So, you’re not afraid to devote a few weeks of your life to learning beatmatching. Great! The most important thing is to not give up. If you persevere and practice, practice, practice, the progress will be very quick. I promise!
A couple of things to point out from the outset. First, this beatmatching tutorial assumes that you’re using vinyl turntables. If CDs are your thing, not to worry, just keep the article on CD beatmatching handy as you're going through the lessons. It will tell you how things are done on a CD deck.
Second, in order to learn to beatmatch, you’ll need two copies of the same record, so take care of that in advance. We’ll be working with the same track on each of them. It’s important to choose a tune with a clear and simple drum pattern: boom, boom, boom, boom.
The first thing we’re going to learn is cueing up a record and then starting it. (“Cueing up” means placing the needle at the first beat of the track.) For this, you’ll only need one turntable, so let it be the one to the right. We’ll be practicing in headphones so as to not drive your family crazy... not yet, that is. To that end, close all channel faders on your mixer by moving them all the way down, and press the Cue Mix button for the deck’s channel to send it to your headphones.
Put the record on the platter and start the turntable with the Start/Stop button. The pitch should be at zero. Now let’s make sure that the correct speed of platter’s rotation (33 or 45 RPM) is chosen. Put the needle anywhere on the record and listen for a couple of seconds. If the tune sounds chipmunked, or if a female singer sounds like Barry White, then the speed needs to be switched. Use the turntable's 33/45 RPM buttons for that.
Note: The two sides of a record may be recorded at different RPMs. The side’s RPM is sometimes printed on the central label, but the party will be over and the dancers will be gone by the time you’ll find it. The trial way is the fastest.
What we need to do now is find the very first beat of the track.
Put the needle to just before the beginning of the track. (By the way, DJs don’t use the cueing lever, so make sure it’s lowered and learn to place the needle gently by hand.) The turntable is on and the platter is rotating. Of course, you can simply wait for the track to begin, but there's no time to waste, right? So let’s “fast forward” to the beginning of the tune.
To do this, stop the record by touching the label or the dark ring around it with your middle finger. The platter will continue to rotate underneath but the record will come to a standstill (you’re using slipmats, right?)
Now “fast forward” the record by rotating it with your finger until you hear the beginning of the track. If you spin the record too fast, you may end up going past the first beat and will have to “rewind” a little bit. That’s OK. By the way, some DJs put the needle on the record after the beginning of the track and go back to find the first beat. It’s up to you.
After you’ve found the first beat (it’s hard to miss it), get your finger off the record and quickly catch the record by touching and holding it at the outer edge. Holding the record this way allows you to “grope” the first beat and let go of the record more precisely. Get familiar with the position of the beat by moving the record back and forth over it. Hey, you’re already scratching!
Tip: You won’t always need to start the record immediately after you’ve cued it up. If that’s the case, you can “save” the cue point and get back to it later. While holding the record, press the deck’s Start/Stop button with your other hand. The platter will stop and you’ll be able to let go of the record with the needle staying right before the first beat. Now go get some coffee and sign a couple of autographs. After you’re back, pick up where you left off by simply starting the turntable while holding the record the same way as before.
And now the fun part! As you’re moving the record back and forth over the first beat, almost feeling it with your fingers, try letting it go after you pass the beat. Don’t just take away your hand, but actually give the record a tiny push so it starts rotating with the platter right away. All right! You’ve just started the track right at the first beat!
Here’s how I do it:
Practice a few times to get familiar with how the record feels under your hand. Play around with “saving” the beat’s position and getting back to it later. Try to handle the record gently so the needle doesn’t jump. Pay attention to starting the record at the right speed so there are no noticeable speed-ups or slowdowns after the start.