How to DJ 101: Why You Must Understand Phrasing
Even though most of our audience is made up of advanced or intermediate DJs, we get a lot of aspiring talent on the site every month who are hungry to learn. The fundamentals never get stale, so we will be rolling out a new “how to DJ” article every month for those that are just joining the ranks. Phrasing is one of the most important musical fundamentals out there, so let’s get started there.
Ever wonder how your favorite DJs are able to craft a seamless mix where the tracks seems to start/end at just the right time? It’s not luck, but understanding the concept of good phrasing. Most Western music, especially electronic and pop music, is built using phrases of 16 and 32 counts. As you learn how to DJ, you’ll start to see that all forms of music follow a familiar structure. By recognizing this structure, you can take two totally different songs and make them sound as if they were designed to fit together.
If you’re looking for more intermediate tips on how to DJ, I’d recommend checking out the following articles first:
- How to Mix Pop Music
- Digital DJ Fundamentals – Sonic Mixing
- EQ Mixing: Critical Mixing Techniques and Theory
Every song introduces audible change to the music that clue in the audience to the start/end of a phrase. Most people are affected by this sub consciously but you can learn how to read those clues like a pro. Normally these changes would be a new instrument, a drum fill, or crash and it typically occurs every 32 counts. Before the days of DJ software, the only way to find the start/end of a phrase was to listen to the track and pay attention to these clues.
With DJ software we have a visual overview of the entire track thanks to the waveform. This makes it really easy to recognize the start/end of phrases such as breakdowns and buildups as pictured above. There are a couple other things in Traktor that we can use to find the start/end of phrases and part of the phrase we’re in. The first one is enabling “Beats” in the deck header. You can do this through Traktor’s Preferences:
The second thing we’ll do is set the “Bars Per Phase” to “8 Bars”:
Now that we’ve made these changes, you will see 3 numbers being displayed in you deck header:
These numbers indicate the phrase, bar, and beat (phrase . bar . beat). There are 4 beats in a bar, so the bar will increase by 1 every 4 beats. Since we set our “Bars per Phrase” to 8 bars, the phrase will increase by 1 every 8 bars. As discussed earlier, audible changes typically occur every 32 beats. Using this counter, you’re likely to hear an audible change every time the phrase increases by 1. This makes it really easy to stay on top of the tracks structure even while you’re browsing for the next track or if you’re distracted by someone making a request. Now that we can quickly identify the phrases of the track, we can create a seamless mix by lining up our tracks so that the phrases are in sync.
- Experienced DJ? Please share your techniques for phrasing a perfect mix in the comments.
- Brand New DJ? Check out our selection of beginner-friendly DJ controllers