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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.