An awesome DJ set rarely comes down to which equipment you use – it’s singularly about the sound you deliver. That is, unless you want to scratch. The tools of the turntablism trade are relatively simple, the techniques have evolved at a glacial pace compared with other DJ disciplines, but it’s an artform that is anything but simple to master. So where does the budding DMC turntablist champion go to get the very best education on “cuttin’ it up rough”? In this article, we look at some of the online resources out there that will build those flares, tame your crabs and keep those chirps tight.
We’re looking at four of the more popular scratch academies available online and at a price that most people can afford. When looking at each school we compared at curriculum structure, quality of the training content being offered, school features and value for money.
The bottom line is that each of the schools listed in this article are covered because they have something significant to offer. As to which school is right for you is going to depend on how you learn and how much you can afford.
Studio Scratches started in 2009 and is the creation of Emma Short-E Short or just DJ Short-E (not to be confused with LA’s DJ Shortee who we interviewed a few months back). Studio Scratches offers no nonsense scratch tutorials for beginners and intermediates. The videos are clean and simple and focus exclusively on the techniques required to master the core skills. You are also able to download audio files with beats that that are designed to make for good tracks to scratch along to. In addition to the scratch tutorial videos there are videos of guest DJ routines and interviews.
While we liked the clean and simple design of the site, the use of WordPress and a chronological blog format isn’t ideal for a first time scratcher working their way through the basics. The site also appears to be in transition so it’s hard to tell if what we saw will remain in place long term. We were intrigued by the “digital skipless records” on offer through the Studio Scratches Bandcamp page and understand that an eBook and new set of videos are in the works. Studio Scratches is clearly a labor of love and having garnered more than 4,000 subscribers on its accompanying YouTube channel, it’s clear to see that Short-E has developed a healthy fan base for her work.
Tuition Cost: FREE
Our Verdict: Studio Scratches offers lessons which are clear and concise and will appeal to DJs looking for a site that offers more than just video clips, without hammering the pocket.
TurntableU is the work of Icey Ice of the legendary Beat Junkies. Unlike many of the other scratch schools which feature a single DJ, Turntable U boasts an impressive and diverse roster of turntablists offering a variety of how-to videos organized into beginner, intermediate and advanced semesters. Another difference with TurntableU is that it is not exclusively scratch focused. The beginner semester begins with some extremely entry level techniques such as counting beats and bars and dropping on the one.
For us, the lessons were a little hit-and-miss and greatly varied based on the instructor. The curriculum initially appeared to be well-organized with different semesters, but lessons jump around between scratching, mixing, and items like “programming for the radio.” It’s clear the intention is to deliver a more rounded DJ education, but we think this site still needs some refinement and re-organization.
Where is it based?: LA
Cost: Packages of courses ranging from $6.99 to $85.99
Number of Students: Several thousand
Our Verdict: Some great content can be found at TurntableU – depending on what you are looking to learn, there may be a TurntableU package that works for you but it’s worth noting that there are more effective learning options out there for less.
Qbert Skratch University
You would assume that if anyone was going to own the business of teaching the world turntablism, it would be DJ Qbert. And you would be right. QBert’s Skratch University offers a comprehensive curriculum from beginner to “I don’t ever see myself being able to do that.” In addition to the training videos there is a forum, chat box, a large collection of beats to download, behind the scenes footage of Qberts shows, and “Master Classes” from Qbert and his turntablist friends, including Tyra from Saigon.
What sets Qbert apart from the others is the “Video Exchange”. Students can upload videos of their scratch practice and ask for general feedback on their technique or advice on specific scratches they are learning. We uploaded a very basic video looking for general feedback and got a written response in a few weeks. Some of the videos students upload get a video response from Qbert. The site is extremely friendly, with lots of students posting videos and beats for others to download or comment on. San Diego’s Theareohsee and Paris based DJ Claim are two QSU students well worth checking out .
The one thing that does somewhat hinder a student’s ability to get the most from the site is Qbert’s use of the hamster style where the crossfader is reversed. If you scratch with the standard fader configuration, everything that Qbert teaches is essentially backwards. This might not be an issue for some people, but it does provide an extra challenge for the non-hamster scratchers out there.
Where is it based?: The SF Bay Area
Cost: $90/ 3 months
Number of Students: Not available
Our Verdict: At $90 for three months, it’s a serious investment that will only appeal to those who are serious about getting their scratching skills up to par. For those who do decide to spend the money, there is no shortage of content which is delivered on a highly active site. You will also laugh a good deal more than you would expect.
DJ Angelo’s YouTube Channel
Browse through the DJ TechTools forum or any other DJ discussion board and you’ll invariably stumble across multiple discussions about the best place to learn to scratch. It’s nearly impossible to avoid being referred to DJ Angelo’s YouTube channel, and for good reason. After scrolling through some of Angelo’s more recent uploads, you’ll find sixteen scratch tutorials that we think are some of the best out there today.
Angelo takes you from the absolute basics to some more advanced techniques, covering tone arm alignment, needle modifications, beat juggling and everything in between. Many of the videos break down the scratches with more detail than anyone else we have mentioned in this article and Angelo even includes practice patterns for viewers to perfect. Considering these videos are freely available on Youtube, it’s difficult to find a resource that offers this level of detail at a price anyone with an internet connection can afford. If we had to find something that we weren’t so thrilled about, it would be the fact that there are only sixteen tutorials. It’s been a year since the first series was released and as of time-of-writing there is no news as whether we can expect a second series.
We asked DJ Angelo a few questions about his tutorial series.
DJTT: What prompted you to start putting these videos together?
DJ Angelo: I freelanced as a DJ tutor and community music practitioner coordinating urban music projects around the UK. This type of work really throws you in at the deep end but after teaching maybe 150 different classes over 3-4 years, I gained the experience and the confidence to teach anyone.
There were plenty of scratching tutorials on YouTube already but a lot of them frustrated me. Many of the tutors would glance over or miss out crucial information and it’s unfortunately in a lot of turntablist’s nature to show-off their skills rather than break things down in small steps understandable for beginners. I knew (…) I would have to make the most informative tutorials I could and teach in my own personal way. I spent weeks planning the content for my first tutorial (and after about 1000 takes!), I uploaded Turntable Tutorial 1 and waited nervously for feedback from the unforgiving YouTube community! Thankfully, it was received well and this gave me the encouragement to continue.
DJTT: You are no doubt getting requests for more tutorials – what’s the most common request and have there been any odd ones?
DJ Angelo: One of the most common tutorial requests I get is “how do I put together a routine”. As a teacher, this is a very difficult one to approach but I’m currently giving it some thought. And one of the most common questions I get asked is “how long will it take for me to get good?”. I don’t even know where to start with questions like that!
DJTT: What’s next?
DJ Angelo: I’ve been developing a product behind the scenes for a few months which I hope to release this year. It’s all a bit top secret for now but I can say it’s not a DVD. Stay tuned to my website and social networks to stay up to date.
DJTT: Final thoughts?
DJ Angelo: I just want to say a massive thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone around the world who appreciates and supports my work. It’s a beautiful thing how this artform transcends so many different boundaries. I had no idea how popular my videos would become but I’m truly blessed to be able to share something I’m passionate about with so many people who actually care. But remember, a lot of DJs like myself grew up without tutorials or free resources so please continue to appreciate, support, and never take the generosity and hard work of others for granted.
Our Verdict: 2.5 million upload views and nearly 18,000 subscribers attest to DJ Angelo’s effectiveness. We recommend starting here before you begin handing over money to the pay sites.
The Final Word
Each of these online resources have a great deal to offer, and as with most things, you get what you pay for. If you are dipping your toe into the world of turntablism, you should use DJ Angelo’s channel to perfect your core skills. From there, the next step has to be Qbert’s Skratch University where you will an unrivaled amount of content, like-minded scratchaholics, and frequently Qbert himself!
Other places to check
While we concentrated on more easily accessible online scratch school resources, there are a number of other ways to get educated. Stephen Webber’s book, “Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ” and has been in print for more than ten years. The book covers both basic DJ skills as well as the more theoretical principals of scratching. Multiple versions of the book are available (including Kindle) and some ship with a two piece vinyl set which works in concert with the exercises laid out in the book. “Spin Now! The DJ Starter Handbook” by DJ Shortee will appeal to those just getting started and are looking for guidance on taking their first steps to scratching and mixing.
This article would be remiss to ignore the 800 pound gorilla of DJ Education, Dubspot. We did not include it in this article as we plan on diving into what the school has to offer at a later date.