What’s up with that Hamster Style?!
One of the most common comments I receive from DJs who watch my scratch tutorials and DJcity Scratch Combo of the Month breakdowns relates to DJs who wish I didn’t scratch and teach with my crossfader in reverse / hamster style.
(For an overview and video of the difference between the two different crossfader styles, check out this article: Hamster vs Regular.)
In the scratch DJ world, it makes little sense to keep switching crossfader styles, so we tend to pick one style and go all in with it on our way to scratch mastery and my preferred style is indeed hamster / reverse.
Switching crossfader styles is a bit like skateboarding, surfing, or snowboarding switch stance – it feels awkward unless you dedicate a great deal of practice time to get used to it, which most of us don’t. Just like my switch stance in skateboarding and surfing is awkward, doesn’t flow and is not something I’d want you to see, the same is true for my regular style scratching beyond the absolute basics.
My regular style is kinda clunky and I wouldn’t be able to explain the techniques to you with the same ease that I do when breaking it down in my natural hamster style. With me so far?
At the same time I totally understand the comments and viewpoint of regular style scratch DJs wanting to learn from me and the great news is that if you DO scratch that way, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to learning with me or any other hamster / reverse crossfader style DJ. Woop!
In this article, I’ll show you an approach which might help you open up to the possibilities. Just add a little sprinkling of patience.
By slowing down, taking a little time to dissect and understand what is going on with the fader and then and applying yourself, I think that you will find that it’s very possible.
I believe this is true because I have been through that exact same process to learn from regular DJs who scratch with the crossfader the opposite way round to me.
Let’s take a look at how you can learn whichever way round you use your crossfader.
The Basic Elements
Scratching at its essential core can be broken down into moving the record backwards and forwards whilst opening and closing the crossfader.
We can take these principles and apply them to whichever crossfader style we use, hamster or regular, by thinking of the crossfader as simply being opened or closed.
Let’s break some basic scratches down into simple steps using the OPEN and CLOSED crossfader method.
A Forward would be:
- Start with the fader closed at the beginning of the sample.
- Open the fader and let the record go.
- Close the fader at the end of the sample.
- Rewind the record.
A Chirp would be:
- Start with the fader open at the start of the sample.
- Push the record forward and close the fader.
- Open the fader and rewind the record.
The Transformer scratch would be:
- Start with the fader closed
- Move the record forward and at the same time open and close the fader repeatedly in quick succession to create multiple sounds.
A Flare would be:
- Start with the fader open at the start of your sample.
- Play the sample forward.
- Close and open the fader at the halfway point of the sample.
Get the idea?
Top Tips for Regular Scratch Students
Here are my top tips for learning scratches from videos in which the tutor uses the crossfader is the other way round from your own style.
If you are just starting out, learn the basic scratches first and watch them from the point of view of the crossfader being OPEN or CLOSED.
I recommend these as a starting point:
Pretty much all advanced scratches and combos (combinations) are made up of a very simple sequences of these individual scratches above.
What I do when watching regular tutorials is watch when the fader is being opened and closed, maybe write it down on paper, then take it over to hamster and apply it the other way round.
In my tutorials I explain the techniques in terms of open and closed fader to help both styles of crossfader user.
Here is a demo taken from the School of Scratch Classroom which shows some of the basic scratches being performed regular style:
Please note that this is NOT a tutorial – it is a demo of the techniques to give students who have gone through the full tutorials an idea of how to apply the knowledge.
I truly believe that if you decide to learn a scratch, by focusing on understanding when the fader is open and closed you can learn from any tutorial regardless of the crossfader style being used.
Why not pick one tutorial to test it out on? Take your time, experiment, practice and find out what you are capable of with a little focus and effort.
Previously, I’ve scratched in both fader styles – starting off in regular when I was first learning and ending up switching over to hamster / reverse. This was because I learnt the 2 Click Orbit from a Prime Cuts tutorial in hamster, loved it so much and decided to stick with it, converting all my other scratches to that style.
I have learnt from videos of many regular scratch DJs including D-Styles, Rafik, Yoshi and Angelo.
The key is to zoom out and see the bigger picture – it’s just opening and closing a fader in a certain order.
I really don’t have any more skills than you, I just take the time to really break it down. If you knew how long it took me to learn some scratches it would shatter perception that it’s talent or that my brain is wired to understand, trust me!
What about the Twiddle and Crab?
The only techniques that are a little different are the twiddle and crab, which are particular finger and fader techniques that require a little adapting when switching crossfader style, although after some practice it all feels very similar.
In my School of Scratch tutorials I demonstrate these fader techniques in both hamster and regular to get you started. Just add practice!
Scratch combos (combos is an abbreviation of “combination”) as the name might suggest are a combination of individual scratch techniques strung together to create a sequence or “phrase” of scratches.
My DJcity Scratch Combo of the Month series (see below) is aimed at intermediate to advanced students, who can already do the basic scratches in whichever crossfader style they prefer.
I break these combos down in terms of the sequence of individual scratches that it is made up from e.g.
- Swing flare (slice, forward dice, reverse dice)
- Swing flare (slice, forward dice, reverse dice)
If you can do the basic scratches which make up the combo, you can put them together to create the whole.
Take it slowly is my number one recommendation and don’t be afraid to revisit the basic scratches if you are struggling.
Also remember that these combos are designed to give you ideas as you go off and create your own expressions. You don’t have to do them exactly the same. Be free!
School of Scratch Students Experience
I thought it would be interesting to get some insights from my community of School of Scratch Students who scratch regular style about their experience learning with me.
“If you are regular and have learnt from me, would you be willing to share in the comments below your experience? How did you do this? What helped you? Is there a way you use my teaching in hamster to convert it to regular. Do you have any tips? Appreciate any light you can shed.”
Here are the replies:
Daniel – For me there are 2 things… 1st, is that the way you teach, it rarely matters… ‘open and close the fader’ is enough… however most cases where it matters, (like talking twiddle technique) you offer a regular explanation…
2. For me, it would actually be more of an ‘issue’ if you were regular… I’m a right hand on the record-regular…. so for me your fader movements are exactly the same (you just use your other hand!) So when im in the lesson its very easy to follow along in that regard.
Andreas – I actually never had any problems what so ever learing from you Emma or any other one scratching hamster style. Knowing the notation for the specific scratch is key, that way it doesn’t matter how the scratch is performed. If the scratch notation isn’t available I just use the app CoachesEye where I can record and slow down the scratches I want to learn, awesome app. The hard part for me is when it’s poor video quality, you need to be able to see if the fader is open or closed but that’s where experimenting and finding out what sounds best for you comes in. Might even become a completely new scratch in the end just because you like a specific scratch better with e.g Transforms instead of Flares, I think that’s pretty cool. Another good thing with CoachesEye is that when you slow down the video of a scratch you hear every individual scratch sound much better, pretty important when listening to superfast scratches.
Andrew – I agree with Daniel and Andreas, the way how you break down stuff , it doesn’t matter honestly if your hamster or regular lol , you do a very good job at simplifying the techniques, it’s extremely hard for anyone to Not understand the tutorials , basically you explain and we practice.
Solrac – A click is a click, whichever way you cut it.
Stephen – I first started scratching in regular and didn’t have any problems learning from your videos. I just use to automatically flip it into regular in my head and then just go for it. Maybe a tip is not to think too much about it being impossible and just concentrate on how it looks in regular.
Anthony King – Because the scratches are broke down into single techniques/ movements it’s easy to reverse each step into regular.
Jms – Same for me…I didn’t initially learn from you but I just go by the open fader / closed fader instructions. I use my hands like you but I scratch regular. I have been able to learn the boomerang and A8 autobahn with your teaching. Never had any issues learning from you because of your crossfader style.
Rami – Well it was impossible for me at the beginning to learn from you, I remember it was so frustrating, maybe because i was new to scratching plus i always wanted to jump on more advanced techniques , what helped me is that i learnt all the basic technique by name and sounds and time . i would copy a scratch you teach super slow for about 10 min while the platter is off also break it down in small section and try to figure out how it works. After that it’s a matter of time now i can learn any scratch you teach in 10 min … But to make it perfect still takes time.
Adrian – For me I don’t bother looking at your fader hand at all cause it just messes me up instead I focus on the record hand and I listen very carefully when you do the technique breakdown section.
Jeremy – I started scratching regular and eventually switched to hamster. Certainly the hand motions take some getting used to but really for me it was all about listening to your scratches at different speeds and trying to replicate the sounds!
Side note: You might have noticed that time and practice crop up in many of the students comments. It really does pay off whichever way you scratch.
The CoachesEye app that Andreas mentioned caught my attention. How inventive!
I asked him more about it:
Q: Do you film the tutorials playing on the screen?
Andreas: Yes, it’s all easy peasy within that app. After filming it’s just to slow it down either manually frame by frame or run it in slowmo-mode. Learnt the Spair flare that way… that was one tricky scratch for me to get down.
YouTube has a speed control button and I believe this app gives way more control. I am yet to test it out. You can download it here.
My newest combo tutorials also feature slowmo to make it easier to learn.
Are you open to the possibility of learning from DJs and tutors who use their faders the opposite way round to you? With time, practice and patience, I promise you it is totally possible.
Why cut yourself off from the wealth of information that is out there, just because it takes a little effort to understand? Why not get stuck in and you might be surprised at what you can learn and accomplish!
If you are a regular scratch DJ and you haven’t already, I challenge you to have a go at learning from a hamster DJ. I have some free tutorials you can play with here.
What is your experience of learning from DJs who scratch with their fader the opposite way round to you?
Do you have any tips or insights?
Feel free to share in the comments below.
Happy Scratching, whichever crossfader style you use! 😀
– Emma Short-E