How to Match Phrases - DJing Tips
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How to Match Phrases

Bad news: Beatmatching proficiency alone is not enough to be able to mix well. For your blends to be smooth and natural, you also need to know and make use of the structure of the tracks you’re mixing. Good news: It’s not difficult. The key point here is phrase matching, which is what we are going to discuss today.

What is a phrase? As you already know from the article on track structure, a phrase is one of the basic building blocks of a track that consists of 4 or 8 bars (16 or 32 beats, respectively).  Phrases are so important because each part of a dance track – be it chorus, verse or intro – contains 2, 4 or more phrases, the first beat of which is usually stressed in some way. Thus, the whole track is made up of phrases which follow each other from the very beginning of the song.

Now let’s talk about mixing. When two tracks are overlaid on each other during a transition, ensuring that their beats are synchronized is just half of the work. For the transition to sound as natural as possible, it’s important that the tracks’ parts are matched as well. Aligning the track’s 8-bar phrases is usually enough to achieve this.

It’s better to hear once than to read a hundred times, right? Take a look at how a typical newbie’s transition sounds. The guy can already beatmatch but hasn’t figured out phrases just yet:

Here are my comments. At 00:20, the DJ begins to bring track B in to the dancefloor while taking out track A. At 00:36, B introduces itself with an instrumental intro and then completely takes over at 00:52. The beatmatching seems to be fine. However, you can instinctively feel that something is still wrong with the transition. That “something” is unmatched phrases (i.e. parts) of the tracks being mixed.

Take a listen again: at 00:10, the instrumental ending of track A begins with a new phrase. But B’s 8-bar phrases are three bars ahead of A’s ones, and so B’s instrumental intro at 00:36 begins too early – three bars before A’s ending completes at 00:42. The result? Messy sound and confused clubbers on the dancefloor.

Here’s why the tracks’ phrases are not matched:

Hear the DJ starting track B at 00:04? The beats of the tracks are aligned, but A’s next 8-bar phrase will begin later, at 00:10. This is this haste that caused all parts of track B to begin 6 seconds earlier than those of A. If this error is corrected and B is started three bars later, the transition will sound just like it should:

Perfect! A’s instrumental ending completes at 00:42, and the incoming track’s intro kicks in immediately after that.

The rule for great transitions is very simple: The new track is always started on the first beat of the old one’s 8-bar phrase. Since the first beat of any track marks the beginning of its very first phrase, it means that right after the new track is started, its 8-bar phrases will be in sync with the old one’s. By starting the new track at the right moment, you won’t have to worry about the phrases till the next transition.

I am well aware of how complicated all this may sound at first. Beatmatching takes you most of A’s sounding time, and when it’s about to end, you don’t have the luxury of choosing when to start B. First beat of a phrase or not, there’s no time left!

There is only one way to fix this: practice, practice and practice once more! As time passes, beatmatching will be taking less and less of your time behind the decks, and you will be able to start the new track at the old one’s phrase of your liking.

Suggested exercise: Try to consciously take note of the phrases of each dance track you are listening to. In the beginning, you may have to actually count beats and bars, but gradually, you’ll begin to “feel” phrases and anticipate the beginning of the track’s next one. Develop this skill and learn to feel the music in order to be able to start the new track just in the right moment, without having to think about it.

About the Author JM

JM has played open-air gigs, shared the stage with the likes of ATB and had mix albums released commercially. He has been teaching DJing since 2008.

  • Landy De Los Santos says:

    The most simple, rich, and easy to fallow reading I have come across in explaining one of the art of mixing. Great job!!! and great information. Thank so much.

  • NickyBlue says:

    Good site and efforts buddy, no denying! but pharses really dont match (right I mean) 😉

    “Here are my comments. At 00:20, the DJ begins to bring track B in to the dancefloor while taking out track A. At 00:36, B introduces itself with an instrumental intro and then completely takes over at 00:52. The beatmatching seems to be fine. However, you can instinctively feel that something is still wrong with the transition.”

    Crossing whole Euroupe and Asia to get to Newyork from San Fransisco aint a feat for nomal minds …. Hope you get the idea! …haha. Anyways I appreciate your work here. It’s really helpful for who just new to music like me. Me no DJ or musical guy…just got curiours bout VDJ software I got on my PC through somewhere. (Magazine CD it was I suppose). Being here through VDJ forum itself (topic you founded there). I’m still in middle of your lessons but this phrase thing struck me so I though of commenting it and of course taking the opportunity to thank you for all the help I got here to pursue my latest hobby. It aint my profession and never will but we all love music in some way and it always be part of everybody. None can remain untouched. 🙂

    And sure I’ll be completing whole tut 😉 bye and thanks one more time.

  • the_kat says:

    In the 3rd example above, what time does the DJ start the second track? I can hear when it comes in, but am wondering when he actually starts it. Thanks!

    • JM says:

      In this example, the 2nd track is started exactly on the beginning of the first one’s phrase, which is at 00:10.

  • HK says:

    Hey, thanks for the tutorial. I am having a hard time trying to follow. If you’re in the middle of a song, how do you know if the 2,4,8,16bar starts or ends?

    • JM says:

      You just wait for the 1st bar of an 8-bar phrase (it’s clearly emphasized most of the time) and then you know where you are. With enough practice, you get a hang of it so you “feel” when the next phrase starts.

  • DJbravoz Remedy says:

    Hey! Thank you for your great tips. It’s an eye openner and creme de la creme. Xoxo.

  • AS says:

    An extremely useful and easy to follow explanation of beat matching and mixing for the beginners. Thank you so much for your time and effort to share your wealth of experience and expertise with us.

  • mk says:

    Hi! Guys.
    Good job.. I love this site.. Am in a west Africa (Ghana) and am learning how to djing. Meaning becoming a pro. People do think that a dj is someone who can play with vdj and most don’t know the do s and don’t s of the game.

    • JM says:

      Welcome to DJing Tips, mk. It really doesn’t matter what others think, work on your craft and you’ll get there.

  • mk says:

    Thank good job.

  • 100%jack says:

    Thnx dude you make my self more strong behind the deck God bless you!

  • Sarang says:

    This has been a fucking eye opener!!I found out quite a few things why my transition was sounding muddied up. Essentially I wasn’t placing my Que points properly by counting the bars/Phrases.. I thought I would skip that ?.. But no.. Secondly as you explained to me that the track needs to be beatmatched.. Now I would say also it has to be phrase matched in your headphones before the release.. I can’t thank you enough mate ???

  • Mahesh kumar says:

    Thank you for this great tip.

  • Bill D says:

    Do you go about phrase matching the same way with Rap and Hip-Hop, R&B ?

  • Tako Jordan says:

    Your notes are great
    Thanks for all.
    I will also like to know more.

  • DJ says:

    You talk about Verses & Choruses, but most – if not all – dance music has little or no vocals. How do you know what is a chorus/verse?

  • Iradukunda Anaize says:

    Am just a young lady having alot of interest in Djing and hoping to learn from this site

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