The Art of DJ Scratching

A technique that has not only defined genres but has also become a symbol of innovation in the music world. 


Written By


October 25, 2023 |

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Imagine standing in a pulsating club, the crowd’s energy palpable, and suddenly, amidst the beats, you hear a rhythmic “wikki-wikki” sound that sends chills down your spine. That electrifying sound, a blend of skill, rhythm, and raw musical talent, is the art of DJ scratching. A technique that has not only defined genres but has also become a symbol of innovation in the music world. 

What is it called when a DJ scratches a record?

When a DJ manipulates a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable to produce a rhythmic, percussive sound, it is called “scratching.” This technique is iconic in hip-hop and electronic music and allows the DJ to create unique sounds and beats by physically interacting with the record. It’s like adding an extra instrument to the mix that’s entirely under the DJ’s control.

History of scratching

Scratching was invented in the mid-1970s by Grand Wizard Theodore, a DJ from New York City. Theodore was experimenting with different ways to manipulate vinyl records when he accidentally discovered the scratching sound. He began to develop the technique and soon became known as one of the best scratchers in the world.

Scratching quickly became a popular technique among hip-hop DJs. It was used to add excitement and energy to DJ sets and to showcase the DJ’s skills. Scratching also helped to develop hip-hop culture as it became a way for DJs to express themselves and connect with the audience.

The Tools of the Trade

To scratch, a DJ needs a few essential tools:

  • Turntables: While modern digital turntables are available, many purists prefer the feel and sound of vinyl.
  • Mixer: This allows the DJ to switch between two records, adjust volume levels, and add effects.
  • Vinyl Records: While any record can be scratched, DJs often use special “battle records” filled with samples specifically designed for scratching.

Techniques and Styles

Over the years, DJs have developed a plethora of scratching techniques, each with its unique sound and feel:

  • Baby Scratch: The most basic form involves moving the record back and forth without using the mixer’s fader.
  • Tear: A combination of fast and slow movements, creating a “tearing” sound.
  • Transformer Scratch: Named after the sound effect from the popular toy line, this technique involves rapidly moving the mixer’s fader in conjunction with the record.
  • Flare: A more advanced technique, the flare involves using the fader to cut the sound in and out quickly, creating a series of rapid-fire notes.

Scratching can be used to create a variety of effects, such as:

  • Keeping the beat: Scratching can be used to keep the beat of a song going while the DJ is transitioning to a new song.
  • Adding rhythm: Scratching can be used to add rhythm to a song or create new rhythms.
  • Creating soundscapes: Scratching can create unique and interesting soundscapes that can add atmosphere to a song or DJ set.

The Cultural Impact of Scratching

Scratching has had a profound impact on music and culture. It’s not just a technique; it’s an art form. Battles and competitions, like the DMC World DJ Championships, have sprung up worldwide, showcasing the best scratch DJs and their jaw-dropping skills.

Moreover, scratching has transcended hip-hop. You can hear its influence in rock and electronic dance music genres. It’s a testament to the versatility and appeal of this unique musical technique.

The Future of Scratching

With the rise of digital technology, some purists feared that the art of scratching would fade away. However, the opposite has happened. Digital turntables and software have made scratching more accessible to a new generation of DJs. While the tools might have evolved, the spirit and passion for scratching remain as strong as ever.

How to Scratch?

To scratch, you will need two turntables and a DJ mixer. You will also need a pair of headphones to cue up the next song while scratching.

  1. To start scratching, place the stylus on the record and then move the record back and forth under the stylus. 
  2. Experiment with different speeds and pressures to create different sounds. 
  3. You can also use the crossfader on the DJ mixer to fade between two different records while scratching.
  4. Once you have mastered the basic scratching techniques, you can develop your style and create unique scratches. 

There are many different scratching techniques and combinations, so there is no limit to what you can create.

Tips for Scratching

Here are a few tips for scratching:

  • Use a direct drive turntable. Direct-drive turntables have more torque, which makes it easier to scratch.
  • Use a good-quality stylus. A good quality stylus will reduce record wear and improve sound quality.
  • Practice regularly. The more you practice, the better you will become at scratching.
  • Be creative. Experiment with different techniques and combinations to create your unique scratches.

Scratching as an Art Form

Scratching has evolved into an art form in its own right. There are many scratch competitions held around the world, and there are also many scratch DJs who tour and perform independently.

Scratching is a challenging but rewarding technique that can be used to create various unique and exciting sounds. If you want to learn how to scratch, many resources are available online and in libraries. You can also find scratch lessons from experienced DJs.

Scratching in Different Genres

Scratching is most commonly associated with hip-hop music but has also been used in other genres such as rap rock, rap metal, and nu-metal.

In rap rock, scratching is often used to add a more aggressive sound to the music. In rap metal, scratching is often used to create a more chaotic and industrial sound. In nu metal, scratching is often used to create a more experimental and eclectic sound.

Scratching has also been used in other genres of music, such as electronica, dancehall, and reggae. However, it is most commonly associated with hip-hop music.

In Conclusion

Scratching is more than just a sound; it’s a movement, a culture, and a form of expression. From the streets of the Bronx to the biggest stages in the world, the art of scratching has left an indelible mark on the world of music. Whether you’re a seasoned DJ or just a fan, there’s no denying the power and allure of that distinctive scratch sound.

So, the next time you’re at a party and hear that familiar “wikki-wikki” sound, take a moment to appreciate the skill, history, and culture behind it. Happy scratching!



Written By w00tw00t111

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