Improve Your Scratching Through Deliberate Practice

September 1, 2016


As a DJ, there are a few skills that you can actually practice and develop “on the job”. For example, when you beatmix in and out of 100 songs every time you spin at your weekly spot, you inherently become a better mixer. The same principle holds true for the ability to “read the dance floor”. The more often you play in front of a crowd, the better you’ll become at determining what tracks will set the party off, and which ones will kill it in an instant. However, there is one DJ skill that is extremely difficult to master while you’re out spinning live…….scratching. Sure, you may be able to practice and develop some basic scratches like chirps and simple transforms while on the job, but to take your cutting to the next level, you need to properly practice.

When it comes to developing any skill, the quality of practice matters much more than the quantity. Human behavior experts call this “deliberate practice”. Deliberate practice is practice for the sole purpose of improving and developing a skill. It’s not meant to be fun or enjoyable, it’s meant to improve your skillset as quickly and efficiently as possible. So, as a DJ, just freestyle scratching over a beat for 30 minutes will not improve your cuts as effectively as focusing in on one scratch for 15 minutes. Sure, freestyling is more fun, but focus and deliberate practice is what will take you from novice to expert in a surprisingly short amount of time.

The Four Components of Deliberate Practice

Recent scientific studies combined with historic research have determined that there are four key components of deliberate practice.

1. You must be motivated to practice and willing to exert the effort to improve.

Even though you may be busy with your day job, school, or prepping for gigs, it’s important to create a practice schedule and stick to it. Find a time of day where you have 20-30 minutes without interruption to focus on practicing your cuts. Set a practice length and stick to it. Download a few of the “Thud Rumble” looper apps on your smartphone. Not only do they provide plenty of beats to scratch over, but the have a timer that immediately starts as soon as you start playing one of the beats. This is extremely helpful in keeping yourself accountable for your practice goals. It may also be helpful to make your practice tools easily accessible. Keep your decks set up at all times, and consider using an actual scratch record for your samples as opposed to firing up your laptop each time you start your practice sessions. Make it quick and easy to jump into your practice session. Doing so will help keep you dedicated and on schedule.

2. The design of the task should take into account your existing knowledge, so that the task can be quickly understood.

If you don’t understand the task that you’re practicing, you’ll just end up reinforcing improper technique. Start with scratches you understand and are familiar with. Once you develop those, then you’ll be better equipped to start practicing more advanced techniques. Some of the best scratches to master first are baby scratches, chirps, and flares (1 click and 2 click). Remember, you need to crawl before you walk. Don’t just try to jump right in to “Autobahns”. If you do, you’ll waste a lot of time and energy on improper and inefficient practice.

3. You should receive immediate and informative feedback on your performance.

Doing so will help identify areas that you need to work on as well as provide some positive reinforcement regarding areas that you are showing improvement. If you’re lucky enough to have an honest and knowledgeable DJ mentor to provide you with feedback, shoot them a video of your practice session and ask for their opinion. Or, if you’re a member of an online DJ community (with legit scratch DJs), upload a video every week and ask the members to share their thoughts. You’ll quickly learn who the haters are and who are legitimately trying to help. Lastly, if you’re not quite ready to share your practice videos with the world, just watch them yourself and compare them to professional scratch tutorial videos online (from Scratch DJ Academy, for example). This method may not be as effective as getting feedback from a DJ mentor or seasoned scratcher, but if you’re honest with yourself, you should be able to gauge your progress and determine which areas still need improvement.

4. You should repeatedly practice the same repetitive tasks.

This component extremely important when practicing to become better at scratching. Muscle memory is the key when it comes to being able to recall a specific scratch on command, and the only way to develop this is through repetition. A LOT of repetition! One of the other great features of the Thud Rumble apps (mentioned above) is the “Speed Boost” feature. This allows you to slow down the looped beat and have it gradually increase speed over time. Having a slower beat to scratch to will help you cleanly pull off scratches properly by focusing on each individual component. Then, as the beat gradually increases in tempo, you’ll start to develop muscle memory and speed. Don’t be afraid to push yourself, but if you reach a point where everything turns into a jumbled mess, back the tempo back down to a speed where you can better articulate your cuts. Focus on repeating the same scratch over and over and over, and in time, you’ll be able to perform it cleanly at any tempo.

Remember, it’s all about the quality of practice, not the quantity! When you get serious about improving your cuts and have laser-like focus on the end goal, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you improve!

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About Mixcity Inc

Mixcity Inc was founded in 2008 with the mission of creating innovative software solutions and engagement tools for the working DJ. The team's first DJ product, KueIt, was groundbreaking when it was introduced years ago, and still remains an industry standard software solution to this day. Mixcity's latest innovation, JammText, is a revolutionary text to screen software solution that allows DJs to reach exciting new levels of crowd interaction and audience engagement.