Tools of the trade

To get started you’ll need a TRAKTOR KONTROL S4, a laptop, USB cable to connect the controller, a variety of loops or breakbeats to scratch over, and a collection of digital scratch samples. Aside from these essentials, it’s also recommended that you find a DJ mentor to study with and a handful of DJs you can listen to and watch for inspiration.


Selecting samples and beats for scratching

First things first; you’ve got to get your hands on some scratch samples. Scratch samples are words and phrases that can be used to create percussive sounds. Classic scratch samples include sounds like “ahhh”, “scratch” and “fresh”. If you have a vinyl collection, record and digitize the scratch samples from your battle break records. If you’re starting out fresh, you could use a sound library like Sounds.com to search for sound FX samples to use for scratching (for example, Goldbaby have a wealth of sounds and effects primed for scratch DJs).

Next it’s time to dig in the (digital) crates for beats to scratch over. Hip hop instrumentals, trap and electro beats all work well for scratching, although any  type of beat you like can be used. It’s a good idea to start with slower beats (eg. 70 bpm- 95 bpm) and increase the tempo of the beats over time as you become a more proficient scratcher. Sounds.com has a lot of cool beats available, and if you’re into producing, you could pick up a sample pack and create loops of your own. The beats don’t have to be long; eight to sixteen bars is long enough as you’ll be looping them in TRAKTOR.

a-beginners-guide-to-scratching-on-the-traktor-kontrol-s4-1

Setup


Next you’ll need to setup cue points for your scratch samples and loops using TRAKTOR and the S4. You will need to decide which hand you are going to use on the platter to scratch with, and which hand to use on the crossfader. In most cases, it makes sense to use your dominant hand on the platter, as this can give you greater control of the jog wheels. However if it feels more comfortable, use your dominant hand on the cross fader and the other hand on the jog wheel. If you’re going to be using the left jog wheel for scratching, load up your scratch samples into Deck A in TRAKTOR, and load up a beat into Deck B. Load these in reverse if you plan to use the right hand on the platter and the left hand on the crossfader. There’s a style of scratching where the crossfader is reversed called hamster but we’re going to keep things simple and stick with the standard setup method described above.

a-beginners-guide-to-scratching-on-the-traktor-kontrol-s4-2
a-beginners-guide-to-scratching-on-the-traktor-kontrol-s4-3

Hand positioning

To keep track of where samples are positioned in relation to the position of the jog wheel, think of the jog wheel like a clock. 12 o’clock is up at the top, 3 o’clock on the right hand side, etc. Place your hand on the jog wheel between six and nine o’clock. Use either your first and second finger, or second and third finger and hover the other fingers in the air, slightly above the jog wheel. Position the palm of your hand close to the jog wheel; the closer it is to the jog wheel, the better control you’ll have of the sounds you manipulate.

With your other hand, place the crossfader between your thumb and first finger. Your wrist should be relaxed and the crossfader should be held loosely between your thumb and first finger.

How to set up cue points in TRAKTOR and the S4

A cue point allows DJs to instantly navigate to where the cue point is placed on a track. Cue points are useful because they allow you to quickly jump to samples. Its best to place a cue point at the beginning of every sample or every few samples. To do this, place your hand on the jog wheel and use your ears and eyes as you look at TRAKTOR’s visual display. On the Deck you’ve loaded a sample into, push the platter back and forth until you hear the first sample. Zoom in on the waveform (using the plus buttons) in TRAKTOR to find the exact beginning of the sample. Before the sample, you’ll see blank space and hear silence. The beginning of the sample will have a coloured waveform and you’ll hear sound as you move the jog wheel into the sample. Press Cue 1 on the S4 to mark a cuepoint. To delete a cuepoint, press Shift and then press the cue point you want to delete. Repeat for each sample in the track you’d like to mark.

On the track that’s loaded into Deck B, find the first beat of the record by using the jog wheel to rotate the track until you hear sound. The first beat in the music is called the ‘downbeat’, or beat one; this is generally the first sound you’ll hear in a track but double check to make sure the beat begins with a kick drum. If it doesn’t, slowly rotate the jog wheel until you locate the first kick drum. Mark a cue point on the downbeat by pressing Cue 1 on the S4. Since you’ll want to loop your beats, next click Loop from the dropdown menu below Cue and select Loop. Select the number of bars you’d like to the loop to be. When Cue Button 1 is pressed, the Loop will play.

Modes and Haptic

The S4 has  three different modes; Turntable Mode, Jog Mode and Beatgrid Adjust Mode. Select Turntable Mode to give the jog wheels a vinyl feel. This mode allows DJs to nudge the platter forwards and backwards, and use the rim of the jog wheel to slow down tracks while DJing for a vinyl-like feel. The start/stop time of the jog wheels can also be adjusted, as can the torque of the platter.

By enabling the option Enable Haptic Hotcues in the Preferences, you then feel a haptic feedback in the Jog Wheel when cueing Cue Points and Loop markers using the top plate. The Haptic Drive jog wheels click when you scroll past cue points and loops and the jog wheels can be spun to quickly reach the next cue point.

By enabling the option Enable Haptic Hotcues in the Preferences, you then feel a haptic feedback in the Jog Wheel when cueing Cue Points and Loop markers using the top plate. The Haptic Drive jog wheels click when you scroll past cue points and loops and the jog wheels can be spun to quickly reach the next cue point.  


Scratching techniques

Baby Scratch

The baby scratch is the simplest of all the scratches. To perform the baby scratch, load up a long sample like ‘ahhh’ and begin at the beginning of the sample. Keep the crossfader in the middle, and drag the jog wheel forward then drag the jog wheel back. Practise this technique in time with the music, so you are pushing forward on beat one and pulling back on beat two. Once you master this, practise the baby scratch double time (twice as fast). Try the scratch without music at first, but once you have the basic hand movement, scratch overtop of a beat and do your best to always scratch on time!

Forwards (Cutting)

A forward scratch, or a cut is when the sample plays and the crossfader is closed during the backwards movement of the record. It’s best to use a shorter to medium length sample for the cut scratch, like ‘fresh’ or ‘aww yeah’. To perform forwards, start with Cue 1 at the beginning of a sample and open the crossfader. Let the sample play then put your hand on the jog wheel to stop the sample. Close the cross-fader by pushing it to the opposite side (so that the scratch sample can no longer be heard) and gently pull the record back to the beginning of the sample. For example, if you have a scratch sample loaded into Deck A, push the crossfader all the way to the right hand side when you pull the sample back to the beginning, so that the sample is no longer audible during the backward motion.

Drag

A drag scratch is a faderless scratch technique, which means you don’t use the crossfader for the scratch and the crossfader remains open (in the middle) for the duration of the scratch. This technique is performed slowly by moving the jog wheel at a slow rate, making the sample play at a low pitch. To perform a drag, start with the crossfader open and a sample that’s marked with a cue point. The sample should be a longer sample, like ‘ahhh’ or white noise. Slowly drag the sample forward in time with the music then drag the sample back.

Tears

A tear is another faderless scratch technique where two sounds are created from one long sound by pausing in between a forward or backward movement with jog wheel. To perform a forward tear, start at the beginning of the sample that’s marked with a Cue Point and drag the jog wheel forward. Pause, then drag the jog wheel forward again.

Finish by performing a backward drag to bring the sample back to the beginning. Lowering your hand towards the jog wheel gives you more control of the sound.

To do a backward tear, start at the end of the same sample, drag the jog wheel backward, pause and then drag the jog wheel backward again. Finish by dragging the sample forward.

You can also do different combinations of tears, like two forward, and two backward.