Learn scratching DJ

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

DJ`s work with sound by manipulating records on turntables to produce rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. They also use digital controllers that can manipulate other aspects of the music, such as its effects (reverb, flanger), pitch (tempo, key), and intensity (compression).

The creation of beats in hip-hop is often cited to the invention of DJ Kool Herc in 1973. Through his experimentation with making music with record players, he found that isolating the percussive breaks of songs allowed him to loop them which resulted in a constant beat throughout the room.

DJs make their music using three major components: a mixing board, turntables or CDJs (turntable-like devices used for playing CDs), and a computer running a music-mixing program.

What is scratching?

The ancient art of Scratching is used heavily in hip-hop music. The act of scratching requires the DJ to push a vinyl record back and forth on their turntable while using a mixer, oftentimes through the use of crossfading between two records.

Scratching (or Scratch Music) was originally coined by Eddie "DJ Eddie Def" Ferrell. He has self-proclaimed to be the first person ever to scratch a record. He has stated that he has no idea when or where he invented it but he knows for sure it was sometime around 1986 when he started his own crew called "In Control".

The basic technique involves holding a record by its edge and moving it back and forth across the stationary playback head of the turntable. Scratch DJs typically prefer the sound resulting from this process, which is an audibly distinctive performance characteristic of their music.

History aspects

Maybe the most common scratch used by hip hop DJs is known as an "independent scratch". It is commonly believed that Grand Wizard Theodore invented this form of scratching. He accomplished it by moving the record back and forth while holding his thumb over the center hole around which the record spins. By doing this, he was able to continuously spin the record backward creating a sound that has become synonymous with hip-hop music art.

He first showcased his technique at DJ Disco Wiz's house party in 1974. The crowd went crazy for this new technique because no one had ever heard anything like it before! This scratching technique pretty much became standard after that point, but do not let anyone tell you otherwise...Grand Wizard DST was the man who invented it!

He was also responsible for the invention of the Crab scratch which he created in 1983. He would "crab" the record by pushing against it with his hand while simultaneously spinning it with his fingers. This technique made him look like a crab, hence the name.

Today there are many different types of scratches that have been created/added, but when you talk about scratching in hip hop these are often what is being referred to when someone is discussing how DJs mastered this art form.

When hip-hop music became popular in America, Shep Pettibone began producing remixes that were heavily scrubbed clean using techniques such as EQing and limiting. Around 1986, one could find remixes of pop records on commercially available 12" singles, such as David Bowie's " Let's Dance "; the remix of the song was noted for its heavily edited and scrubbed clean sound.

Another record producer who was known for his use of heavy whiting out and overusing the pause button on a cassette deck (thus creating a very muddy-sounding mix) was Marley Marl. He also popularized the term scratcher in reference to DJs using this technique.

Many hip-hop listeners consider him to be one of the pioneers of this art form. Scratching has spread from vinyl records to digital media such as CD s and MP3 files after they became available in the mid-1990s. This is because it is quite simple to create an mp3 file with hh the click of a mouse, but it is much more difficult to master this art form.


Scratch DJ competitions are held worldwide, sometimes attracting thousands of competitors and spectators. There are several governing bodies within the scratching community. The largest one is Beat Junkies with their quarterly event called the DMC World DJ Championship.

The US-based International Turntable Federation (ITF), was founded in 1997 by DJs Gadget, Melon, C3Boomer, Craze, A-Trak, K-Styles, and Lucky Scratch Girl VerStr8. It has an annual championship where DJs compete to win gold plates and cash prizes. Some of the bigger competitions occur in Toronto, Canada at "Scratch Night" and Los Angeles, California at the Gigamixx.

Scratching on a CDJ

DJ controllers, such as CDJ's, provide a way for DJs to scratch using computer software. However, these are not true turntables and do not possess features like the crossfader and pitch control. They do allow scratching to take place in different ways, which include:

  • The turntable is represented as a waveform that can be manipulated and altered by scratching. This is similar to how turntables and vinyl records work and there are many scratch techniques that can be achieved this way.
  • Vinyl emulation allows the turntable to behave like a turntable with features such as slipmats, pitch control, scratching, etc. To achieve this on CDJs, two virtual decks (for each CDJ) must be used as well as timecoded vinyl or CDs so that the DJ software knows where the record is located at all times. Some do not require timecoded vinyl/CDs to use these functions though. There may also be an issue of latency when using these functions. This is when the time it takes for a turntable to start spinning after being touched, in relation to the software, isn't quick enough. Some DJs have experienced great difficulty when using these functions because of this.
  • The waveform can be made into an image so that scratching with the CDJ works in a similar way to how vinyl is manipulated/scratched by manipulating the record itself. However, this does not allow many scratch techniques with slipmats can be achieved since they are not real records.
  • Using the effects section of the mixer mode allows mixing and scratching to take place simultaneously with beat juggling. There are different types of sounds that make upbeats (bass line, kick drum, hi-hat cymbals, etc.) and these can be used to create new beats or mixes.
  • The virtual decks on some DJ mixers allow the mixer knobs and faders to be controlled inside of the software (e.g. Traktor's Remix Decks ). This allows for the mixing and scratching to take place simultaneously in a similar way that it would take place if using timecoded types of vinyl/CDs.
  • Using slipmats with CDJ's is possible by creating a custom mapping in Traktor or Serato. The crossfader is replaced by an option box where either controls one of the two virtual decks, applies effects, etc., but no cutting is applied to any track until there is a corresponding button that simulates the slipmats.

Scratching techniques

There are many techniques for scratching including 'Back-cueing', beatmatching/phasing, cutting, crabbing, crossfading, double dropping or "echo" cutting, juggling (a type of back-cueing), nudging, panning, pumping (a continuous increase and decrease in the volume of one channel by alternating between increasing pressure on the one-foot pedal and decreasing pressure on another), reverse-playback, slamming (fast pushing towards the center of a record) and tap-scratching.

To understand how to scratch you need to know what it sounds like when you mess up and how to fix it. 

This form of art took some time for people to catch on, but once it did hip hop music exploded. A prime example of scratching can be heard in Run DMC's track It's Like That. This song has been sampled over 300 times since its release.


It is a style of scratching that involves pushing the record back and forth with one's thumb. The sound is only created by the manipulation of magnetic tape, as there is no contact between the DJ's hand and the revolving platter. In order to bend a note using this method, weight must be added to either side of the disc so it can be pushed back further for longer periods of time.


This style of scratching involves the DJ moving the record back and forth on the platter while simultaneously pushing down on both sides of it. The sound occurs when there is contact between the DJ's hand or finger, and the revolving platter. This creates a vacuum of air around the record causing rubbing noises.

Cross-fader Scratching

This is where one side of the cross-fader is set at 100% volume, so if you push left or right on it, it will cut off all frequencies coming through that side only. This technique can be utilized during any genre to create unique sound effects.

Scratching with 2 Turntables Using One Hand

Scratching with two turntables using one hand consists of using a mixer with two turntables and a cross-fader. The desired sound is achieved by placing one hand on each turntable. By slightly pushing the hand closer to one turntable or the other, they can 'switch' which turntable is playing at any given time. This technique allows for quick scratching as well as real-time looping. In this way, it is very similar to beat juggling.

Nudged Scratching

Nudging involves bending notes up or down from their original pitch by pushing against them without actually touching them.

Two Deck Scratching

In this style of scratching, which incorporates three elements: back-cueing, cutting, and nudging, the DJ moves a record back and forth on a turntable while pressing down lightly on the top of it with one hand. The other hand is placed in the middle of the cross-fader which enables him or her to cut off certain sections of music by nudging at any time.

Crab Scratching

This is when you scratch records with both hands simultaneously, however, if done too quickly it may sound like a mix between dub and reggae. It can be achieved through perfect beatmatching with two copies of the same record, or by using two completely different songs and sliding one under another so that they overlap approximately 50%.

A more difficult technique involves sliding records over each other without touching them, but doing so swiftly enough so that the result sounds like a cross between dub and reggae.


Pumping is another method of manipulating records, but this time you are pushing the record on the platter at the same time as gently nudging one side or both sides. It provides a different sound than scratching.


Panning is when you push the record back and forth without having it in contact with the platter at all. This creates the effect of out-of-phase sounds that move from left to right. Other famous scratching techniques include rubbing, stutter, tiger claw, Z-Fade, hand gliding, hand flicker, Tony Touch Flipper, wrist roll, and backspin.

What is your starting point?

If you want to begin learning scratching DJ, you should search for the basics articles, such as: how to change records, cueing up records, and beatmatching. Then you need to read about back-cueing since it will help you understand all other styles of scratching. Be aware that to be a good DJ you also need to learn mixing.

The more you practice, the faster will gain experience. You can suggest your self-made training plan or follow one of the tutorials to make it easier for you. Don't try too hard when practicing, let yourself feel your way around the records, and trust in your ear when trying something new.

Remember that if you are not 100% confident with an element or scratch, then there is no point in forcing it because you could end up harming your technique by doing so.

Here are several sources which will help you in mastering scratching DJ: websites books, videos, audio samples.