Studio Scratches reader JV recently emailed asking this question – JV I tried to email you back but your address was wrong so I’m replying here for the benefit of all – hope you are reading!
Is rhythm just something you get over time with experience and more practice? Because I learn scratch techniques but then when I try em out on a freestyle I sound terrible. I sound like im mashing my whole scratch arsenal together. I can’t seem to get a good solid flow on even basic scratches. Also I find myself doing the same moves over and over, is there anything I can do or change to fix my problems?
Great questions! Perhaps one of the most overlooked areas in learning how to scratch is rhythm. The focus tends to be on techniques and clicks but this is all useless if it doesnt sound good over the beat and this is where rhythm comes in.
I definitely think that some people have an inbuilt sense of rhythm but I also believe that it can be learnt.
I would break it down into 3 parts:
- Learning about rhythm
- Learning scratch techniques
- Bringing 1 and 2 together
1 – Learning about rhythm: Learn how to count bars and learn about how a bar can be broken down – this should give you more ideas on how where to place your scratches.
2 – Learning scratch techniques: It sounds like you are already learning the techniques – check out my free scratch tutorials that breakdown the techniques.
3 – Bringing 1 and 2 together: I have aimed to make my scratch tutorial videos simple and show you how it works with timing and rhythm over a beat. At the end of each video I do some patterns and then leave space for you to copy them after.
With regards to doing the same moves over and over again, that’s where combo scratches come in. As you learn more techniques you can link them together. Stay inspired and listen to other Scratch DJs for ideas.
I am actually producing a comprehensive how to scratch course with an ebook and downloadable high quality videos that demystifies scratching and shares everything I have learnt over the last 11 years, not just techniques, but how to approach practice and advice and coaching if you get frustrated. It may even encourage you to know that I quit scratching once for many months!
When I was starting out I was terrible. I couldn’t even do a simple scratch. My baby scratches sounded like the turntable equivalent of someone playing the violin very very badly. What I had in mind was the result I wanted. I truly desired to become brilliant at scratching. I yearned for it. Sure, practice was sometimes frustrating as I was way better in my head, but slowly it started to translate over. I’m still better in my head but it is translating more and more each day!
- Start simple – Begin with simple techniques and rhythms and build up from there.
- Slow down! – There is no rush! Enjoy what you are learning. It is definitely a process not a destination.
- Practice, practice, practice! Repetition is the mother of skill! Think mastery through practice!
- Pick a song you really like to practice over. If you can head nod to it then you have an idea of rhythm. Allow a track with enough room for your scratches. Look at the Studio Scratches Beat Store for lots of beats designed specifically for scratch practice. Scratching is really another instrument and is very percussive so the track must not be too busy.
- Listen to other Scratch DJs – try and copy the rhythms, then put your own style onto them.
- “Say it before you play it” – if you can think of how you want your scratches to sound in your head then it’s just a matter of practice and time before your hands will catch up!
Here is some really good advice from WikiHow on rhythm that breaks it down:
Learn your music theory. Many DJs – even professional DJs – have no knowledge of music theory. Begin your education now. A turntablist is a percussionist, which means you need to have a good understanding of rhythm. You will be practicing scratching to music and then eventually making music using records. When you are scratching to a beat, you are scratching out a rhythm. If you have a complete understanding of rhythm, you can develop your skills to recreate these rhythms properly.
Learn about rhythm: most hip hop and dance music is in 4/4. That means for each bar of music there are 4 beats. Each beat can be subdivided in only a finite amount of ways. Count these out loud while you listen to music. Each beat will be place between [brackets]:
   
[1 and] [2 and] [3 and] [4 and]
[1 trip let] [2 trip let] [3 trip let] [4 trip let]
[1 e and a] [2 e and a] [3 e and a] [4 e and a]
[i trip let and trip let] [2 trip let and trip let] [3 trip let and trip let] [ 4 trip let and trip let]
These are quarter notes, 8th notes, 8th note triplets, 16th notes, and 16th note triplets, respectively.
Learn how to count these to the beats of songs you already like. You will have to increase the speed of your counting as you progress. Remember that triplets are just playing 3 notes in the time it usually takes to play two. Once you have mastered these subdivisions you will have to throw in rests to really have an understanding of the complexities of rhythym. Just remember that there are a finite way in which each beat can be subdivided. A good way to introduce yourself to beats is to play the snare drum. You can go to the Vic Firth website listed below to get a feel for how each of these subdivsions and how the subdivisions that include rests, that were not written out here, sound. Once you can sing these rhythms or at least some of them out loud, you can start using these as a foundation for the scratches you develop.
Hope that helps.
If anyone has any further advice please post it in the comments below.
I leave you with my free Video Scratch Tutorials playlist (9 Videos):
Happy Scratching! 😀