How to DJ: Pitch Control

By | May 23, 2016

This tutorial is intended as a guide on how to beatmatch using only your turntable’s pitch slider. This guide isn’t meant to be the end all be all of this technique, it simply outlines how I go about mixing in this style. Learning to control pitch is important if you want to get your first DJ Gig. There are many other ways that you can beatmatch, not only using other methods, but even different ways to use this single method, so don’t take this as gospel. Also, this guide is directed at those who are already comfortable with beatmatching in general. Riding the pitch control, or pitch bending, involves being able to know whether a song is too fast, or too slow, and then making fluid changes. Without that core knowledge, this guide will be of no help and may even make your learning of beatmatching harder and more difficult.

Begin Pitch Control

So, first things first, we will need is a record playing, so that you have a song to mix out of. Having two very simple songs that you can practice with helps ease the learning curve. On the other turntable, go ahead and start and queue up the song in your headphones, with your pitch centered at 0% (if using a turntable with a Quartz Lock, such as the 1200 M3D, be sure the Quartz Lock is NOT enabled). When you’re ready to drop the song in, begin with and start it, while carefully listening to the beat in your headphones.

Now, identify as fast as you can whether the song is going too fast or too slow. If you’re going too fast, immediately lower the pitch setting, -6% should do the trick (do exactly the opposite of this if the track is too slow, and increase the pitch to +6%). Now listen closely and see if the track begins to correct itself, which with a 6% change in speed, it usually will.

NOTE: From this point on we’ll assume the track is too fast. If the track is too slow, simply “reverse” the instructions.

This is an indication of two factors:

1.) To be beatmatched, this song needs to be going slower than where you began out at.

2.) Since we can hear it correcting itself from being too fast, it’s safe to say the song is too slow now. Otherwise it would have continued to get more out of sync, or at least stayed at the point of being out of sync when you lowered the pitch to -6%.

Now the hard part: Waiting.

Instead of immediately trying to correct, you should hold off until it gets to where the beats sound matched (and they will be, but only momentarily) and then wait just a bit longer for the tracks to “come apart” again. Now you zip that pitch-adjust 3/4 of the way back up towards where you first began. Generally speaking, this will be too fast, but not AS fast as it was before, and you’ll hear the beats go from being too slow to being matched to being too fast. Again, push the fader down 3/4 of the way from where you were at LAST time you adjusted, and listen to see if it’s too slow or too fast. If it’s too fast, just repeat the steps as noted above. If it’s too slow, go ahead and slow it down more, but keep in mind that there’s no need to go as slow as you did the previous time, since we know that’s too slow to be properly matched.

At this stage, you can continue repeating this step over smaller and smaller intervals until you have your beats wonderfully matched. Keep in mind, though, that as you get nearer and nearer to having them matched, the amount of time it is going to take before you can hear whether it’s going too fast or too slow is going to get longer, so you’ll need to have a little bit of patience. This is the most difficult part of beatmatching using this method, and the most tempting time to just touch the spindle and give it a good hard pinch to immediately correct it to where you want to be, but I learned that when I do that, it throws me out of the my funk that I develop during the beatmatching I’ve already done, and just makes those final 1mm changes to the pitch even more harder.

This is a technique I like to refer to as “pinging the pitch-adjust.” The word “pinging” is in reference to the ping-pong, and continuously moving back and forth. To help us in the visualization of this technique I’ve included some ASCII diagrams below to help you gain a better mental image of what is physically happening in the steps I’ve outlined.

To take up less space, I’m going to display your pitch slider sideways, instead of trying to do vertical diagrams. The ‘|’ in the diagrams is the actual position of the pitch slider. The FAST/SLOW is the speed relative to the track playing over the sound system.

-8%……………………|………………….. .+8% FAST
-8%……|………………………………….. .+8% SLOW
-8%…………………|…………………….. .+8% FAST
-8%………|……………………………….. .+8% SLOW
-8%………………|……………………….. .+8% FAST
-8%…………|…………………………….. .+8% SLOW
-8%……………..|………………………… .+8% FAST
-8%…………..|…………………………… .+8% SLOW
-8%…………….|…………………………. .+8% FAST
-8%……………|………………………….. .+8% MATCHED

Notice how the changes being made get smaller and smaller as you get closer to the point of having it seemingly beatmatched. Now your songs are beatmatched. Woohoo! Once you get comfortable with this technique, and what you need to be listening for to use it correctly, you’ll find that this step gets quicker and quicker until you get to where you can have a fresh new track beatmatched in 32 beats (or less!) with very small amounts of effort. From this step on, it’s just a matter of KEEPING the tracks beatmatched, but you should have an accurate enough match to start out with, now, that you can do very minor (1mm) corrections and never really need to do them more than a couple of times during a nice, long mix.