On the following pages you will be shown images, text , audio samples and animation of DJ innovations made by legendary turntablists. We will guide you step by step using TTM, The Turntablist Transcription Method.
Along the way you will learn how to read and write scratches. It is our hope that the step by step lesson presented will enable readers the ability to compose and arrange their own turntablist compositions while at the same time learn of this rich history.
The best approach to understanding the Turntablist Transcription Methodology is to first understand its underlying logic.
The basic TTM staff has been designed specifically for notating turntable-based music. The format of the staff is optimized for 4/4 time (the standard time signature used for hip-hop beats), but the system can be applied to any time signature.
TTM is derived from a graph of the rotation of the record vs. time (subdivided into measures, counts, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16 notes).
The vertical axis of the staff represents record rotation.
The horizontal axis represents time.
Play the sound sample from a record. See where the sound segment begins and ends on the record. In this example we selected the sound of the word "fresh"
Write the description of the sound onto the "sample line" on the left side of the staff. The horizontal lines that extend from of the sample line into the staff will help to indicate specific areas of a sample to be manipulated (start, end, different syllables, etc.)
Chart the sound being played over time. On the staff, begin a line at the time the sample should begin. Continue the line to the point that represents the duration and the amount of rotation that is desired. The horizontal distance is determined by the amount of time it takes to play the sample, and the vertical distance is determined by the portion of the sample being used.
In the example above, the sample begins playing a 1/4 note from the beginning of the measure. The line created by playing "fresh", it is about 5 units high (the length of the segment from the record) and about 5 units long (the duration of time it took to complete the segment -- a little over a 1/4 note).
The slower the record rotates, the more counts (the longer the time) it takes for the sample to play. On the staff, this means that the line representing the motion of the record gets less steep. Conversely, the faster the sample is played, the steeper the line. When a record is held still, the line is horizontal. This indicates that there is no rotation during the time that the record is held still.
It is important to note that a vertical line on the staff is not meaningful because it represents a motion occurring in zero time. Likewise, since two different scratches cannot occur simultaneously on a single turntable, no two scratches should overlap in time on the staff.
When a record is played forwards (clockwise rotation) the line has an upward slope.
When it’s played backwards (counter-clockwise rotation) the line has a downward slope.
DJ GRAND WIZARD THEODORE
In the Bronx in the mid 70's, DJs replaced local bands as the preferred party soundtrack. Consummate entertainers, they moved the crowd with an eclectic combination of rare selections and vinyl fresh off -the-press. Their blending & re-contextualizing of samples & breaks from records both obscure & familiar earned them loyal followings and celebrity status.
As DJs proliferated, they also began to differentiate themselves: Kool Herc was an early leader and boasted the largest sound system; Afrika Bambaataa was known as "Master of Records" for his extensive collection; Grand Master Flash was the "King of the Quick Mix". With the increased competition, unique styles and techniques became essential calling cards of the top performers.
One of the most celebrated contributors to the foundation of turntablism is DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, the inventor of the scratch. Theodore Livingston recounts the innovation that set him apart, earned him the title "Grand Wizard", and changed DJing forever.
Theodore recalls, "I remember when I was in the house, I just came home from school, I was just in my room messing around (with my records and turntables). I was about 13 or 14 years old, and my mother was banging on the door, telling me to cut that **** music down. So I stop the music and she opened the door and she was talking to me. At the same time she was talking to me, I felt myself moving the record back, and forth and forth and back, while she was talking to me, because I wanted to keep that same groove I was on. I was talking to her and I was listening to the record, and I was like back and forth, and I said to myself 'Hey this sounds really good'! So I kept practicing it, and it became a scratch."
In the more than 40 years since Theodore's epiphany, scratching has undergone countless mutations. On the following pages you will find a few of the most common scratch patterns.
baby scratch - (rub) moving the record back and forth without using any mixer controls to crop the sound
forward scratch - (cuts) similar record motion to the baby scratch, but a mixer control (fader, level, switch) is used to cut off the sound during the pull back. (Originated by G.W. Theodore, made famous by G.M. Flash)
military scratch - basic rhythmic scratch pattern comprised of forward scratches interspersed with rubs. Typically the record hand moves in a consistent back and forth motion while the mixer hand cuts on and off the sound with a switch or fader
scribble - a very quick baby scratche using a small portion of the record. Usually accomplished by vibrating a fingertip on a single spot
stab - (jab, scrape) scratch that is pushed or pulled fast creating a higher pitched sound. Like the forward scratch, the sound of re-cueing is not heard
drag - scratch that is pushed or pulled slowly, creating a lower pitch
TONE ARM ADJUSTMENT with DJ ROB SWIFT
( Scratch Magazine 2005)
1. Having problem with that darn needle skipping? Here's DJ Rob Swfit with advice to help stop your cartridges from jumping like Jordan.
2. I take the counter-weight off of the tone arm, and flip it so the numbers face out, away from the needle. The numbers will no longer have any meaning for calibration now, but this orientation allows more weight to be put on the needle, resulting in less skipping.
3. I set the anti-skate at "0" and my height on "2" or "3". This seems to work best for me.
4. I use the Shure M44C needles - the weight and design are really good for scratching.
There's no need to add extra weight (like putting a nickel on top of the cartridge) with this set up.
chirps - a series of high pitch pushes and pulls creating a "chirping" sound not unlike that of a gleeful bird on a fine spring morn. The sound is cut off when the record movement is changing direction so that a single tone is emitted from each forward or backward stroke of the record. The pitch of the chirp rises and falls as the record is oscillated faster or slower.
DJ GRANDMIXER D.ST.
Many turntablists have cited "Rockit" as the breakthrough recording that opened their eyes to possibilities of using the turntable as a musical instrument. Recorded in 1983 by legendary jazz musician Herbie Hancock, the song features scratches by turntablist forefather Grand Mixer D.St. "Rockit" was awarded the Grammy for "Best R&B Instrumental Performance", bringing unprecedented exposure and mainstream credibility to the use of the turntable as a musical instrument.
In the "Rockit", DSt. scratches the record "Change the Beat" by Fab Five Freddy. The sample that he used, of a flanged voice saying "fresh", has become quintessential turntablist fodder.
DXT (formerly D.St.) says "I used 'ahh... this stuff is really fresh', because when I cut it just had a percussive sound like a 'weshhh, weshh, weshh' -- almost like a gweeka (an African shell instrument), but electronic. The sound just cut through."
Though D.St.'s composition was recorded over thirty years ago, it still resonates to this date. It's fitting that his ground breaking composition, marking the emergence of turntablism into the public eye, is often the first that many aspiring turntablists attempt to play.
Notated above are the first 16 bars of the D.St. solo which appears toward the middle of the song. It's evident from this transcription that the majority of the composition is comprised of a series of variations on the pattern established in the first bar. This primary pattern consists of cuts, stabs and drags of the word "fresh". The variation typically consists of a substitution of rubs in the place of, and at the same tempo as, the replaced cuts - a military scratch of sorts.
There is also a larger pattern over every four bars - in the first of every four bars, D.St. returns to the original pattern without alteration. This repetition gives the listener a structure to anticipate and enjoy.
Continue on to the next chapter.
© TURNTABLIST | This website contains portions of The TTM booklet © 2000, John Carluccio, Ethan Imboden, Ray Pirtle