How to Beatmatch Using CDs

Cue button on a pro CD deckThe key difference between CDs and vinyl is that with CDs, you can't “touch the sound” so to speak. Instead, you have to rely on the buttons, jog wheel and other controls of a CD deck. But first things first.

Note: A lot of today’s professional CD players have the “vinyl emulation” feature that makes the jog wheel act in many ways like a record on a turntable. I’ll devote a separate article to that feature, but for now, let’s talk about the basics of CD DJing common to most devices (“CDJ mode”, as they call it at Pioneer).

Cuing Up and Starting a Track

After you put a CD into the player, it will start playing from track 1. Skip to the desired track using the skip buttons. While a track is playing, you can fast-forward or rewind using the search buttons. Nothing unusual so far.

Once you hear the first beat of the song, quickly hit the Play/Pause button. That will pause the deck and make it loop a split second of sound after the current point of the track (“stutter” mode). In this mode, the jog wheel allows you to search the tune frame by frame (1/75th of a second). Using the wheel, slowly rewind to find the point just before the first beat. To be able to return to this point later, press the Cue button. In “stutter” mode, it saves the current track position in memory. The button’s light will start blinking, signaling that the cue point has been saved.

Here's what CD cueing sounds like, from starting the track to finding the point to pressing the Cue button:

After you've saved the cue point, you’re ready to start the track. To do this, simply hit Play/Pause again. The track will start from its current position, i.e. exactly on its first beat.

Note: Despite all professional CD decks boasting the “instant start” feature, in reality, there’s always a miniscule delay between you pressing the Play/Pause button and the track beginning to play. Moreover, the length of the delay varies from one model to another. Thus you’ll have to get used to how your particular CD player starts, and set the cue point on the previous step accordingly.

Pitch Bending

Pitch bending on a CDJKilling Bill, er, pitch bending using the jog wheel When beatmatching, you often need to slow the track down or speed it up briefly in order to bring its beats in sync with the other record. In CD DJ parlance, it’s called “pitch bending.”

There are two main ways to pitch bend on CD decks. The first one is to use the jog wheel. Rotating the jog clockwise speeds the track up, and rotating it counterclockwise slows the track down. The second way is to use the Pitch bend buttons, which are present on some players. Pressing a Pitch bend button speeds up or slows down the track while you’re holding it. (In reality, you give the jog wheel just tiny pushes or press the Pitch bend buttons in very brief touches.)

There’s another surprise waiting for you here. The sensitivity of the jog wheel as well as the Pitch bend buttons may vary considerably from one player model to another. Thus the way you used to pitch bend in your bedroom may not work as expected in the club because your adjustments may end up being too big or too small on another deck. Know what decks you’ll be dealing with, or, better yet, come to the club early to familiarize yourself with them.

Adjusting the Pitch

On CD decks, you adjust the pitch just like you’d do it on a vinyl turntable. The added bonus is that you can see the pitch percentage on the deck’s display, which often shows it with 0.01% accuracy.

After you’ve beatmatched the track, press the Cue button again. In the playback mode, this button will bring you back to the previously saved cue point (which was on the first beat, right?) and pause the player. You’re all set for starting the blend!

To Sum Up

You always have to bear in mind the peculiarities of a particular piece of equipment if you’re spinning CDs. However, with the Pioneer decks having become the de-facto club standard, practicing on a pair of their players is a more or less sure bet. Hey, Pioneer, where’s my check for the endorsement?!

Image credits: 


Hey, thanks for the awesome tuts. I'm giving DJing a go and although I'm ok at beatmatching this helped a lot. This may seem like a dumb question, but after I've beatmatched the tracks, paused the 2nd track and brought it back to the beginning, if I bring it in again on the beat it should still be beatmatched right (don't have my controller here to test)? Also, looking at a lot of videos on youtube of DJs I always see them pressing the cue button repeatedly when beatmatching... what are they doing? Thanks!

Sure, the 2nd track will stay beatmatched to the 1st one even if brought back to the beginning and re-started on the beat. Not sure what you mean about the cue button (have to take a look at the videos you mention), but it could be the DJ testing if they got the beatmatching right by bringing the 2nd track to the beginning and starting it again to the 1st one. That's normally not necessary though.

Thanks for the reply! You can see here what I mean: (starts around 1:00).

That's not part of the beatmatching, the track is already beatmatched by then. What he does by pressing the cue button repeatedly is test his cue point again and again. (On Pioneer CDJs, pressing and holding the cue button starts the playback from the cue point, which stops after you release the button.) He actually starts the track at 01:16.

he is just tapping to the beat he is not even hitting the button

On the topic of jog wheel pitch bending: I know Numark uses rate-based and Vestax & Hanpin both use time-based, which accelerates the longer you rotate. Time-based necessitates just nudging/pushing the wheel, or, alternatively, rotating and then stopping the wheel abruptly. Rate-based jog bending allows more constant rotation and a very rapid riding of both the jog and the pitch slider simultaneously to get the track by ear at exactly the right speed, but the work flow is less like on vinyl. Most software/DVS jog methods seem to use the rate-based method, though I know briefly Traktor Pro tried to shove a broken time-based implementation down our throats. Is the Pioneer jog bend time-based or rate-based?

I'm also curious about various methodologies of blend interacting with the scratch function, using delayed action to mitigate this, and when track playback reoccurs upon release of the touch versus the propensity to allow spinback.

Hi Ret, to be honest, I've never considered the difference between time-based vs. rate-based for jog wheel pitch bending! Given your description, I think that Pioneer has it rate-based. The faster you rotate the jog wheel, the more the pitch is increased/decreased. Hope that helps :)


BTW, I believe this time-based jog pitch bend is a result of firmware that has only one pitch bend section in its code: the pitch buttons, and then the jog is just utilizing this. Pitch bend buttons under the pitch fader require a "progressive" time-based aspect to work well. If you're just using that portion of the code for the jog wheel bend, then you can't do rate-based. On units that have time-based bend, you can see that alterations of the sensitivity or maximum bend changes both the buttons and the wheel. This is a really lazy way to code a DJ player, though.

Interesting observation Ret, perhaps that explains it.

You don't have to pause right at the end.

This method works better for me.
After matching, set the track playing on deck b
Repeatedly hit cue on deck b in time with the beat on deck a
When a new phrase starts on deck a, let deck b ride by not tapping cue
This method just seems better for matching phrases, well for me anyway

You can also not use cue at all and hold the platter at the cue point, which seems to work better for people used to vinyl

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