Scratching a piece of music is one of the main unique musical actions performed by a DJ. The process of scratching is usually done with a turntable and vinyl record although certain CD manufacturers have developed methods of "scratching" digital music on a CD. A DJ that scratches records and performs tricks that involve scratching is called a turntablist. They perform the art of turntablism.

Scratching a record involves moving the vinyl record back and forth with one hand while moving the crossfader (on the mixer) back and forth with the other. Different sound patterns can be acheived by cutting the sound of the scratch in and out at certain times. The sound sample used to create the scratch also has a profound effect on the outcome of the sound. Also, the type of needle and the condition of the vinyl effect the scratch sound as well. There are many different types of scratches that can be performed and more are being developed as this artform grows.

Types of Scratches

Airplane Scratch / Phazing

This refers to taking two identical sounds and playing them simultaneously on both turntables with the crossfader in the middle position. Although the DJ is trying to match them up exactly, the beats will always be a little bit off (but not enough off for too much of a noticeable delay) so the end product does not sound the same as just one of the channels playing the beat on its own. The result is a flange/phaze sounding effect. This technique is also referred to as phazing.

Baby Scratch

The simplest of scratches, the baby scratch is performed without the use of the crossfader by simple moving the record back and forth. A simple example would be one forward stroke, and one backward stroke (or vice versa) in sequence.

Beat Juggling

To beat juggle, you use two records with a beat on each turntable and mix them together with the crossfader to create new combinations of beats or to create new beats altogether in a "cut and paste" fashion.

Bubble Scratch

This technique is achieved by moving the record back and forth while at the same time turning the EQ knob back and forth from minimum to maximum to get a sort of wah-wah pedal sounding scratch effect.

Chirp Scratch

The chirp scratch is performed by fading the sound out with the crossfader as you push the record forward and fading the sound back in with the crossfader as you pull the record back. Done slowly the effect might not be too impressive, but done quickly and accurately, a chirp sounding scratch is the effect. While the concept is easy to understand, chirps are one of the hardest scratches to perfect with great speed and consistency.

Crab Scratch

The crab scratch was invented by DJ Qbert as a variation on DJ Excel's "twiddle." It seems that the two met up in Japan for the Vestax DJ competition in 1995 and Excel was asking Qbert how to flare. When he showed Qbert how he thought the flare was done he was actually doing the twiddle instead by using his thumb as a spring and "twiddling" the fader with 2 fingers. After this meeting, Qbert took the idea back to San Francisco with him and after showing the scratch to DJ Disk, he ended up creating a move that utilized all 3 to 4 fingers and thus the crab was born. Later in 1995, while the DMC USA finals were being held in San Francisco, a group of djs and judges which included The Beat Junkies, The X-Men (now called the X-ecutioners), and the rest of ISP among others got together for what would later be know as the "Famous Warehouse Session" at Yoga Frogs old mobile DJ warehouse. It was at this session that Qbert shared the new scratch.

While the name "crab" seems self explanatory since it makes your hand look like a crab when you curl all of your fingers to perform it, according to Qbert the name originated elsewhere. Apparently, he and Mixmaster Mike had just returned from Beirut, Lebanon around the same time that he invented it where they were served crepes one night after a show. He said that when the people over their pronounced crepes, it sounded more like "cccccreb" and since he thought it was funny, he used it to name the "cccccreb" scratch which everyone now pronounces as the crab.

To do a crab scratch the DJ quickly rubs/taps the fader knob with 3 or 4 different fingers in sequence starting with the pinkie or ring finger while using the thumb as a spring to cut the fader back out after each tap (or in if scratching hamster style). The result is much like a 3 or 4 tap transform (or a 3 or 4 click flare if you scratch hamster style) only much quicker than you could probably do with one finger. Many DJs find this move easier or more comfortable to perform hamster style by bouncing the fader off of the side of the fader slot, but the move can be performed both normal and hamster. As with orbits, crabs can be performed once as a single distinct move, or sequenced to produce a cyclical neverending type of crab sound.

Flare Scratch

Discovered/invented by DJ Flare and further developed most famously by DJ Qbert, this scratch is much like the transform in some ways, only instead of starting with the sound that you are cutting up off, you start with the sound on and concentrate on cutting the sound into pieces by bouncing the fader off of the cut out side of the fader slot to make the sound cut out and then back in a split second. Each time teh DJ bounces the fader off of the side of the fader slot it makes a distinct clicking noise. For this reason, flares are named according to clicks. A simple one click forward flare would be a forward scratch starting with the sound on as you bounce/click the fader against the side once extremely quickly in the middle of the forward stroke creating two distinct sounds in one stroke of your record hand and ending with the fader open. In the same manner, 2 clicks, 3 clicks, and even more clicks (if you're fast enough) can be performed to do different types of flares. The discovery and development of the flare scratch was instrumental in elevating this art form to the level of speed and technical scratching that we're so used to seeing today.

Forward and Backward Scratches

Forward and backward scratches are also fairly simple scratches but unlike the baby scratch they are performed using the fader to cut the sound in and out. As an example, to perform 2 forward scratches a DJ would just do two baby scratches with his/her record hand using his/her fader hand to cut the sound in when he/she moves the record forward both times and out while he/she is pulling the record back both times so that all we hear are the 2 forward strokes. To do backward scratches a DJ would do the same thing, but cut the backward strokes in and the forward strokes out.

Hamster Style

Normally a DJ setup would be configured with the right turntable playing on the right channel of the mixer and the left turntable playing on the left channel of the mixer. With a hamster style setup, however, the opposite is true. The right turntable plays through the left channel, and the left turntable plays through the right channel. Many DJs find it more comfortable to scratch hamster style since to do many moves it is easier to bounce the fader off of the side of the fader slot using your multiple fingers rather than your thumb. There are two ways to achieve this mixer configuration. One is to physically hook your turntables up to the opposite channels where they come into the back of your mixer, and the other is with a hamster switch. Normally a hamster switch only reverses your crossfader's configuration, while physically reversing your turntable cables reverses the crossfader and volume faders' configuration.

Hydroplane

A hydroplane is performed while the record is spinning and the DJ lightly applies pressure to the surface with one or more fingers without stopping the record. The idea is to create light friction between the fingers and the record and with the right touch, a bassy friction sound is the result.

Looping

Alternating between two different copies of the same record, this technique is achieved by using the crossfader cutting in a phrase of music from one record, then cutting in the same phrase of music from the other record while at the same time pulling back each cut out record to the phrase's beginning point before it is cut back in again. By doing this you end up playing the same sound over and over again much like a sampler looping a beat (or any other sound for that matter). In many ways, looping is the foundation of almost all hiphop beats even though these days most people of course loop beats with samplers rather than turntables. Grandmaster Flash is primarily credited as the first dj to "loop the break" using two copies of the same record.

Orbit Scratch

An orbit is most generally any scratch move performed both forward then backward or backward then forward in sequence. Usually when someone is referring to an orbit, however, they are most likely talking about flare orbits. For example, A 1 click forward flare and a 1 click backward flare in quick succession (altogether creating 4 very quick distinct sounds) would be a 1 click orbit. A 2 click forward flare and a 2 click backward flare in quick succession (altogether creating 6 very distinct sounds) would be a 2 click orbit, etc. Orbits can be performed once as a single orbit move, or sequenced to produce a cyclical neverending type of orbit sound. DJ Disk is primarily the one credited as the first person to discover/incorporate flare orbits into his scratching.

Scribble Scratch

A scribble is performed by tensing up the forearm muscles and moving the record back and forth with very small shaky sounding increments. The result is best described as a vibrating "scribbly" sounding effect.

Strobing

Strobing is a type of beat juggling first associated with DJs Shortkut and Yoshi, but most famous demonstrated by Shortkut. In strobing you pretty much alternate back and forth between two records with a beat on each while you take turns tapping or pulling the records back slightly with your hand to manipulate the tempo on each record and keep them in sync in an alternating incremental fashion. An example might sound like kick, kick, snare, snare, kick, kick, snare, snare, kick, kick, snare, snare...alternating between the same sounds on the two different turntables, but any combination is possible using 2 of the same records, or 2 completely different beats. By cutting back and forth one can usually separate kicks, snares, cymbal sounds, etc., to make new sounding or doubled sounding beats.

Tear Scratch

The tear is much like a baby scratch in that you do not need the fader to perform it, but unlike a baby scratch, when the DJ pulls the record back he/she pauses his/her hand for a split second in the middle of the stroke. The result is one forward sound and two distinct backward sounds. This scratch can also be performed by doing the opposite and placing the pause on the forward stroke instead. A basic tear is usually performed with the crossfader open the entire time, but it can also be combined with other scratches such as flares for example by doing tears with the record hand and cutting the sound in and out with the fader hand.

Transform Scratch

Most famously associated with DJ Cash Money who is credited with coining the term "transform" or "transformer" scratch, this scratch is achieved by moving a sound with your record hand while repeatedly tapping the fader to cut the sound in and out in sequence with your fader hand as the sound plays. A transform scratch should begin with the sound off tapping the fader once you want the effect/sound to start. Imagine the crossfader as a button, and your thumb as the spring (or vice versa if you scratch hamster style). What you would be doing is tapping the button repeatedly as the sound plays giving a stuttering or tremolo type effect.

Tweak Scratch

The tweak scratch is a scratch perhaps made most famous by Invisbl Skratch Piklz member Mixmaster Mike. To perform a tweak scratch, you turn the motor off on your turntable and move the platter and record back and forth manually with your fingers and thumb in whatever pattern you desire. The fader may be used to do transform sounding tweaks, but the fader does not have to be used at all for this move if you choose not to use it. This scratch is best performed on long tone type samples, but can be applied to any sound. The result varies, but usually is a somewhat jerky sounding scratch. Because the turntable is turned off, each time your finger hits the record in a certain direction, it continues to go in that direction, but slows down as it does instead of returning to a constant speed after each time it is released as it does when the motor is on.

Twiddle Scratch

The Twiddle scratch is the precursor to the crab and its introduction is most commonly attributed to DJ Excel of the UK. Quite basically, the twiddle is a crab scratch using two fingers instead of 3 or 4 to repeatedly "twiddle" the fader.

Zig-Zag Scratch

A zig zag scratch is a move where the DJ uses one hand on the record, and one hand moving back and forth between the volume fader and the record to create a unique scratch effect. If scratching with your right hand on the record the technique would go something like this:

Right hand pulls back sound and lets go

Left hand taps the record as it's coming back forward to make a quick pause in the forward movement of the sound to make two distinct forward sounds instead of one.

Left hand quickly moves and taps down the volume fader a small increment to make the volume a little lower (or higher since you could do the same thing in reverse).

Repeat pattern

The effect you get is a 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3... scratch of the sound while the 1,2,3 fades out a little more each time the volume fader is tapped a little lower (the sound can be faded completely out or you can start fading the sound in and out).