If you’re a beginner DJ, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the very first things that you should learn when starting out DJing right after you get your very first DJ controller. These 5 techniques are the very basis of every digital DJ’s skill set, and knowing them is essential when you want to really get into the fascinating world of live music mixing. Grab your controllers and let’s begin!
Check out also: 5 Best Pioneer DJ Controllers For Beginners in The Current Year!
1. Beatmatching – the very basics
Beatmatching is one of the fundamental techniques in DJing, and mastering it can help you make a significant difference in your early DJ sets.
Beatmatching is essentially the process of aligning the tempos of two or more tracks so that they play in sync with each other.
The idea here is to make sure that the beats of one track match with the beats of the other, which will in turn aid you with creating a seamless live transition between the songs using the crossfader or mixer faders on your DJ controller or mixer.
The very basics of beatmatching involve first matching the tempo (measured in BPM – beats per minute) of your tracks, and then aligning the beats of both playing tracks in such a way that they play in sync. You can achieve this by using the pitch faders for BPM matching and the jog wheel (specifically the jog wheel’s edge) for aligning beats.
Don’t know where these parts are on a DJ controller and what exactly do they do? Check out this helpful guide: DJ Controllers Explained! (What Do All These Buttons Do?)
With practice, you’ll be able to match the beats of two chosen tracks with ease, and move on to more advanced DJing techniques. Remember, mastering the basics of beatmatching is key to becoming a skilled DJ and one of the first skills you should learn right after getting your very first DJ controller.
Tip: Pick two tracks with similar BPM that feature a 32-beat intro in the beginning and a 32-beat outro at the end and try to mix them together by beatmatching the outro of the first track to the intro of the other. If you succeeded, congratulations! You’ve done your first professional track transition via beatmatching! The next level here will be learning how to use your EQ during these kind of basic transitions.
2. Track phrasing – level up
After getting the gist of beatmatching, it’s essential to have a good understanding of the structure of the music you’re mixing.
Track phrasing is another essential aspect of DJing that can make your sets sound more professional. The sole term “phrasing” refers to the way a track is structured (which of course is depended on the track’s genre), and how it builds and releases the musical tension over time.
Understanding track phrasing involves paying attention to the separate elements of the structure of a track, such as the breakdown, build-up, drop, and outro and making use of this knowledge during your transitions.
Each of the track’s structural elements can be thought of as sort of a phrase within the track. By mixing tracks in a way that takes these phrases into account, you can create a smooth flow between tracks in the same genre, and keep the energy level of your set consistent.
To learn to “phrase your tracks” effectively, it’s important to have a good understanding of the songs you’re mixing. You need to not only know your music library well, but also be wary of the individual structures of the tracks you’re going to play. Don’t worry though! The track structures within one genre are most often very similar, especially when it comes to electronic music and EDM overall. The experience will come with practice.
In the beginning you can simply try to take note of the key musical elements, and listen for cues that signal changes in the track’s structure and transitions between the track’s “building blocks”.
You most probably already know two structural elements of many EDM tracks – the buildup and the drop. Look at the waveform view of the song audio file and try to find out where each of these begin and end!
Once you’ve identified the phrases in your songs, you can begin to mix them in a way that takes the actual phrasing into account. For example, you can start mixing in the build-up of one track with the breakdown of another to create a seamless transition – this is an extremely common transition when mixing electronic dance music. With practice, you’ll be able to use track phrasing to create a smooth and dynamic flow between songs, and take your DJing to the next level.
Tip: If you’re just starting out you can use your available hot-cue points to mark the key moments in your track structure such as the ending of the intro, the breakdown, or the beginning of the outro. This way you can not only become more wary of these parts in a live situation, but you’ll also be able to skip to them instantly if you mess up your timings, say when you’re trying to beatmatch outros of two chosen tracks together.
Want more useful tips on DJing? Well, check out this: 10 More Helpful Tips For The New Beginner DJs
3. Using the EQ during transitions
After you’ve got beatmatching and track phrasing down, there comes the time for the much important part – learning how to utilize the equalizer on your DJ controller’s mixer during your transitions.
The main way you should be using your EQ when you’re performing a transition between two different tracks, is to ensure that the bass frequencies in your songs won’t clash together in the short while they will be playing simultaneously during the actual transition.
How do you do that? Before you enter the transition, bring down the “low” equalizer knob on the track you’re going to mix into. During the transition itself, gradually bring down the lows on the track you’re about to transition out from, and at the same time bring up the lows on the track you’re doing a transition to.
While this might not sound much, it really does make the transition cleaner, especially with modern bass-heavy EDM tracks. It’s even more effective when you’re mixing in a club environment at higher dB levels – this is where bass frequencies clashing can really mess up even the best transitions or live mashups.
Tip: There are actually many other creative ways you can use the EQ during a mix. For instance, slightly lowering the bass levels on a track during the buildup and the bringing it back at once for the drop can also be a neat trick to have up the sleeve.
4. Drop mixing / double drop mixing
Drop mixing or double drop mixing, are techniques used by DJs to create a high-energy mix by synchronizing the “drop” or climax of two tracks in a basic form of a mashup.
Double drop mixing involves either mixing two drops together simultaneously, or swapping drops of two different tracks live. The essence of executing this technique right is finding two tracks that will work together well enough both musically (in terms of key and BPM), and when it comes to their structure.
While drop mixing and double drop mixing can be very flashy when done correctly, you have to keep a few things in mind. First, as we’ve mentioned, not every pair of tracks is suitable for drop mixing, and choosing two random songs for a drop mix most of the time (if not always) isn’t a good idea. Second, if you’re a beginner, you might want to prepare your drop mixes in advance and only then utilize them in your final live mix. While it’s one of the most fun techniques that you can learn early on, it also requires some amount of practice and preparation.
Here is our guide on double drop mixes alongside with a short example video, check it out if you’re interested in learning how to drop mix in a matter of minutes: What Is A Double Drop? – How To Do A Double Drop Mix?
Tip: Try and find two songs with matching keys, tempo, genre and with similar structure. Can you come up with a double drop mix using these on the spot?
5. Leveraging the FX
Audio FX are an essential tool for DJs to add interest and variety to their mixes, and one of their many creative tools when it comes to manipulating the played tracks live. And quite frankly, they are in most cases the easiest to overuse if you’re just starting out.
It’s essential to remember to use audio FX sparingly and in the right context, as their repeated use can simply become boring, predictable and disrupt the music playback rather than add creative value to it. As we often mention, overusing your effects live is one of the things that beginner DJs tend to do a lot, and most if not all audiences really don’t like that.
Popular ways to use FX during your set are for example using echo or reverb for abrupt cue-out track transitions, adding filters or pitch effects during a song’s buildup or using more complex time-based FX to add more tension to your mix. While FX are definitely powerful creative tools, be sure that you don’t overuse the creative freedom that most modern mixing equipment gives you.
Tip: Use audio FX sparingly and only where it’s appropriate to do so. Remember that the genre of music you’re mixing will help you to guess how much is too much in the given context. Overusing FX is especially noticeable with songs that your audience knows and remembers well!
Bonus: Learn song selection and track organization!
We can’t stress this enough: managing your track library in the right way is one of the most important skills a DJ should acquire early on.
As your music library will surely be growing as you progress on your DJing journey, you have to come up with ways to help yourself not to get lost in the abundance of tracks you will be discovering. Luckily, there are some good old and tested ways to do just that!
In the era of music streaming services it’s especially easy to get lots in thousands of tracks available instantaneously to be played from your chosen supplier’s cloud resources. Don’t forget that you still need to know your music reasonably well to be able to plan and prepare your sets and make live decisions regarding upcoming songs.
See our extensive guide on track sorting and organizing here, it’s really worth a quick read: How To Organize Your Tracks/Songs – DJ Playlists Guide
Main article photo: Moises Alex