What is beatmatching?
Beatmatching is the act of adjusting the tempo of a track so it matches the tempo of the track that is playing. By playing both tracks at the same tempo, the DJ can blend two songs together seamlessly. It doesn’t matter if you are DJing with vinyl, controllers or CDJs, learning how to beatmatch is an essential skill for any DJ.
Imagine you are a stuntman on top of a moving car, and you have to jump from one car (deck A) to another car (deck B). To do this both cars need to be next to each other moving at the same speed.
But I can just use the sync button!
In the age of digital DJing, we have technology to help us when mixing. Digital software can detect tempo, key and do many more things to make mixing easier. Sync can be very useful in certain situations, but you can not always depend on technology to help you. If the sync function suddenly stops working (maybe someone spilled beer on your controller?) and you don’t know how to beatmatch by ear, your mixing will suffer. If you already know how to beatmatch manually, nobody will notice and everything will sound great. As a beginner it is tempting to just let the software do all the work, but if you want to be a good and respected DJ, it is important to “earn your stripes”. Some DJs also find beatmatching by ear to be more fun than just using software.
How to beatmatch
First you need to select two tracks within similar tempo-range. Some genres are easier to beatmatch than others. Hip hop beats are produced with sounds that are slightly off beat, and can be harder to beatmatch, but it is a good way to practise. Electronic music is the easiest way to learn, as all the kicks and snares line up well with each other. Music played by real musicians with live instruments tend to fluctuate alittle bit in different tempos, so it will be harder to beatmatch and you will have to adjust the pitch as the song is playing to keep it playing at the same speed.
Turn down the volume for deck B and start playing the track in deck A. While listening in your headphones, find the first beat of the track you have selected for deck B, this is usually a kick drum. This is where you will start your track. Some people prefer to cue up their tracks using snares instead, but for simplicity we are going to use the first kick drum as an example, Try it for yourself and see what you are most comfortable with.
Using the pitch fader
If you just throw in the song from deck B, the chances are it will sound horrible, as the two tracks will be playing at different tempos. Keep one hand on the pitch fader and press play. As you hear the kicks and snares drift apart, adjust the pitch fader up or down. Go back to the first beat again, and hit play one more time and see if the two tracks are playing at the same tempo. In the beginning this will take some time, but with time and hours of practise you will be able to do it in seconds.
As the two tracks are playing together, you might hear that one of the tracks are playing little bit faster or slower. A simple way to keep the two tracks playing seamlessly is nudging the platters. There are many ways to do this, you can use the jogwheels on a controller, gently touch the vinyl or nudge the pitch fader. See the videos down below for some useful tips on how to do this.
When you have the two tracks playing at the same tempo. Slowly bring up the volume fader (or you can use the crossfader), fade out the first track and you have done your first mix!
Another simple tip for quick beatmatching:
Check out Jeff Mills Exhibitionist mix for an excellent demonstration of beatmatching by ear. It’s all vinyl with 3 turntables. You can hear the tracks drift apart a little sometimes, but watch closely as Jeff Mills brings the tracks back in sync.