Turntablism: Exploring Scratch Techniques and the Rich History of DJing

Turntablism: Exploring Scratch Techniques and the Rich History of DJing

If you're interested in DJing and DJ culture you may have heard of the term scratching or it's more formal brother, turntablism. In this blog we want to discuss what scratching and turntablism are, their origins and why they are important to the art form of DJing.

Understanding Turntablism

Turntablism is the skilful manipulation of vinyl records (or emulated digital vinyl systems) to create rhythmical and percussive patterns and melodies. These patterns are often overlaid into DJ mixes or used to transitions from one song to another. Turntablists (DJs who use these methods) are respected as some of the most skilled DJs, pushing the art of DJing into musicians' territory. The patterns that these DJs produce can be incredibly complex and and added together to form larger routines.


While turntablism is an umbrella term that covers a variety of techniques and sound manipulation, the most famous is the scratch. The most basic scratch, called a baby-scratch, is made possible my moving the needle back and forth over a small section of music, normally a drum or vocal sample. The use of these sounds have left an indelible mark on music and DJ culture.

Vinyl DJs can use their hardware to produce these sounds in conjunction with physical movements made using their hands and the mixer. You might have even seen turntablists jokingly use their face, tongue or even nose to scratch! While this is surly showing off it does display how creative turntablists have become in the search for new ways to manipulate vinyl and create new techniques.

Here are some of the ways a turntablist might create sounds
  1. Moving the record back and forth and thus making the needle play the music forward and backward creating a rhythm (Scratching)
  2. Manipulating the turntables platter, playback speed and direction
  3. Using the crossfader on a DJ mixer to cut in and out of the sound modulating the signal
  4. Drumming on the record and platter itself to create percussive sounds
  5. Using audio FX to further increase the complexity of the patterns produces
  6. Juggling between one beat and another using the crossfader and multiple decks
These are just some of the main mixing techniques employed by professional turntablists.

The History of Scratching

The origins of turntablism and scratching can be traced back to the early days of hip-hop in the 1970s and have become part of the fabric of DJ history.

Click here to find out more about the history of DJing.

DJs including Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Grand Wizzard Theodore played a pivotal role in developing many of the scratch techniques DJs still use today. It was Grand Wizzard Theodore who is often credited with accidentally discovering scratching when he moved a record back and forth while his hand was on the turntable's platter. While the exact origins might remain cloaked in mystery we can be sure that this new advance in DJing was partly due to the evolution of DJ technology. Commercial turntables had just hit the scene and new young DJs where experimenting with the decks capabilities. It was only a matter of time before the scratch was invented.

All of these artists were pioneers of a new sound, hip-hop. Hip-hop and it's culture would grow exponentially in the 1980s and with it the DJ scratch sound become ingrained in music evermore. Scratching become synonymous with hip-hop but DJs of other genres also began experimenting with turntablism.

DJs like Jazzy Jeff continued to push the boundaries of turntablism alongside his contemporaries, Grandmaster DXT and Grandmixer D.ST. Modern turntablist like Q-Bert, Mix Master Mike and DJ Shadow furthered this exploration of scratch techniques and performances in the 1990s.

The Significance of Scratching in DJ Culture

Scratching has become part of DJ culture and EDM culture. Many new DJs will have learning how to scratch high on the 'to do list.' It's well-respected as a creative pursuit that requires dedication and skill. In a world where DJing has become more digital and sync technology has taken away part of the art of mixing turntablism has become a stalwart worthy of respect.

Scratching is often compared to a form of painting with sound. It allows the performer to express new sonic ideas and add a personal touch to their music and DJ transitions. Nowadays, you will find the influence of scratch culture and turntablism in many forms of music, both underground and popular.

It's also worth mentioning that a global community has been constructed around the love of turntablism with many international competitions being held including the DMC.


Turntablism and scratching have played a notable role in shaping the art of DJing, and continue to do so to this day. From its humble beginnings in the streets of the Bronx to its global impact on music and DJ culture, scratching has mesmerised audiences and inspired countless DJs to train and perform in more creative ways.

As turntablism continues to evolve, the art of scratching remains a testament to the creativity, skill, and passion of DJs who use the turntable as an instrument to express themselves and captivate audiences.

If you would like to explore the art form of scratching please contact us for personalised training.



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