Bringing Up The BPM For Beat Mixing

Right, so far we’ve been practising with two copies of the same track, or at least with two tracks that are at the same tempo. We’ve artificially created tempo variations by changing the pitch of one track and then matched the two up again by changing the pitch of the other track. But what happens when you start out with two tracks that are at different tempi in the first place?

knob twiddler
Creative Commons License photo credit: mugley

Well, now it’s time to pick a different track to practise with. If you can still stomach it, you can keep the same track you’ve been working on up until now, and choose another track with a different tempo to mix it with. If you’re sick to death of your original track, you can pick two completely new records and work from there. Let’s keep it simple though – don’t go for anything too crazy. Make sure both tracks have a clearly defined bass drum beat, as this will help you learn more quickly. Avoid anything that has tempo changes in the song itself, as this will only confuse the issue more; again, standard house or techno will probably be a safe bet.

For the moment, let’s assume that you have one record that’s at 120 BPM and another that’s 125 BPM (remember that BPM stands for beats per minute, and for a DJ this is how we measure the tempo of a track). If you play these two records together at their natural speeds, they will run out of sync pretty quickly. However, by using the pitch control tricks we’ve been practising already, we can change the tempo of one (or both) of these records so that they line up nicely for us.

Out for the Count

There are a variety of ways you can calculate the BPM count of a particular track. If you’re using DJ software such as Traktor, it will display the BPM count for each song automatically. If you have a computer, there are a number of utilities you can download for free that will calculate BPMs for you, such as these:

http://users.skynet.be/bk264570/BeatM200.exe

http://grandfiles.com/programs/audio/analogx-taptempo.html

Here is an online table you can use to calculate BPM and tempo:

http://web.forret.com/tools/bpm_tempo.asp

Although it can be useful to know what BPM a track is running at, such information is actually used more in the digital domain, where two tracks can be matched exactly simply by modifying their BPM count. The tempo of a digital file can be determined to as many decimal places as required, and beat matching can be handled entirely by the software.

Play It By Ear, Not By The Numbers

For vinyl, you don’t actually need to know that a track is running at 121.43 BPM – you can just listen to it and know instinctively what needs to be done to get it running in time with another record. Well, once you have practised enough, that is…anyway, the point here is that because your pitch control is probably analog, you’ll have to use your ear and touch-familiarity with your deck to get it to the right position anyway, so knowing the exact BPM isn’t a whole lot of use in practical terms. It just gives you an idea of roughly where you should be putting the slider, but the exact position will still be up to your fingers…

One thing you should watch out for is pairing two records that have vastly different tempi – remember that your deck can probably only change pitch by 8%, so the most variation in tempo you can produce is actually 16%. In fact, to achieve this amount of change you would have to bring one record up by 8% and the other down by 8%, which is not something that you would want to do except on very special occasions!

Back On the Beat

Right, so we have a record that’s got a BPM of 120. Put that on deck one with the pitch control set to zero and let it play. Now, put your 125 BPM record (or whatever it is) on deck two and find the start beat.

Remember the process – it’s exactly the same as what you were doing before. What you want is to position the needle just before the first downbeat, so you can release it on the beat of the live record. If the two records are running at the same tempo, they will then both play along in sync.

In this case, however, we know that the second record (the cued record) has a higher BPM than the live record. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that this means the cued record will start racing ahead of the live record – to be exact, after a minute of play the cued record will be five beats ahead of the live record. This is not what we want, so now we have two options – either increase the speed of the live record or decrease the speed of the cued record.

Bringing Your Records Into Sync

If you increase the speed of the live record, you’ll probably freak out some of the dancers on the floor, so it’s probably best to slow down the cued record a bit. Messing with the pitch control of the live record can be done, but it requires great timing and skill if you don’t want to sound like a drunken amateur. This is definitely not something we want to be delving into at this stage, so we’ll just leave that be for the moment!

Anyway, even if you didn’t know that your cued disc was at a higher tempo before you put it on, it should become obvious very quickly that it is. The next thing to do is to bring the pitch control down, sync the cued record to the beat of the live record again and see if you’ve gotten it right.

This is exactly the same process as before; if you’ve overcompensated and made the cued record too slow, you’ll need to bump up the pitch control slightly. If you do this and find that the cued record is now running too fast, you’ll have to reduce the pitch again. If you find that you’re constantly knocking around the sweet spot but always overshooting, you just need to find a way of making finer adjustments to your pitch slider.

Some Tips For Getting Your Tempo Right

A lot depends on how sensitive or loose the slider is; you might be able to make fine adjustments by tapping it lightly. Another possibility is to place your finger on its side just beside the fader, then rotate your finger slightly so that it gives the fader just the tiniest of pushes. Again, you’ll need to experiment to find a technique that works for you. If you find you can control pitch perfectly well on your friend’s decks but can never get it right at home, then maybe you should consider getting some new decks – but usually a bit of experimentation and practise will put things right.

Once you’ve managed to sync up the 125BPM track to the 120BPM track, the next thing you need to do is have a go at doing it the other way around. Set the 125BPM track playing, and use the 120BPM track as your cue record this time. From what you’ve learned already, you’ll know that now you have to speed up your cued record if it’s going to have a chance of keeping pace with the 125BPM one.

The process is exactly the same – the only difference is that your first pitch adjustment will be up instead of down. After that, you’re trying to pinpoint the right pitch to bring the two into sync.

Am I Going Too Fast Or Too Slow?

Remember, if you find you really can’t tell if your cued record is playing faster or slower than the live record, you can take some time out from trying to sync the two and just listen to what the cued record sounds like when it’s playing faster than the other.

Then, when you’ve listened to the sound for a bit, bring the pitch control down so that the cued record is playing slower than the live one. Listen to the sounds again and see if you can spot the difference. Repeat this process several times, bringing the pitch control above and below the sync spot as many times as you can before you start losing concentration completely. After a while, you should start to recognise the particular sonic qualities that appear when your cued record is slower or faster than the disc on air.

This isn’t easy, so don’t worry too much if you can’t get it spot on at this stage. It takes quite a bit of first-hand experience before you can get two records with different tempi into sync straight away, and this is probably the most difficult of the basic DJ skills to master. If you keep plugging away at it, things will get easier and you’ll find yourself making the right adjustments almost instinctively.

You’ll know you’ve got the hang of it if you can bring your cued record into sync with the live record by only using the pitch control, and then instantly setting the pitch control so that it stays in sync.

This means that you can beat match two records without lifting the needle from the vinyl – and this is definitely a sign of a quality DJ in the making.