Learn How to Scratch DJ: Top 12 DJ Scratching Techniques

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So, you’ve always wanted to learn how to scratch DJ? Scratching is sometimes seen as the most difficult part of DJ’ing and turntablism. Learning how to scratch can be a slow process, but we’re about to learn all you need to know to get you scratching like a pro as fast as possible!

How To Scratch DJ

When I was learning, I lost my social life for about 2 months. But once you perfect it, it’s really worth it.

When you know how to scratch the crowd will react totally different to your set. And once you’ve finished playing you’ll almost always get compliments on your scratching. It’s really a great way of showing the crowd, you have something different.

I meet up with so many DJ’s, either at clubs, or guys I have known for years. And I rarely come across another DJ that knows how to scratch.

Even DJ’s that have been in the game for 15 years plus. I have tried to teach some of these guys and they could definitely do it.. They just don’t commit the time to perfecting each scratch.

Learning how to scratch is all about practice, practice, and more practice. Keep practising until you have a scratch routine that will work perfectly in your sets.

What is scratching?

Scratching is like the DJs vocal over an instrumental. You can use it just like talking to the crowd to hype them up. It’s also a great way of showing off and showing the crowd what you’re made of.

When we scratch words we tend to make them stutter. If I’m scratching the word Break, it’ll become brea-br-b brea-br-b brea-br-b-b-break. And I can do this to whatever beat I like.

I tend to scratch random sounds more though. Like the popular freshhhhhhh sound, as this works better over the genres I play.

What DJ invented scratching?

Scratching originally comes from cueing up a vinyl record. Grand Wizard Theodore discovered it.

He was playing some records in his room and his mum was speaking to him. As he was talking he didn’t want to lose a certain part of the record. So he stood there moving this one part backwards and forwards whilst chatting.

While he was moving the record he heard the record making a scratching sound. He thought, wow this sounds really good. So he then just started messing with it, and scratching was born.

Things to Know Before You Learn How to Scratch as a DJ

What equipment do you need to learn how to scratch?

If you already have a DJ set-up this is simple. There’s only two different things that you’ll need if you want to learn how to scratch.

You’ll need:

  1. A mixer with a good crossfader curve;
  2. A turntable or CDJ deck

If you’re using a club orientated mixer there will be a fade point on it, where you fade the one deck into the other. You don’t want this, you want a crossfader that’s straight open and really sharp.

Most modern mixers have a crossfader adjust knob. If you have this, you should be able to get the perfect curve to scratch with. Adjust the curve so just a millimetre of movement will fully open the fader.

You’ll also need some decent scratch sounds. If you’re scratching using vinyl you can get a scratch record which will be full of samples.

If you’re using CDJ’s or digital software you should be able to download all of the samples you need. You can get some of the most popular for free HERE

Burn them onto a CD or get them ready in your digital software and get ready to learn the most simple scratches first.

If you don’t yet have a DJ set-up you’ll find all of the information you need in > THIS ARTICLE

This video will demonstrate the three foundation scratches. When you’re ready to learn how to scratch these are the scratches you should be learning first…

Our Recommendation For Beginners: Numark Mixtrack 3

Numark Mixtrack Pro 3

Learning to Scratch Takes Practice

Learning takes practice. The trick is to start with the basics. These are the building blocks that’ll help you understand various aspects of scratching.

After getting a good grip on them, you can then start learning other scratches and perfecting them. You’ll learn faster if you practice with someone else.

Why Can’t Many DJs Scratch?

Every DJ should know how to scratch. However, not many club DJs can scratch.

Scratching can be fun, but it’s also tough to learn. If you’re not dedicated and willing to give up some personal time to learn the craft, you won’t get better.

We’re not trying to scare you, but anyone telling you you can be a pro at scratching after taking a 20 min lesson is lying to you.

Most DJs can’t scratch because learning is time-consuming. They need plenty of time that they either don’t have or are unwilling to invest that much time.

How Long Does it Take to Learn to Scratch DJ?

Although it largely depends on how much you practice, you should be able to perform some basic scratches after about six months.

Everyone learns at their own pace. However, if you are not progressing, chances are you’re not practicing enough, or you’re repeating the same thing.

Learning from seasoned scratch DJs and practicing what you learn will help you get better at scratching. After a while, you’ll be competent enough to play some scratches and continue learning others.

Learning to Scratch Takes Practice

Learning takes practice. The trick is to start with the basics. These are the building blocks that’ll help you understand various aspects of scratching.

After getting a good grip on them, you can then start learning other scratches and perfecting them. You’ll learn faster if you practice with someone else.

Do Scratches Ruin Vinyl?

Scratching involves playing the record back and forth several times, and vinyl is a soft material. Consequently, the needle wears the vinyl record over time.

Because vinyl is easily damaged, preventing scratching from ruining them is almost impossible. While you can’t avoid the damage altogether, you can minimize the extent of the damage.

You can do this by:

  • Using a special mat to prevent the record from rubbing against the turntable when scratching
  • Choosing direct-drive turntables
  • Cleaning your hands before handling the vinyl disc
  • Going for a needle with a low record-wear rating
  • Adjusting the weight of your arm when scratching
  • Always keeping the vinyl records in a sleeve to prevent them from accumulating dirt and dust
  • Learning how to scratch lightly

Selecting the Right Samples for Scratching

As a beginner, the range of sounds you can use to Scratch is limited. With only the basics and several scratches you’ve learned, scratching with some beats and sounds might be challenging.

I know you’re wondering, don’t other scratch DJs use almost any sound?

Professional scratch DJs can use anything from music with one beat to bass drum to Scratch. Over the years, they’ve learned how to perfect the craft and enter scratches in the track.

If you’re starting your scratch journey, here are a few guidelines to help you pick suitable samples for scratching.

  • Start with the ‘ahh’ sample and other fresh samples. These are long sounds, textured, and evolve from start to finish. Scratching on a single sound or word until you know the sounds it makes when scratched at different intervals will help you form the basics. You can also use spoken words.
  • Don’t practice scratching with your best hip-hop songs. Songs consist of different components like beats and sound from several instruments, which, when scratched, can ruin your mix.
  • Use instrumental tracks. Practicing scratching over a single word or sound is much better on instrumental music. The absence of vocals allows you to concentrate on the scratching without interference from the beats.

How to Scratch DJ: 12 Basic Scratching Techniques For Beginners

You should always start learning how to scratch using these three simple scratches.

1. Baby Scratch

The most simple scratch to learn is a baby scratch.

Whether you’re using CD’s, a controller, or vinyl the principles will be the same. If using vinyl you will stick a marker on the centre of the vinyl. This marker will be a reference point to where the sound begins. You can line this up with the tone arm, or anything else on the turntable.

If you’re using CD decks you may have a display in the centre of the jog wheel will have a marker that will serve the same purpose. Most controllers should also have this, or you may be able to find it on screen in the deck section of your software.

Find the start of the sound and move it back and forth. Do this first without a beat, once you are happy add some music. This scratch should be easy to perfect and does not need the use of the crossfader.

2. Scribble Scratch

The Scribble Scratch is performed with the fader on. Then scratch a little sample as fast as possible. 

With your arm lifted high at an angle and your fingers on the record, make a spasm-like movement to make the record move a little at full speed.

This Scratch is almost like a Baby Scratch, only that you move the record a little and at a faster speed. For some people, a tone arm and wrist are easier to use instead of fingers only.

3. Drag Scratch

With the start of the sound cued, open the fader. Move the sound back and forth from the 9 O’clock position, to the 12 O’clock position.

Again do this without a beat first and then add some music. This may seem very simple but you’ll need this skill to progress to more complex scratches.

Like I mentioned earlier, these are foundation scratches. Learn the basics of how to scratch using these. Perfect them, and then step up the ladder a little by learning scratches like 1 or 2 click flares.

4. Flare Scratch

To complete a Flare Scratch, the starting position should have the crossfader open. You then move the record and, at the same time, move the crossfader quickly.

In this Scratch, you split the sounds by cutting the fader in then out in a split second. Every time you bounce the fader off, it makes a click sound. Flare Scratches are, therefore, named according to the number of clicks.

For one Flare Scratch, you only need to bounce off the fader once. If you’re fast enough, you can do 2, 3, or even more clicks to make more Flare Scratches.

5. Chirp Scratch

It’s named Chirp Scratch because it makes sounds like birds chirping.

To perform a Chirp Scratch, play the track forward, cut the end of the track, then bring the record back, that is, back-cueing at the cue point and turn the fader on. Repeat the procedure to perform the next Scratch.

You can combine different scratches to make scratch combos. For instance, a Chirp Flare Scratch combines Chirp Scratch and Flare Scratch to make a scratch combo.

6. Tear Scratch

A Tear Scratch is one of the basic scratches.

To perform it, place one hand on the record and leave the fader open. Slide the sample forward using the record hand, stop briefly, then continue sliding forward.

Try performing it in reverse. Instead of sliding forward, start sliding backward, stop briefly, then continue sliding backward again. Usually, a Tear Scratch is performed using a longer sample, such as the ‘ahhh’ sample.

7. Forward Scratch

For this Scratch, you start with the fader closed. Start when the sound begins at the start of your sample. As the record moves forward, move the fader towards the middle. Then as the sound comes to an end, close the fader and push the record back to the beginning.

8. Crab Scratch

It got its name since your hand assumes the shape of a crab when performing the movements. Rub over the fader using three or four fingers from the pinky, ring finger to the index to achieve this Scratch. Your thumb acts as a spring to cut the sound after every tap.

After the basics, try to crab forwards and backward. Experiment with different swings and timings to tweak Scratch.

9. Backward Scratch

By reversing the motion of the Forward Scratch, you can do a Backward Scratch. With the fader closed, start with the sound at the end. Dragging the record back, open the fader, then close it as you come to the beginning of the sample. Push the record back to the end of the sample and start again.

10. Transformer Scratch

This Scratch requires playing a long sound then cutting it on and off with the fader. Start with the crossfader closed. While pushing the record back and forth, open and close the crossfader to make a pattern or rhythm. 

11. Orbit Scratch

Also known as the Two-Click Flare, it is attained by closing the crossfader twice on the forward Scratch and backward. You get six sounds in total.

You start with the fader open. While moving the record forward, close the fader twice to make three distinct sounds. To reverse, do the same while moving the record backward to attain six sounds.

When learning, start slowly until you’ve grasped the basics, then try doing it faster.

12. Backspins

Often referred to as Spinbacks, Repeat Scratches, or Reloops, Backspins are a fun way to transition to a new track. DJ Grandmaster Flash invented this scratching method. The effect or the scratch sound is produced when you move a record at high speed in the opposite direction.

To transition with a backspin, spin back the record when it reaches the last phrase. Before the record stops and starts rotating clockwise, move the crossfader to cut in a new track.

Keep progressing and learning new scratch techniques.

This is quite an old video (so please excuse the quality) of me scratching with vinyl. I made it to demonstrate a few different scratches that work with most genres of music.

Watch the video, and then we’ll break down each one so you can try it for yourself.

So in the video I was using chirps, babys and 1 click flares. You can see how these simple scratches can add something great to your set.

Chirps should be the first scratch you learn where you incorporate the crossfader.

Cue the record with the crossfader open. Push the record forwards and you just want to hear a small amount of the sound. As you hear it begin, close the fader. Drag the record back and open the fader.

So your doing a simple baby scratch with your record hand, but cutting off the sound with the fader right as the sound begins. This is called a chirp as it sounds kind of like a bird chirping.

We’ve already covered the baby scratch so 1 click flares are the next scratch to learn.

So with the fader open push the record forward, just like a drag. Half way through the sound use the fader and cut the sound in half with a simple click of the crossfader. This makes 2 sounds out of the one.

Drag the sound backwards and cut the sound in half again. So in all you have 4 sounds, this makes a fairly simple scratch sound complex.

You’ll find this scratch quite hard to speed up, but stick with it and it’ll sound great over any genre of music.

You can switch it up and add in two clicks or if you have fast fingers, even three clicks.

When I was learning how to scratch, I found the above scratches fairly easy to learn. It gets more difficult when you try to speed them up and put them to a beat though.

Final Thoughts on How to Scratch as a DJ

As you’re learning these scratches just think of the end result, being able to scratch during a set in a club. Seeing the crowd go nuts for a DJ that has something different to everybody else they’ve watched that night. And knowing that you’re throwing something different into your sets.

This will make promoters want to hire you. This will motivate you to spend the hours learning each scratch, and to become a scratch master.

When you’re first learning how to scratch you could try recording your scratch sessions. This will help you to learn where you’re going wrong. Or it could help you find what works the best with your genre.

If you haven’t recorded your sets before a simple program like Audacity works perfectly.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up and develop your own unique style, and just have lots of fun with it.

You’ve now learned the basics of scratching, but have you perfected your mixing yet? Read my essential guide to mixing here.

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David is a professional DJ, family man and avid golfer. Having spent the past decade playing at various venues the US, David loves to write about DJing.