But what exactly is beat matching?
Well, just like it says on the tin, the purpose of beat matching is to get your two tracks moving to the same beat. The tempo of any musical composition can be described in beats per minute – that is, the number of primary rhythmic elements that occur within one minute. For more information about musical structure, beats and tempo, have a look at the music theory section.
The trick with beat matching is to get your tracks to the same tempo, and then to synchronise them. The most common tempo is 4/4 (common time) 120BPM – four beats per bar, one hundred and twenty beats per minute. The more mathematically inclined amongst you might already have calculated that this results in 30 bars per minute, but such details are usually not necessary for simple beat matching.
Match The Tempo, Then The Beats
If you have two tracks that are both running at 120 BPM, then there is no need to mess about with the tempo of either one – all you need to do is synch them up. This means that you can easily crossfade from one to the other without causing any change in beat – which in turn means that the people on the dancefloor won’t be thrown out of step, get confused and decide to leave.
Bearing this in mind, the best way to lean to beat match is by using two records that have the same tempo. If you’re not sure what tempo a particular track is at, the safest way to guarantee an identical tempo for your two records is to buy two copies of the same record. Unless something very strange is going on, this should guarantee that your tracks have the exact same BPM count.
Watch Out For Beat Drifting
It’s important to remember that tracks with an almost identical BPM count will sound in sync for a while, but then as time goes on they will stray further and further out of sync. If you are doing a quick crossfade, you might get away with a rough beat match between a 120 and a 125 BPM track, but remember that unless your tracks are matched exactly then they will start to drift. As your beat matching expertise grows, you’ll learn to identify when you don’t quite have the tempos locked and be able to rectify or compensate for this.
Keep One Ear On The Bass
The easiest guide to the tempo of a track is the bass drum. If a track has a clear bass drum thump-thump-thump for you to lock on to, it should be very easy to match that beat to the next track. House music is generally great for this, as the beats are quite easy to get a fix on and they don’t tend to change very much, apart from disappearing in the breakdown.
So, if you’re picking some tune to get started with, a house standard might be a better bet than some Aphex Twin drill’n’bass. A lot of Paul van Dyk’s stuff features clearly-defined bass drum patterns, and so this might also be a good choice for beginning your mixing career. Any track with a typical dance bassdrum/hi-hat alternating on the beat and downbeat should be perfect for this.