Beatmatching Lesson 4: At Last, Beatmatching

Pitch controlIt's time to make some use out of this slider. Now that you can cue up a record, know how to correct any starting errors and have practiced “the game of catch-up,” you are finally ready to try and match a record’s tempo to the one playing on the dancefloor.

Without looking at the pitch slider of deck A to your left, move it up half an inch or so from zero. Don’t cheat; you shouldn't know what A's exact pitch value is! Now the record playing in the speakers has a higher BPM than track B in your headphones (whose pitch stays at zero). Your goal is to adjust B’s pitch so that its BPM equals to A’s – and do it solely by ear. Since we’re working with two copies of the same record, this means that if you are successful, B’s pitch slider will end up in the same position as A’s.

Important: If your CD decks or the mixer have a built-in BPM counter, I strongly suggest that you turn it off while you’re learning beatmatching. If that’s not possible, tape a piece of paper on top of the BPM section on the display so you’re not tempted to look at it. Our goal is to learn to beatmatch by ear without having to rely on the equipment.

Back to the decks now. After you’ve started track B to A's beat and corrected any errors, you’ll quickly notice that the record starts lagging behind. That’s right, this lag needs to be fixed, just like you did it in the previous lesson. But today, we’ll take the next step: After you’ve fixed the lag by giving the record a tiny push, increase B’s pitch so as to make it play a bit faster, too. By how much should you increase the pitch? The more the faster the records drift apart, i.e. the bigger the difference between their tempos is.

After you’ve done that, one of these three scenarios applies (don’t you just love those scenarios?):

Scenario 1: You’re a beatmatching guru and the tracks have now been staying in sync for quite a while without a noticeable drift. Good job! Check yourself by comparing the two decks’ pitch values. If they are indeed the same, congratulate yourself and try again. Just move the pitch slider on deck A in any direction (just don't peep at it!) and then start over.

Note: How long is “quite a while”? Generally speaking, if the tracks start to grow slightly apart after 20 to 30 seconds, that’s OK. The perfect match where the records’ beats stay aligned for minutes is hard to attain and is actually not necessary. Beatmatching is not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. When you make a transition from one track to another, you’re bound to have to make adjustments from time to time. “But what if the galloping gets noticed by the dancefloor?” Well, by the time you get to play an actual party, you’ll inevitably get so good that you’ll be noticing any misalignments way before the dancers hear them. Thus, when beatmatching, your goal is to only ensure those 20 to 30 “driftless” seconds between corrections so you have enough time to be taking care of the actual transition.

Scenario 2: Record B started lagging behind the dancefloor’s A again, but this time, the drift is slower. Good, you’re moving in the right direction. Correct for the lag once again and increase the pitch a bit more. Don’t be afraid to move the slider too far, though. Why? See below:

Scenario 3: You moved the pitch too far and now the track in your headphones is drifting ahead of the one on the dancefloor. It’s just great because the correct speed is now somewhere between the 1st (too slow) and 2nd (too fast) pitch values. Slow B down a little bit to bring the beats back in sync and then move the pitch slider to the middle of that range. Now, if the track is back to lagging behind A, the correct speed is between this 3rd (too slow) and the 2nd (too fast) pitch values. If the track is still too fast, then it’s between the 1st (too slow) and the 3rd (too fast) ones. Makes sense? In math, it’s called “binary search.”

What you’re thus doing is narrowing down the pitch range that contains the correct speed for track B. In the end, you’ll be moving the pitch back and forth literally a hairbreadth. At that point, the tracks will already be playing in sync for “quite a while.” Awesome! See scenario 1.

Try to find the correct pitch position before the track playing in the speakers ends. Don’t worry if at first you can’t. Just put the needle back to track A’s beginning and continue with the beatmatching. It’s OK while you’re learning.

By the way, the beats of the tracks may drift so far apart during beatmatching that you won’t be able to tell which one is faster or slower any longer. This happens a lot in the beginning. No problem, cue up record B again and simply start over.

Pitch slider edgeTip: As you’ve already noticed, manipulating the pitch when beatmatching requires constant visual tracking of the pitch slider's position. Some vinyl turntables and most CD decks show the value of the pitch on the display, but not all of them do. What's worse, the shape of the slider is such that its center mark is lifted above the deck’s surface. This makes tracking the pitch position difficult when looking at the slider from an angle. So instead of looking at the mark, track the slider’s position by its edge, which is much closer to the pitch scale (see photo).

What you’re learning to do right now is as close as it gets to the real thing. The next step is beatmatching different tracks. But for now, practice using two copies of the same record until you get real good and can adjust the pitch quickly and confidently.

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