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 Beatmixing Made Easy


I decided to write this page after finding a real dearth of information on beatmixing on the web. It is the distillation of all of the knowledge that I have gleaned over the years. If you have any comments or suggestions then please e-mail me.

This is intended just to cover beatmixing, not scratching or any other styles. If you want to seamlessly mix a couple of hours of house, garage, techno, gabber, or whatever, then read on.




What you will need

All you need is a pair of headphones; 2 decks with pitch controls; and a mixer with 2 inputs, a cross fader, and a headphone output. I will be talking about decks here but CDs with pitch control can be used as well.

The only essential thing on the decks is that they must have pitch controls - little slider that let you adjust the pitch (i.e. speed of the records) by (usually) +/-8%. The other thing to make sure of is that they are "direct drive" rather than belt driven - this is because these keep their time more exactly. Technics SL1200s/SL1210s are the usual choice of the professional, and while these are expensive they do retain their value well because of their sturdy construction.

The mixer only really needs the basics listed above. Other things that are "nice to have" include punch in/punch out, which let you quickly drop in/out one side of the mix without using the cross fader; "kills" which let you selectively remove one part of the sound signal from one side or the other (so if the bass beats on one side don't match with the other side you can remove them from one side or the other). A good and relatively cheap mixer which does everything that you could ever want is the Intimidation Apex, though there are countless other good mixers on the market.

What is beatmixing?

Basically beatmixing is all about having one record playing on one of the decks "out in the room". You are listening to the output from the other deck "on the phones", adjusting its speed (with the pitch control on the deck) until it is going at the same BPM as the one out in the room. Then you wait until the record playing in the room gets to a suitable point and start the record on the phones so that the beats coincide. You then mix the sounds of the two records using the cross fader, eventually moving it all the way across so that the new record is playing in the room. If you do this well then nobody can hear the join - they just hear a steady beat all of the way through and then suddenly think "Hey - that wasn't playing a second ago".

4-beats to the bar; 8 bars to the section

House music consists of 4 beats to the bar, with a bass drum beat on each of these : boom, boom, boom, boom. There is usually a hi-hat on the off beat too: boom-tsch, boom-tsch, boom-tsch, boom-tsch. And there is also usually a snare drum on the second and fourth beats of the bar: boom-tsch, whack-tsch, boom-tsch, whack-tsch.

These are arranged into groups of 8 bars each. So generally you have one thing going on for 8 bars, then another thing going on for eight bars, etc, until the end of the track. Listen to some music now and count it (1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, 5-2-3-4, 6-2-3-4, 7-2-3-4, 8-2-3-4).

One of the major tricks in beatmixing is not just to mix the beats, but to mix the 8-bar sections. So generally what you do is get the two records going at the same BPM, then take the record on the phones back to the start of an 8-bar section. You then wait for the record in the room to hit the start of an 8-bar section, start the record on the phones at the same time, and move the cross fader across to mix them. Doing this ensures that both records change at the same time, and can produce some very good results on its own. If you don't already do this then this the easiest way to improve the sound of your mixing a hundredfold.

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How do I get them going at the same BPM?

This is the hardest thing in the world to learn. It takes three things - practice, practice and more practice. At the end I have got some tips to make this easier, but here I will describe what you have to do. Unfortunately there are no short-cuts here (unless you get a "Beatkeeper" which does all of this work for you), but if you do as I say then you are on the right track and it will come with time - trust me!

Okay, you have got one record playing in the room. Put your next record on the other deck, adjust the headphone output of the mixer so that you are listening to that record on the phones, and put the headphones on one ear so that you have got one ear on the room and the other ear on the phones. That is the tricky thing that is learnt and comes with practice - listening to one thing with one ear and something else with the other ear, without getting "caught up" in one of them and ignoring the other.

Next, cue up the record on the phones until you get to the first point where there is a solid bass beat. Run the record back and forth over this beat, then when when the music in the room gets to the start of a bar or the start of an 8-bar phrase, "throw" the record on the deck. This just means that you give it a slight push to get it quickly up to speed. Now comes the tricky part - listen, and listen hard! Concentrate on the beat in the room, and try to keep the record in the phones going on the same beat. If it "drags" (i.e. is too slow), push it forward until it is on the beat and increase the pitch control. If it "pushes" (i.e. is too fast), slow it down until it is back on the beat and decrease the pitch control. Keep doing this until you hardly have to interfere with it.

To speed it up you can either give the label a quick push or twist the centre spindle. To slow it down either squeeze the centre spindle, or gently rub a finger on the label, on the side of the record, or on the side of the deck itself. Some lighter records can stop altogether if you touch them, so it is usually best to get used to using the centre spindle or the platter.

Now the two records are going at pretty much the same BPM. To get them more exactly together, get them going on the same beat then leave the record alone. Don't touch it for 8 or 16 bars (unless it gets really out before that), and then see whether it is ahead or behind the beat. Get it back on the beat then make a really minute adjustment to the pitch control - and I mean minute.

Now comes the time to do the mix. Take the record on the phones back to the start where the beat came in, or somewhere before that if you are pretty sure that it is in good time and the record has got some clues for you (like an off-beat hi-hat, for example). Wait for the record in the room to get to the start of an 8-bar section then throw the other record. Now take off the headphones and listen to the sound in the room as you push the cross fader across. The new record might not be exactly on the beat, so adjust it as quickly as possible until it is. Now you can move the cross fader across slowly, or move it a little every 4 or 8 bars, until it has moved all of the way across.

While you are playing both records at once, listen hard. If you can hear the new record "dragging" or "pushing" the beat, adjust it. Don't wait for the beats to start arguing with each other. A common mistake is to assume that as soon as you start the new record playing, all of the work is done. Remember that it isn't done until the cross fader has got all of the way across. Until it has, keep listening to what is playing in the room and correct it as soon as you hear a problem. What you want is for both bass beats to be exactly together. If you can hear a slight "boom-boom" or even just a "phwump" then they are out. Again this comes with practice, but listen out for a bass beat arriving either slightly before or slightly after the "real" beat and adjust it.

All of this is based on listening, and that comes with practice.


Why is it that some record mix well into each other with hardly any problem, whereas with others you hear as soon as the second comes in? What is it that makes the second record sometimes blend perfectly into the first? The answer is all to do with music, and keys.

This is another thing that can vastly improve your mixing. As soon as you can do basic beatmixing perfectly, it is time to think about tailoring a set and keys are one thing that can help you do this.

This is a very technical subject, and if you have no knowledge of music then I suggest that you get hold of an instrument and find out. It is an enormous help to good mixing.

Music is made up of 12 notes, which are A, Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G and Ab ('b' is the flat symbol, # is the sharp symbol). Then it starts again from A. Each of these is a semi-tone higher than the previous one in the list. Now, some keys go together well and others do not at all. If you are playing something in D then if you try to mix something in Eb in with it (which is a semi-tone higher) it will not sound good. If you mix something that is also in D in with it then it will sound good (well, better anyway!).

  • The really good interval is 0 semitones, as both are in the same key.

  • Another good interval is 5 semitones - either up or down.. If you mix together music which is seperated by these intervals it should generally sound okay.
  • The bad intervals - to be avoided - are the semitone and 6 semitones.
  • The tone (2 semitones up or down) is alright, but it seldom sounds perfect.
  • Other intervals may or may not work, it depends upon the music.

For example, if you are playing something in C then really good key to mix in is C (0 semitones). F (5 semitones up) and G (5 semitones down) will also be okay. Don't even think about anything in B (1 semitone down), C# (one semitone up) or F# (6 semitones up). Other keys which may work are D and Bb. The remainder - Eb, E, Ab, A - may or may not work depending upon the music (this is all to do with things like major and minor).

Now, what is important is not the key that a piece of music is in at 33 or 45 rpm, because you are going to be adjusting the pitch. So you need to know the key that a piece of music will be in at some reference BPM (I use 136 BPM). If two records are in the same key at 136 BPM then they will be in the same key at any BPM.

So how do you find the key at 136 BPM? Well, you can either slow it down or speed it up to exactly 136 BPM, then find the key, or you can use a conversion program. I have written a little program where you enter the BPM and the key (at that BPM) and it tells you the key at 136 BPM. As soon as I have updated it to give it a nice windows front end, a facility for capturing the BPM, and a tone generator to tell you the key I will place it on this page.

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  1. Record yourself mixing and listen to it straight away. Find out whether you are getting them right on the beat, and if not do you generally mix in too slow or too fast? Once you know how it sounds in the room it can help enormously.

  2. A useful way to practise is with two copies of the same record. This will allow you to get the feel for hearing the beat in both ears, and when it is spot on you will notice that you hear the beat in the middle or the sound space.
  3. If you are right handed, get into the habit of adjusting the records with your left hand. This leaves your right hand free to adjust the pitch control at the same time. If you try to do everything with your right hand it will take you twice as long. Try to get into this habit from the start.
  4. Have the headphones quieter than the music in the room. You want to concentrate on the music in the room, that is the important beat.
  5. But don't have the music too loud. While you are practicing try to have the music as quiet as possible. This prevents you from damamging your hearing.
  6. I put little sticky labels on the labels which indicate the BPM and key of the tracks, along with what tracks are worth playing and any other notes (for example if the speed is 45). This makes it easier to make a first guess at the pitch to use and also gives you an idea about the key and whether the mix will sound okay.
  7. If you get into trouble and can't get the beats matched remember that a lot of tracks give you a "get out of jail" in the form of a beatless section at the start. Just put the pitch control on 0 and cross fade across, making sure that you get all of the way across well before any beats start on the new record.
  8. When you are playing both records at once, if you can't hear any problems, don't touch the records! It is all too easy to get the idea that one of them is slower and to keep pushing it on, only to discover that you have pushed it completely out of time.
  9. Experiment with different ways to do the mix. All of these work:
    • Throwing the cross fader all of the way across at the start of an 8 bar phrase
    • Moving it ¼ of the way across for 8 bars, then ½ way across for 8, then ¾ of the way for 8, then all the way across
    • Stopping one deck on the last beat of an 8 bar phrase then throwing the cross fader all of the way across on the first beat of the next 8 bear phrase (sort of 7-2-3-4 8-2-3-Stop-Crossfade!)
    • As above, but instead of stopping the deck, spin the record backwards for a beat before throwing the cross fader across
    • You can also do a spin back while both are playing - spin back the "old" record to leave the "new" one playing
    • Use the output level faders well. For example, one way to do it is to put the level fader for the new record on 0, then move the cross fader ¾ of the way across, and at the same time boost the level fader for the old record so that it is as loud as it was before (this is best done in a breakdown when it is fairly quiet anyway, so any change in levels won't be noticed so much). Then when you want to play the new track, get it going and push up its level fader until it can be heard behind the old track. To complete the mix just push the cross fader the rest of the way over.

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