Beatmatching is an art of beat recognition and sense for rhythms. There are numerous techniques that DJ’s use, depending on equipment and musical genre. But generally, it doesn’t matter if you’re using a Numark CD player, virtual DJ gear, or a professional Pioneer CDJ with automated beat signatures, BPM detection and superb master tempo. It all comes down to the basic disc jockey skills. However, this tutorial is mainly aimed towards electronic music where you most likely will have a 4/4 time signature, but it will surely apply to any genre that has a steady beat flow and long sound tail (the end part in electronic music that includes a beat only, without the bass or other accompanying instruments). You don’t need to be a professional musician to understand the quadruple beat signature. I spent years and a lot of money to learn the time signatures in a proper manner. But in layman’s terms, it is all about the amount of beats in a measure, and the note value of a single beat. I am going to simplify it even more, by applying a rather unique confrontation to the problem of timing in music.
The Mexican standoff in musical time signatures: The 4/4
Imagine a synchronous gait. STEP STEP STEP STEP. Left Right Left Right. You have moved four steps forward. And you continue with this pattern. The rhythmic behavior in these four steps translates into a steady beat of four beats. Now imagine if you would run the same distance you just walked. Each step during the run would move you faster (higher BPM), but you would also use less steps because each step is longer. Imagine if each running step would be worth two walking steps. Note, the time (BPM), in which you run the distance is not to be mixed with the time signature (run time≠time signature). The time signature is the same, no matter how fast you run. It only shows how many rhythmic steps (note values) you can take within the distance you have in front you. The 4/4 is therefor the standard in western music, and you hear it all the time.
NOTE: There are plenty of different ways of perceiving the music in terms of time signature and notational variation such as alla breve which takes us deep into the science of rhythmic modes and mensural notation from the 12th century or so. Pretty hardcore science, and definitely overkill for this tutorial. But feel free to dig deeper into the the subject. It is fascinating.
Case study: Simple Beatmatching
Below, I have mixed six different audio files for the purpose of illustrating common mistakes and techniques, each representing a different technique for transition between one song into another. I recommend that you start listening through the six tracks first before continuing to read the case solutions and issues below. Each transition is approximately 30 seconds long, and I used the same segment for all examples, and the start- and end points are exactly the same. Basically, the main focus in this tutorial will be on the phrasing, tempo synchronization, and different fading techniques to make a smooth transition. There are several other factors as part of a good DJ mix transition such as harmonic mixing, and the usage of on-the-fly jog wheel adjustments on the CD player, with the corresponding technique on a vinyl turntable. Same, but different.
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The first example is a typical mistake when trying to beatmatch. The track is completely out of sync. The beat is all over the place and there is no sign of any transition technique whatsoever.
In the second example, the tracks match much better than our first example, but soon become out of sync at the end of the transition. There is a slight overall shift in our synchronization, even though the BPM’s are the same. The bass is very saturated and the “layering” of the combined tracks peak well over what would be the normalized limit. We hear a very clear distortion on the low frequencies.
In the third example, the transition ratio has been changed to make a smoother overlap, and the low frequency distortion is more distinct as the second track overlaps. Noticeable is also the adjusted time stretch of our post-loop to match the underlying primary track. This technique involves adjustment of the jog wheel that has been discussed in How to DJ 101: Learn to Master the Art of Beats.
The fourth example has an increased fader ratio for the post-loop, hence giving a better overlap with the primary track. However, it mainly use the volume to adjust the transition, which makes it sound a bit generic and unprofessional. Both channels are slightly equalized in their low frequencies (the bass), which helps us get rid of the hideous distortion.
Fifth example: Our previous attempt (fourth example) of making a smooth transition with the volume is combined with the equalizer on our three main frequency bands (low range, mid range, high range). The low range (bass) is lowered to -10 dB and the mid- and high frequencies are slightly lowered (-4–5 dB) just to make sure that they don’t cause any high volume peaks with our primary track.
The sixth (and final) example is basically the same as our fifth example, but has a stretched non-linear transition meaning that the crossing loop has a prolonged sound tail (the middle section, between pre-loop and post-loop). It sounds fairly good, but there is more work required to improve the beatmatching and transition.
These are some of the Pro equipment that I recommend and have been using myself throughout the years. The Pioneer DJM series have been around for years, but they have recently (since 2010) started making DDJ controllers, which are strictly software based.
If you’re interested to know more about equipment, check out How to DJ 101: The Professional DJ Equipment.