding too cluttered.

Now that you have the two records started, there is one more skill you have to master.

Remember, tracks that have different tempos will drift out of time. Take your time – stop, look, listen – did you hear the kick of the bass or the snap of a snare in your headphone first? Was it slightly behind? When you are adjusting the pitch to match tempos use your left hand to speed up or slow down the cue record and keep your right hand on the pitch adjustment slider for the turntable in play.

If the cue track is getting behind, speed it up by giving the record a push in the middle – remember our discussion last time about a direct-driven table? This is what that direct-drive is for.

If the cue track is getting ahead, gently slow the platter down by touching the side.

Remember to adjust the overall tempo using the turntable’s pitch adjustment after you make these changes. This means that the two tempos should get closer and closer together. When two tracks are closely matched they will stay in synch long enough for you to cross-fade the record in play. AudioMan says I can talk more about cross-fading later – if you can’t wait – check out our cross-faders in the store.

One final word on beat mixing:

The secret to beat mixing is to train your ear to recognize the slight difference in BPMs between the track playing out and the cue track in your headphone. My best advice is to pick a beat to compare – say the first beat in a bar – for both tracks and listen for this beat only. Try to hear if the beat in one track is hitting before the beat in the other track.

Now all you need to do is buy the turntables and the records and start practicing.

Next time we get together, I’d like to take you to the next step in DJing, cross-fading and equalizing with your mixer.

That’s all for now, ’til next time, good spinning.

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