The very first step to learning how to DJ is to understand the basic theory behind music, this article aims to help you understand what the meaning of tempo is. By understanding what tempo is, you will be armed with the first piece of knowledge you require to beatmatch correctly!
Tempo is the speed at which a piece of music is moving. If you have ever clapped your hands or danced to a piece of music, you may have noticed your clapping or dancing moving to a specific rhythm, or at a specific speed. That speed is the tempo of the track, the higher the speed of the clapping/dancing, the faster the tempo.
It is also important to understand that ‘Tempo’ is measured in BPM (beats per minute). The lower the BPM of a piece of music, the slower the music will seem like it’s moving. The higher the BPM, the faster it will seem to move (just as described above). All modern pieces of DJ equipment from laptop controllers to high end Pioneer decks are capable of identifying and displaying the tempo (BPM) of a track.
The first step before making a transition between two tracks must be to make sure both tracks you have selected for mixing have the same tempo (BPM value). If they don’t, then one track will be moving faster than the other and you won’t be able to ‘sync’ them together for a smooth mix (more on this later).
So how do you set the same BPM value if the two tracks are displaying a different BPM? First identify where the BPM is displayed. On CDJs it is shown at the bottom right corner of the display with the letters ‘BPM’ next to it. (See fig 1 below).
If the two selected tracks are showing different BPM values, there will be a fader (typically known as a Pitch fader or Tempo fader) which you can adjust in order to change the BPM of a track (See Fig 2.0 for image of pitch fader).
Finally, if the two tracks you have selected have vastly different BPM values, and you have to move the pitch fader quite far to get them to match, just for now, select two different tracks with a similar inherent tempo (BPM). When mixing tracks with largely different inherent tempos (BPM values), it is better to use other mixing methods which don’t necessarily require you to match the BPM (we will leave these techniques for a more advanced lesson).
The next principle of music theory you must understand before you are capable of mixing two tracks seamlessly is understanding what beats, bars and phrases are, and knowing how to count them, so continue on to Part 2 of this guide to learn more!
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A Soundflow Music Academy publication,
Written by Nikos Argalias