How To Beat Match And Why You Should Learn It

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, all good DJs need to know this one essential skill. Here’s why and how!

Many moons ago, before the age of BPM meters and readouts, all DJs had to learn an age-old technique in order to be able to mix music. This forgotten way of the warrior is known as “beatmatching” and as a DJ, your main job is to keep the dancefloor pumping all night.

The only way for this to happen is 1) your choice of music, 2) your ability to make smooth transitions from one track to the next, and 3) how you interact with the crowd and your own performance. If you can’t manage 1 and 2, you’re seriously going to struggle.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why beatmatching is an important skill to learn and why every DJ should know how to do it.

What the Hell Does It Mean?

Beatmatching is what it says on the tin, and it literally means to match up beats so the tracks play together simultaneously. The DJ achieves this by matching up the phrases and tempos of the separate tracks, which in turn, assimilates the sound as if one track is playing. This is essentially what mixing is all about – creating one long and seamless piece of music without any pauses or breaks.

Why Do I Need to Know How To Do It?

Beat matching is an artform as much as it is a skill. The thing is that once you know how, it really does become second nature. More importantly, because your ears will be trained to recognize when two beats are off, you’ll be able to fix your mix quickly and the crowd will probably be none the wiser.

Of course, there is the easy way to mix these days, via the sync button. However, we’ll tell you not to expect to go beyond your DJ controller or bedroom much if you’re not prepared to learn beatmatching.

It’s all good and well having a killer playlist of tunes ready to unleash on the crowd, but if you don’t know how to mix them together accurately and there’s no sync button to save you – it can often result in what DJs call a “trainwreck.”

This is an awful clashing of track tempos which sounds like a pair of shoes going round in a tumble dryer. It really is the worst nightmare for most disc jockeys, and there’s always other things that can go wrong too, but you should rarely have to worry if you’re willing to nail this essential mixing technique.

How To Beatmatch

Being able to accurately beatmatch your tracks opens up a wide scope of creative possibilities when you mix. You’ll find it’s not only heaps of fun and challenging at the same time, but once you’ve mastered it you’ll be able to experiment with different genres and tempos more too. So, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to beatmatch correctly, and you can apply this to anything you’re mixing on i.e. CDJs, turntables, or controller.

  1. Pick two tracks you want to mix. We always advise to start with 2 when you’re first learning to beatmatch. Once you’re confident you can look at including a third or fourth track later if you want.
  2. Play track 1 and turn up the fader or move the crossfader over to that player, so that the sound is coming out of the master channel. This is what the crowd will hear.
  3. Cue up the start of the second track on deck 2, so that it can only be heard in your headphones. Unless it’s a long intro without beats, mostly you’ll want to hit play on the first beat of the bar (1,2,3,4: play).
  4. After a few seconds, you’ll start to hear if the drum beats begin to fall out of time with each other. This is the point where you need to adjust the tempo so that they find each other again.
  5. Make adjustments using the pitch slider. Bring it up if you need to increase the speed of the song or slide it down if you need to the beats to be slower.
  6. Stop the track in your headphones and cue it up again to see if it sounds more in time. You might need to repeat the above a couple of times to get it right at first.
  7. Now the 2 tunes are matched, you can focus on mixing. Go back to the cue point and play the second track at the start of the phrase. If you start on the exact beat of the other track, you shouldn’t need to make many adjustments, but you can use the jog wheels/platter to nudge the track forwards or backwards if you were a fraction late with pressing play.
  8. Repeat the process with every new track you want to introduce into the mix!

You should only need to make minor adjustments to the tempo during the mix if they are near enough matched at this point. It’s going to take practice and time to get used to differentiating  between the different beats and rhythms in each tune, but it will help you to understand the composition elements better.

Another thing to note is the fact that you might have tracks which are a lot shorter than the one you’re playing. In which case, it’s probably better to pick another track to practice with. Make sure you adjust the volume in your headphones during the cuing up phases as well, as this can sound different if you haven’t EQed it properly and result in being too quiet on the dancefloor or too loud.

3 Tips for Beatmatching

1 – Mix the same tracks

Mixing 2 of the same tracks is a fantastic way to get your ears used to hearing the beats and drum patterns. You’ll know if you’ve managed to do it because it shouldn’t sound any different than if just one version of that track was playing. It might be slightly louder… but that’s it.

2 – Practice your timing

Timing is crucial when it comes to mixing. If you miss a beat, it can be a real task trying to get it back into the right place. This is why you should get used to counting the beats, bars and phrases. You’ll probably find you won’t need to do this once you’ve mastered beatmatching, as you can naturally tell the places in the track where you would drop it in.  

3 – Match the kicks or claps

Depending on what genre you’re mixing, some always say that matching the claps in genres like EDM makes it easier to follow the patterns and phrases. Other use kicks as reference points in genres like Hip Hop or Drum and Bass – experiment and see which works better for you and your mixing style.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, It’s not going to be the end of your music career if you don’t learn how to beatmatch, but you’re likely to miss out on opportunities if you’re unable to play on equipment without sync.

Anyone can press that button and probably achieve the same desired effect – (just look at Paris f***in’ Hilton), so it’s really up to you if you want to broaden your DJ skills, and put in the effort to learn the basics behind your craft or not. After all, once you’ve mastered techniques such as this, it frees up your focus and leaves a lot more room for you to get creative with other parts of your set. This could be experimenting with different genres, adding loops and some cool effects, or maybe you’ll learn how to scratch and become the next Qbert!  

It’s these kind of skills which will give your audience something to get excited about and give them a DJ set to remember.

Different types of DJ equipment

DJ Headphoes

You can’t DJ properly if you can’t hear what you’re doing or gauge what the audience is hearing. This is why a top-class pair of headphones is essential in any DJ setup. There are hundreds of great headphones on the market, but what you need to factor in when buying is whether they will be in-ear or over-ear, the cup size, orientation, comfort, and durability, among other things.

Different types of DJ equipment

speakers

 If you haven’t got some already and need to add speakers to your shopping list, you’ll want to avoid cheap brands and opt for some which are powerful but suitable for your DJing environment. You wouldn’t go out and buy a huge PA system if you live in a cupboard under the stairs, and you wouldn’t invest in some tiny desk speakers if you are mixing in a large room with thick walls and high ceilings. A set of speakers that fit somewhere in the middle is best.

Different types of DJ equipment

DJ Software

If you’re looking to play solely digital, you’re going to want to invest in some good software. Some DJs who play from USB still do not use software, but the truth is, it can seriously help you stay organized. Software not only allows you to prepare your tracks into neat and tidy playlists, but it also detects the BPM and key of all your tunes, lets you set hot cues, make loops, mashups, and other really cool stuff that wouldn’t be possible if you simply stuck all your tunes on a USB stick or burned them to CD. If you’re just starting out as a DJ, there’s no question that using a high-quality software program will make mixing easier and your sets sound better.

Different types of DJ equipment

Controllers

 DJ controllers are highly convenient because they are an all-in-one setup that you can carry around with you, then plug in and play right off the bat. They also eliminate the need to spend thousands on individual pieces of gear. There are many different types of DJ controllers that are ideal for beginners, each with different functions, personalities, and more. Some are fantastic for multi-deck mixing, changing the volume, tempo, track settings, looping, panning, playing drum pads, and even scratching.

Different types of DJ equipment

mixers

For any analog DJ setup, a mixer is an essential bit of kit. Besides being used to make seamless transitions from one song to another, they also have a wide range of other functions. The crossfader can be used to make epic scratch performances, while the vertical sliders control the volume levels, panning, and can be used in conjunction with effects. They also act as a soundcard to process the music signal you’re sending out to your audience, and let you cue up your next track in your headphones while the current song is playing.

Different types of DJ equipment

Turntables

As mentioned, mixing on turntables is the classic way of DJing, and even some digital DJs still have a vinyl player or two in their repertoire. Turntables are ideal for those who want to get into scratching. They also allow you to switch between songs and albums, slow down tempos, alter the pitch, and do other creative tricks. While laptops and digital DJ setups are the most popular in this day in age, we still recommend learning how to mix on vinyl, even if you don’t plan to buy turntables or use them in your setup. The saying is true – if you can play on wax, you can play on anything.