DJing and mixing music is one of life's greatest joys - although many people never experience it because they're too intimidated to learn. This guide shows you everything beginner DJs need to know to improve their game.
I've been DJing for over a decade, and have learned every trick of the trade. From the bedroom to the club, I've been through the journey from an unskilled beginner to an experienced pro.
I'm excited to share these DJ mixing techniques for beginners and lessons to help you accelerate your DJ skills!
Don't forget to bookmark this page for quick reference later! If you're ready for deeper tips, have a look at our Advanced DJ Mixing Technique Guide!
TL;DR - DJ Mixing Techniques For Beginners#
Learn the techniques used to make a DJ mix
Understand the equipment, tools, and controls.
Discover music you are passionate about, and build a large music library.
Beginner DJs should practice regularly to improve their mixing skills.
Overview - A Checklist For Success#
These are the things you need to learn to become a DJ. Each of these will be covered in more detail throughout this article
What is DJing?
Build your music library
Learn the tools and controls
Learn the techniques
Practice, practice, practice
Start recording mixes
From beginner to pro
1. For Starters - What Exactly Is DJing?#
To start your journey, it's useful to understand the history and culture of DJing so you know how you fit into this story. The history is huge, and could easily fill whole books with the details, so I'll keep it light here and you can do your own research later.
DJs (disk jockeys) are in their rawest form, entertainers. This phrase came into existence in radio during the 1930s, although was quickly adopted by pro DJs working in early night clubs - which had a completely different style to today's DJ sets.
In 1947, the Whiskey à Go-Go nightclub opened in Paris, which was unique because this was the first commercial club where recorded music was listened to, rather than live bands. Régine Zylberberg began playing at this discothèque using two turntables.
This inspired American parties in the 1950s, where radio DJs would perform for sock hops or platter parties, spinning music on two turntables while keeping the beat going for the dancers.
Later in the '50s, sound system culture would emerge out of the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica - which refined the concepts of DJing, MCing, and clubbing.
Over 70 years later of complex and beautiful evolution, we now have the eclectic and diverse culture of modern DJing!
2. Build Your Music Library - Develop Your Taste and Style#
Creating a library of music is arguably the most important stage of becoming a DJ. If you don't have music - you can't DJ. This is one of the most important, but basic digital DJ tips.
Ultimately, the type of music you want to DJ is up to you - although it helps to try mixing all genres to get a broader range of experience and expose yourself to more techniques.
Developing a unique taste, and perspective of music to share with your audience is what will make you stand out. Find your own unique voice, and learn what kind of music gets you excited.
You can collect digital music files, CDs, or vinyl. These are the easiest mediums to mix with - digital files are the most convenient. (You could collect cassette tapes too, although these aren't so easy to DJ with.
I recommend you buy the tracks, making sure you legally own music that you want to play. This is very important if you're working in radio, or in any official capacity. Also when you buy music from legitimate sources (rather than pirating it, or ripping it from YouTube), the sound quality will be higher, creating a better listening experience.
3. Learn the Tools of the Trade - DJ Equipment#
To become a DJ, one of the first steps is to understand the types of tools available and learn how to use them.
I'll outline the basics, then go into more detail.
The Core Tools for DJing are:#
It's worth noting that today, there are many different equipment setups you can use. It could be all old-school-style hardware, or you could do it completely digitally. That said, all types of DJ setups replicate the same system of decks, a mixer, headphones, and speakers.
One of the most important DJ mixing techniques for beginners is to learn all of the tools and how to use them in a DJ set.
DJ decks are pieces of equipment that holds and plays your music. These were originally vinyl turntables, although these evolved into CD decks, and now digital decks. These give you controls to play and pause music, and typically give you a slider for controlling the playback speed so you can match the beats.
Mixers are the piece of equipment that really made DJing possible, otherwise, you would just have to listen to one record after another. You plug multiple decks into a mixer (usually either 2 or 4 decks), and then you are given independent controls for multiple audio tracks.
These are used to set the volume and EQ balance for music playing from the decks. They also have a separate cue output, which lets you preview music through headphones before you bring the volume up for the crowd.
Using the volume faders and EQ controls, you use a mixer for smoothly mixing songs, making clean and seamless transitions in your DJ set.
DJ Headphones let you hear the next song in cue, so you can make sure it's lined up right before you play it to the audience. This means you can check music other than the current tracks playing, making sure it's aligned before playing it through the main speakers.
Speakers play music for the main audience, in a typical live DJ setup. This is essential if you want to get the dance floor moving!
Audio interfaces are optional pieces of gear that are used for recording a mix to your PC. You don't necessarily need these for a DJ performance, however, it's a good idea to record your sets, and many DJs do.
Recommended DJ Equipment For Beginners#
As a beginner, you don't need to buy the most expensive professional equipment to get started DJing. These days you can pick up a basic (but sufficient) DJ controller at an affordable price to start practicing your skills. These are also good for house parties or mixing on the move!
You don't even need any hardware and can mix tracks and make DJ sets purely using a DJ app.
You can get all the gear you need to start for under $150.
All you really need to get started mixing music is:
A laptop or computer (Find out how to DJ on a laptop here!)
Some DJing Software
A DJ controller (this is even optional)
4. DJ Software#
There are a bunch of different types of DJ software out there, each with unique designs and purposes. This is a vital piece of equipment for making DJ sets.
While DJing originated from hardware and physical equipment, these days computers are powerful enough to offer virtual DJing solutions just using software alone.
Obviously, the experience will be slightly different - because you're using a keyboard and mouse rather than knobs and buttons. However, you can find many digital DJ controllers which you plug into a computer and control the software with.
These are nice to use as they're portable, affordable, and still offer all the same tools and controls as traditional DJ gear.
There are really two types of DJ software, which both have been designed for slightly different purposes. The distinction is, that some DJ software is designed to be used for live performances for instance - DJs mixing live in a nightclub or on the radio.
The second type is the Studio Style design software, which is built for DJs who don't need to perform live and just need to create and distribute a pre-recorded mix.
These both have advantages and disadvantages for creating DJ sets.
For example, live mixing software is great for real-time, live performances, however, putting together a set (when you don't need to do it live) is much more time-consuming as you have to record it at a 1:1 use of time. 1 hour of mixing = 1 hour of recording to share. If you make any mistakes you have to go back and edit it or even record the whole set, which makes the process even more inefficient.
At the same time, studio software is far quicker to use, and it saves a huge amount of time. You can get more creative with transitions and effects by doing things not in real-time and by manually arranging things. It also doesn't matter if you make mistakes or want to change things around. It gives you a whole new perspective on DJing. However, it can lack the hands-on feeling, and obviously wouldn't work for a nightclub.
Studio-style DJ software is much more useful for people who need to produce sets quickly without actually needing to perform them live, like DJ.Studio
Here are some of the best DJ software platforms for beginners.
5. Learn the techniques - How to Use the Gear Correctly#
After you've got your hands on the right equipment, it's time to understand the core controls used for mixing music and making DJ sets. Throughout all the different genres that DJs perform, they all use the exact same controls.
These controls are:
Volume controls (gain) - Channel Faders, Cross Faders
Cue and play
Jogging and scratching
Volume (Gain) - Channel Faders, Cross Faders#
Volume, more correctly called gain, is one of the most important controls and also the easiest to understand.
Simply turn the gain up to increase the volume (make the music louder), and turn the gain down to decrease the volume (make it quieter).
Gain controls are typically found in three different places throughout a mixer.
The order these gains are stacked is: 1. Track Gain > 2. Channel Fader > 3. Cross Fader
This means, the track gain sets the volume at the start of the chain, which is then edited in turn by the channel fader and crossfader.
Each of these types of gain control has different uses when making DJ sets. Understanding how to use them all, and why you need all three, is important to help you make transitions and manage the volumes of your tracks.
(You also have the master volume, which sets the level of the master output, although this isn't worth explaining in detail).
1.Track Gain or Trim
The first one is the track gain (aka Trim). Now, this just sets the internal volume for each track on the mixer, for each deck. This isn't be confused with the crossfader or the channel fader which controls the volume independently of the channel gain. This is used to match the levels of music, as different tracks come at different volumes. Although it isn't really used for expression.
Track gain is the only place where you can boost the volume. The other two controls simply let you reduce the volume to zero from the maximum level set by the track gain but in an expressive way. Pro DJs will use this to balance the volumes while making sure not to damage the sound quality by turning the volume up too much and distorting it.
The channel fader is used to control the volume of either channel 1 or 2 independently (or some mixers have four channels).
This is used to slowly bring the gain up and down as you transition a song in or out of the mix.
The final one is the crossfader. This works differently from all the others.
Essentially, the crossfader lets you blend between channels one and two. This is a great way to switch from one track to the next track, and back and forth.
So, if the crossfader is perfectly in the middle, the volume for both tracks is the same.
However, if you move the crossfader to the left, it turns up the first channel and turns down the second channel.
So if the crossfade was full to the left you would only hear track one - track two would be completely silent.
In reverse, if you move the crossfader to the right, channel two gets louder, and channel one gets quieter. It's the same - if it's fully to the right then you're only hearing channel two.
This is a core tool for the hip-hop scratching technique.
Pitch / Tempo Slider#
The next core tool is the pitch/tempo slider (pitch and tempo are used interchangeably). This control is found on the decks, rather than the mixer.
The tempo slider controls the playback speed of the music playing from the deck.
So in a neutral position, the track will play at exactly the same speed that it was released at. So if a track is released at 120 BPM, it will play at 120 BPM.
You can move the pitch slider either up or down to increase or decrease the playback speed of the track. This is usually marked with a percentage slider to show the amount of speed change.
This is an important tool that lets you beat match tracks - to get them to play at the same tempo.
If you increase the pitch slider, the track plays faster, if you decrease it, it plays slower.
Say you had a track that was originally 120 BPM. If you increase the pitch slider to plus 10%, it will play around 132 bpm
However, if you put the pitch slider down 10% the track will play at 108 BPM. You can use these to match the playback speed of two songs to make a seamless transition. Pro DJs will use this tool many times in their DJ set.
EQ - Equalization#
EQ, short for equalization, is a control that lets you change the tone (more technically, the frequency balance) of each track.
Usually, there is a set of EQ controls for each channel fader on a mixer.
Each EQ is typically split into three bands - high mid and low (or more technically, treble mid, and bass). Most DJ controllers and mixers feature this three-band EQ system, although sometimes you will see 4 or 2 bands.
These EQ controls let you either cut or boost the level of each band. For example, you can use it to cut the bass or boost the bass for either track.
These EQ tools have multiple purposes. For one, they can help you slightly adjust the balance of a track's tone helping you to sculpt your DJ set in a more expressive way. For instance, you can play with the heaviness of the bass or boost the treble to make certain elements stick out. Also, you can help to mix in the room, if the speaker is lacking bass, you can boost it.
Alternatively, they're useful for transitions. When you're mixing two tracks together you might not want to have both bass lines blasting at the same time. So, you might introduce the next track in your DJ set with the bass cut and then slowly bring up the new bass while you turn down the old bass line - making a switch-over effect.
See our guide on EQ Mixing for a deeper dive into this topic.
Filters are similar to EQs but work in a more aggressive way. These are also great for making transitions or just playing with the crowd by adjusting the music.
There are two main kinds of filters in DJing. Either a high cut or a low cut. These remove frequencies based on the type.
For example, if you use a high-cut filter, the more you apply it, the fewer highs there are, and eventually when you put it all the way down it would only leave the bass and kick drum playing.
Alternatively, with a low-cut filter, it deletes the lows. So the more you turn up the low cut filter, the bass disappears, then the mid disappears, and eventually, it just leaves the very top frequencies in the treble band.
These are ideal for transitions and for getting creative with the dance floor whether you're mixing electronic dance music or old school disco classics.
Cue and Play#
On most DJ decks and controllers, you will see two separate buttons for triggering music - one is a Play/Pause button and the other is the Cue button.
These both work slightly differently, and both have a unique purpose for the DJ. It is important to understand how these differ and why you need both.
The Play/Pause button works just as you'd expect - you hit the play button to play tracks, you press it again, and it pauses.
The Cue button, on the other hand, works differently, and is an important tool for beginner and pro DJs alike.
When you hold down the Cue button, the track plays - as soon as you let go of the Cue button, the track stops and returns back to the start. (Or wherever you had it set to you as the cue point.)
The Cue button is useful for beat matching, as you can repeatedly test whether the new track is aligned to the first track playing without having to press play, then press pause, then skip back to the start. You can simply keep pressing and holding the Cue button and adjusting the pitch slider.
I'll explain beat matching in more detail later
Jogging and scratching#
Jogging and scratching both revolve around the use of a platter.
In the old days of DJing when it was vinyl turntables, decks were physics-based devices. If you touch the spinning surface, it would affect the music playing.
This eventually became used for the scratching technique, which was common in hip hop, where people would scratch records to make a new, rhythmic sound effect.
Jogging is based on the same physical principles, but it's used to quickly slide the record forward or backward a tiny bit in case the beats slip out of sync.
So if one turntable is slightly slower than the others you might need to push it forward a tiny bit to catch up.
Jogging is more of an advanced old-fashioned technique that isn't so relevant in the age of digital gear where DJs have a sync button that automatically locks tracks together.
If you want to make your own remixes in real-time, this is a key tool.
The final tools for DJing are effects. You can find a bunch of different sound effects which let you get creative with your DJing.
The effects available depend on the hardware or software you're using, however, there are some which are more common than others.
The two most common and important effects to understand are reverb and delay.
These both color and transform sound in different ways.
Reverb makes sounds blurry and extends the decay, creating long, washed-out sounds.
Delays create repeats in time - on the beat of the track, which then can be used in a creative way.
Loops are another kind of effect that can be useful for DJing where you select a short phrase for instance 24 or 8 bars which just will play again and again in a repeated loop.
All of these, and other effects are super useful for transitions, or just for creative expression in your DJ set.
6. Learn The Techniques of DJing#
There are several core techniques used for DJing.
Beat matching is an absolutely essential skill for DJs. This is arguably one of the most important DJ Mixing Techniques to learn to enable you to make seamless transitions between tracks.
There are essentially two parts to matching beats:
Matching the tempo of the two tracks you mix, so they play at the exact same speed.
Aligning the phase, so both tracks are playing on the same beat.
When you count music, you count typically "1 2 3 4 ". You want all the counts to be lined up between the two songs.
You want the 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s to all be hitting at the exact same time, rather than the 1 hitting at the same time of a 2 with the other track.
To beat-match your music tracks, follow these steps:
The first step is detecting the BPM of the two tracks. Much modern software and DJ gear have automatic tempo detection which will show you the BPM of your track automatically. Alternatively, you can use a BPM counter like this website where you just tap along with the track to count the BPM.
Now you just need to match the two BPMs together. You change the speed of a track by using the pitch slider. Either speed up or slow down the tempo of your track. This lets you match up the BPMs so that the two tracks are playing at the same speed. Doing this by ear can be quite tricky, and it takes practice, but when you learn the technique it will become second nature.
The key is to use the Cue button. You have one track playing out to the main PA system speakers. Then as you're counting the beats 1, 2, 3, 4 of the first track, you line up the second track to start on the first beat of a bar.
Then, on the first beat of the first track, you press and hold the Cue button on the second track, and listen to see if the tempos are in time. It's usually easiest to hear if the kicks and the snares match up.
If the tracks are not in time, you need to adjust the pitch slider on the second track to make it quicker or slower to match the first track.
When the beats are aligned, you can bring up the volume of the second track, or make another kind of transition.
Manually matching beats will take a long time to master, but there is software that does all the hard work for you. It can be easier to use this kind of software in the early days just to understand how BPM matching works before you start practicing the manual technique. DJ.Studio is a great example of this.
Have a look at our guide on Beat Matching Techniques for more info!
The cue button is an essential component of mixing and the whole cue system is the mechanism that enables DJs to prepare the next track for a seamless transition.
Essentially it lets you hear the track in two places - so you can have the first track coming out of the main speakers, and then you can prepare the second track privately.
The cue channel comes out of the headphones rather than the main speakers.
Getting to grips with this system is essentially one of the foundations of how DJing works in a live setting.
Transitioning between tracks is another one of the pillars of DJing.
If you're not transitioning smoothly then you may as well just play a playlist and just let it switch between songs.
To transition between tracks there are several tools, techniques, and theories which you should learn. There are also different styles of transition.
In essence, the main tool is the volume faders which let you lower the volume of one channel while bringing up the volume of the next track's channel.
There are several other tools that help to make your transitions smoother and let you sculpt the flow of your sets. These are mostly EQs, filters, and effects like reverbs, delays, and loops. I've explained these in more detail above, but you should check out this article on DJ Transition Techniques for more info.
Harmonic mixing is a more advanced DJ technique that gives you consistent and flowing sets by utilizing music theory surrounding musical keys.
There are 24 keys in music, and some of them connect better than others. Some sound good together, but some sound bad.
If you pay attention to the keys of each song you mix and then choose a second song that is compatible with the first song's key, you won't have any clashes or dissonant transitions - which can be awkward and cringey.
Harmonic mixing is a complex topic, which is beyond the scope of this article. So I'd recommend you check out our full guides on related topics:
Practice, Practice, Practice#
The best way for aspiring DJs to improve their DJing skills is to practice as much as possible.
In my early days, I would spend all my free time DJing. This could literally be as much as 10 or more hours in a day - if you add this time up over a few years it quickly becomes thousands of hours of practice.
Make a checklist of the skills you want to practice, and dedicate yourself to ticking them off.
Gaining experience is the only way to improve. You will only get so far by reading and studying - you have to practice.
You should equally spend as much time finding music. It can take hours to find the right music to mix together, but it's something that every DJ does, even a famous DJ like David Guetta. If you truly love music though, this is a lot of fun!
Record Your Mixes, and Listen Back#
A valuable tool for improving your DJing is to record your mixes and listen back to them.
When you're mixing, you're in the moment - so you might not hear your mix properly.
Recording a mix and listening back to it gives you the true experience that the audience has. The way you record a mix depends on the kind of DJ setup you're running.
Going From Beginner to Pro#
The journey from a beginner DJ to a professional DJ is long - but fun if you love DJing.
I've been through it myself, from the early days of spending hours DJing in my room alone, to playing at parties, to getting a full-time residency and playing at some of the largest clubs in the UK.
I can't promise success, however, following these steps can give you a path to breaking out of the bedroom and getting your name out there as a DJ.
Refine your sound and style
Perfect and record some DJ sets
Share your mixes with promoters and club nights
Play at community events - like "Bring your own USB" nights
Play at parties
play on local radio stations
Live stream your mixes online
Push yourself to make connections
Always be friendly and humble
Keep your eye out for other digital DJ tips on our blog!
Your Goals as a DJ#
This topic isn't so related to skills - but it's an important thing to consider to guide your progression through DJing.
Rather than just wandering around in the dark, having clear goals can help you to follow the path to success.
You should really think about what kind of DJ you want to be and how you want to use your DJing.
Do you want to be a club DJ playing house tracks at nightclubs? Or would you rather be a radio DJ playing on the radio? Or maybe a mix of the two? Look at famous and local DJs who inspired you, and follow in their footsteps.
Closing Thoughts - Good luck on your DJ Journey!#
The road to becoming a DJ isn't short, but it's a hell of a fun ride. With these DJ mixing techniques for beginners, you'll have a head start to becoming a pro DJ.
Remember, it's important to be in it for the right reasons. Many beginner DJs start because they want to be cool, or get into it for clout.
But, the main key to success is being passionate about music and DJing.
Learn how to play the decks and mixer like a musical instrument, discover and create a music library that you love, and push yourself to try things outside of your comfort zone.
If you study the information above, and research and practice each topic in depth, you will quickly get the skills of a professional DJ!
Check out our guide on Tips For Creating DJ Mixes to level up your skills even more with advanced digital DJ tips!
FAQs about DJ Mixing For Beginners
- Is it Easy to Start DJ Mixing?
- What Should a Beginner DJ Do?
- What Equipment is Needed for a Beginner DJ?
Hip-hop is closely associated with DJing - both concepts evolved symbiotically. Become the next hip-hop grandmaster DJ with this guide!
Looking for some powerful free DJ software? This review shows you all the best choices, and helps you find the right pick!
A crossfade is a useful type of DJ transition where the volume of two tracks is changed simultaneously. Find out more here!
DJ software is the core of modern DJing - but how exactly does it work? Find out here, and discover the best DJ software recommendations available today!