Scratching, sometimes referred to as scrubbing, is a DJ and turntablist technique used to produce distinctive sounds by moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable while optionally manipulating the crossfader on a DJ mixer. While scratching is most commonly associated with hip hop music, since the mid-1970s, it has been used in some styles of pop and in nu metal. Within hip hop culture, scratching is one of the measures of a DJ's skills, as in DMC World DJ Championship or IDA (International DJ Association) former ITF (International turntablist Federation) where the DJs can use only scratch oriented gear (turntables + mixer + digital vinyl systems or vinyl only), and there are many scratching competitions.
In recorded hip-hop songs, scratched hooks often use portions of other songs.
Sample of DJ Q-Bert scratching live
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Scratching was developed by early hip hop DJs from New York such as Grand Wizard Theodore, who describes scratching as, "nothing but the back-cueing that you hear in your ear before you push it [the recorded sound] out to the crowd." (Toop, 1991). Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc also influenced the early development of scratching. Kool Herc developed break-beat DJing, where the breaks of funk songs—being the most danceable part, often featuring percussion—were isolated and repeated for the purpose of all-night dance parties.
Although previous artists such as William S. Burroughs had experimented with the idea of manipulating a reel to reel tape manually for the sounds produced (such as with his 1950s recording, "Sound Piece"), vinyl scratching as an element of hip hop pioneered the idea of making the sound an integral and rhythmic part of music instead of uncontrolled noise.
DJ Sample of the song "Where it All Started"
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Christian Marclay was one of the earliest musicians to scratch outside of hip hop. In the mid-1970s, Marclay used gramophone records and turntables as musical instruments to create sound collages. He developed his turntable sounds independently of hip hop DJs. Although he is little-known to mainstream audiences, Marclay has been described as "the most influential turntable figure outside hip hop." and the "unwitting inventor of turntablism."
In 1981 Grandmaster Flash released the song "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" which is notable for its use of many DJ techniques such as scratching. It was the first commercial recording produced entirely using turntables. In 1982, Malcolm McLaren & the World's Famous Supreme Team released a single "Buffalo Gals", juxtaposing extensive scratching with calls from square dancing, and, in 1983, the EP, D'ya Like Scratchin'?, which is entirely focused on scratching. Another 1983 release to prominently feature scratching is Herbie Hancock's Grammy Award-winning single "Rockit". This song was also performed live at the 1984 Grammy Awards, and in the documentary film Scratch, the performance is cited by many DJs as their first exposure to scratching. The Street Sounds Electro compilation series which started in 1983 is also notable for early examples of scratching.
Most scratches are produced by moving a vinyl record back and forth with the hand while it is playing on a turntable. This creates a distinctive sound that has come to be one of the most recognizable features of hip-hop music. Over time with excessive scratching the stylus will cause what is referred to as record burn.
Sample of Drum N'Bass Jungle scratching
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The basic equipment setup for scratching includes two turntables, and a DJ mixer, which is a mixer that has a crossfader and cue buttons to allow the DJ to cue up new music without the audience hearing. When scratching, this crossfader is utilized in conjunction with the scratching hand to cut in and out of the scratched record.
Digital Vinyl Systems
Using a digital vinyl system (DVS) consists of playing vinyl discs on turntables whose contents is a timecode signal instead of music.
- The turntables' audio outputs are connected to the audio inputs of a computer audio interface.
- The audio interface digitizes this signal from the turntables and transfers it to a DJ software.
- DJ software uses this data to know the playback status, speed, scratch of the hardware turntables, and duplicates them on its virtual turntables.
- The DJ thus controls how the computer plays back digitized audio and can therefore scratch computer tracks.
There is not a single standard of DVS, so that each piece of DJ software has its own settings. Some DJ software such as Traktor Scratch Pro or Serato Scratch Live supports only the audio interface sold with their software, requiring multiple interfaces for one computer to run multiple programs.
The best known digital vinyl systems software are
While most turntablists consider the only true scratching media is the vinyl disc, there are other ways to scratch, as:
- CD players with jog wheels, allowing the DJ to manipulate a CD as if it were a vinyl record, have become widely available.
- Vinyl emulation software allows a DJ to manipulate the playback of digital music files on a computer via a DJ control surface (generally MIDI or a HID controller). DJs can scratch, beatmatch, and perform other turntablist operations that cannot be done with a conventional keyboard and mouse. DJ software performing computer scratch operations are include Traktor Pro, Mixxx, Serato Scratch Live & Itch, Virtual DJ, M-Audio Torq, DJay, Deckadance, Cross.
- DJs have also used magnetic tape, such as cassette or reel to reel to both mix and scratch. Tape DJing is rare but Ruthless Ramsey (youtube link) in the US and Mr Tape (youtube link) in Latvia use exclusively tape formats to perform.
Sounds that are frequently scratched include but are not limited to drum beats, horn stabs, spoken word samples, and vocals/lyrics from other songs. Any sound recorded to vinyl can be used, and CD players providing a turntable-like interface allow DJs to scratch not only material that was never released on vinyl, but also field recordings and samples from television and movies that have been burned to CD-R. Some DJs and anonymous collectors release 12-inch singles called battle records that include trademark, novel or hard-to-find scratch fodder. The most recognizable samples used for scratching are the "Ahh" and "Fresh" samples, which originate from the song "Change the Beat" by Fab 5 Freddy.
There are many scratching techniques, which differ in how the movements of the record is combined with opening and closing the crossfader (or another fader or switch, where "open" means that the signal is audible, and "closed" means that the signal is inaudible). This terminology is not unique; the following discussion, however, is consistent with the terminology used by DJ Q-Bert on his Do It Yourself Scratching DVD.
- Baby scratch - The simplest scratch form, it is performed with the scratching hand only, moving the record back and forth in continuous movements while the crossfader is in the open position.
- Forward and backward scratch - The forward scratch, also referred to as "cutting", is a baby scratch where the crossfader is closed during the backwards movement of the record. If the record is let go instead of being pushed forward it is also called "release scratch". Cutting out the forward part of the record movement instead of the backward part gives a "backward scratch".
- Tear Scratch - Tear scratches are scratches where the record is moved in a staggered fashion, dividing the forward and backward movement into two or more movements. This allows creating sounds similar to "flare scratches" without use of the crossfader and it allows for more complex rhythmic patterns. The term can also refer to a simpler, slower version of the chirp.
- Scribble scratch - The scribble scratch is performed without the crossfader, and is performed by tensing the forearm muscles of the scratching hand and rapidly jiggling the record back and forth.
- Chirp scratch - The chirp scratch involves closing the fader just after playing the start of a sound .. and as you shut the sound off you should also stop the record moving at that point too, then reverse manouvre the record while opening the fader to get a kinda " chir-pa " pattern simply from one baby scratch and a cut in the centre . When performed using a recording of drums this allows creating the illusion of doubled scratching speed, due to the attack created by cutting in the crossfader on the backward movement.
- Hydrophonic Scratch - is a baby scratch with a "tear scratch" sound produced by your thumb running the opposite direction as your scratch fingers. This rubbing of the thumb adds a vibrating effect or reverberation to forward movements on the turntable.
- Transformer scratch - with the crossfader closed, the record is moved with the scratching hand while periodically "tapping" the crossfader open and immediately closing it again.
- Flare scratch - it begins with the crossfader open, and then the record is moved while briefly closing the fader one or more times to cut the sound out. This produces a staggering sound which can make a single "flare" sound like a very fast series of "chirps" or "tears." The number of times the fader is closed ("clicks") during the record's movement is usually used as a prefix to distinguish the variations. The flare allows a DJ to scratch continuously with less hand fatigue than transforming. The flare can be combined with the crab for an extremely rapid continuous series of scratches.
- Crab scratch - it consists of moving the record while quickly tapping the crossfader open with each finger of the crossfader hand. In this way, DJs are able to perform transforms or flares much faster than they could by manipulating the crossfader with the whole hand. It produces a fading/increasing transforming sound.
- Twiddle scratch - consists of a two finger Crab Scratch using your index and middle fingers
- Orbit scratch - this term describes any scratch (most commonly flares) that are repeated during the forward and backward movement of the record. Orbit is also used as a shorthand for 2-click flares.
- Tweak scratch - it is performed with the turntable's motor off. The record platter is set in motion manually, then "tweaked" faster and slower to create a songlike scratch. This scratch form is best performed with long, sustained sounds.
- Euro scratch - a variation of the "flare scratch" in which two faders are used simultaneously with one hand to cut the sound much faster. The euro scratch can also be done by using only the up fader and the phono line switch to cut the sound.
While scratching is becoming more and more popular within pop music, sophisticated scratching is still predominantly an underground style. The Invisibl Skratch Piklz from San Francisco focuses on scratching. In 1994, the group was formed by DJs Q-Bert, Disk & Shortkut and later Mix Master Mike. In July 2000, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts held Skratchcon2000, the first DJ Skratch forum that provided “the education and development of skratch music literacy”. In 2001, Thud Rumble became an independent company that works with DJ artists to produce and distribute scratch records.
In 2004, Scratch Magazine, one of the first publications about hip-hop DJs and producers, released its debut issue, following in the footsteps of the lesser-known Tablist magazine. Pedestrian is a UK arts organisation that runs Urban Music Mentors workshops for youth in which DJs tell youth how to create beats, use turntables, MC, and perform.
Use outside of hip hop
Scratching has been incorporated into a number of other musical genres, including pop, rock, jazz, heavy metal and classical music performances. For recording use, samplers are often used instead of physically scratching a vinyl record. Guitarist Tom Morello, known for his work with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, often performs scratching-inspired guitar solos. A notable example is the song "Bulls on Parade," in which he creates scratch-like rhythmic sounds by rubbing the strings over the pick-ups while using the pickup selector switch as a crossfader.
Since the 1990s, scratching has been used in a variety of popular music genres, such as nu metal (e.g. Linkin Park, Slipknot, and Limp Bizkit). It has also been used by artists in pop music (e.g. Nelly Furtado) and alternative rock (e.g. Incubus). Scratching is also popular in various electronic music styles, such as hard-groove techno.
- Tape-bow Violin
- Vinyl Emulation Software
- List of Turntablists
- Allmusic's Grand Wizard Theodore biography[dead link] (also at Artist Direct)
- DJ Grandmaster Flash quoted in Toop, David (1991). Rap Attack 2, 65. New York: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1-85242-243-2.
- The best digital turntable for scratching