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What Is Phrasing in DJ Mixing?

Phrasing is an important DJing concept that new DJs often neglect to understand.

Incorporating phrase mixing techniques into your DJing can bring a huge improvement to the quality and flow of your sets.

In essence, this advanced mixing technique revolves around DJs working out the 'phrases' in two songs, and making song structures synchronize in a flowing manner.

If you're learning How To DJ Mix, this is a concept you should try to understand! 

In this guide, I'll explain exactly what phrasing means, and demonstrate how you can use it in your DJing technique!

TL;DR - Phrase Mixing DJ Techniques#

  • Phrases make up the key sections of songs, including the verse, chorus, breakdowns, intros, and outros.

  • Understanding how to phrase mix opens up a range of creative options in your mixing.

  • Phrase mixing will also make your DJ sets sound more intentional and professional.

  • Quickly and easily implement phrase mixing with DJ.Studio

What is Phrasing in DJ Mixing?#

Phrasing, or Phrase Mixing is a technique where the DJ pays attention to the different 'phrases', and musical structure of tracks, aligning them in a way that makes them suitably synchronized between two tracks as they blend. This is a common technique in dance music DJing, and generally helps when Mixing Songs Together.

Phrases are the different sections of a track - made up of a certain number of bars - this includes segments like the intro, verse, chorus, breakdown, bridge, and outro.

When DJs use phrase mixing, they often 'phrase match' the next track with the first track, in such a way to maximize the flow and coherency between two tracks. This involves counting the music, and working out the song's phrasing to align and phrase match them. This has the effect of letting songs mix together in a more natural way and giving DJs more options for creative mixes.

Without using phrase mixing, you run the risk of mixing two songs in a clunky and cluttered manner. For example, you might bring the chorus of one song in 3/4 of the way through another song's verse, which won't sound smooth.

The techniques within phrase mixing are relatively broad, and this is a concept that has a range of applications when it comes to mixing. Understanding how to use phrase mixing could turn you from a beginner into a confident DJ! You should also check out these DJ tips for beginners.

You only need to understand the basic concepts of music theory to start using this method, which is all explained throughout the rest of this tutorial!

The 5 Main Advantages of Phrasing#

Learning how phrasing (also called 'stage matching') works, and incorporating the techniques into your mixing can make a huge improvement to the sound and flow of your sets. This is one technique that can really help you move from amateur to pro!

Here are some of the main benefits gained from understanding phrase mixing:

  1. Cleaner, Seamless Transitions - By considering phrasing, DJs can create more coherent and flowing smooth transitions between two tracks. It helps to avoid clunky and sudden changes as the momentum and phrasing are matched from one song to the next. It also cleans up mixes, as there won't be clashing vocals and instrumental lead lines. Pair this with the Best Crossfade Techniques for maximum smoothness!

  2. Maintain Energy and Momentum - By using the energy levels of different phrases, DJs can keep the momentum consistent throughout their mix. They can also take more control of the dance floor by bringing energy levels up or down as desired - in a smoother way. This creates a more stable flow throughout your entire mix.

  3. Increase Creativity and Expression - Phrasing becomes another creative tool in a DJ's toolkit and expands their view of the possibilities of expression within DJing. This helps you create more interesting and exciting blends and develops your unique and memorable approach to mixing.

  4. A Smooth, Professional Sound - Phrase mixing is a relatively simple technique that can accelerate a DJ's skills and sound from beginner to pro. DJs who phrase mix display a greater level of attention to detail, which creates a more refined and advanced listening experience. It will also help you to stand out in the competitive DJ industry. Pair this with good EQ Mixing, and your DJ sets can sound fantastic.

  5. Control Tension and Excitement - By mastering the use of phrasing, you can also develop your skills in controlling the tension and excitement of a DJ mix. You can create more meaningful transitions and arrangements, which should increase the overall engagement of your audience.

You can quickly start to see these benefits in your mixing after a few hours of practicing phrase mixing. Don't worry, it's easier than you might think and can be made even easier with tools like DJ.Studio and its rekordbox integration!

The Foundations of Phrase Mixing#

There are a few different components inside the overall concept of phrase mixing, and you need to understand everything to be able to implement it effectively.

This section explains all the important concepts of phrase mixing (in case you don't know), and after I'll show you how to start using phrasing techniques.

Understanding Song Structure#

One of the first things you need to understand is song structures and the types of phrases you'll find in tracks.

For anybody who has learned to play an instrument, written music, or learned to sing, you should already be familiar with most of these terms. Even so, everybody will benefit from looking at these sections in more detail.

Beats, Bars, and Phrases

First of all, you need to understand the differences between beats, bars, and phrases, and you need to learn how to count music.

You probably understand the first two terms - a beat is a singular count, and a bar is made up of beats (typically 4).

Well, a phrase is simply a collection of bars - usually 8 or 16, which make up distinct sections of a track. Because most tracks use a 4/4 time signature (4 beats in a bar), and the phrases are usually 16 bars long, it's usually pretty easy to phrase mix most tunes. Especially when you count bars.

By counting music, you can start to work out the song's phrasing accurately, which makes phrase matching easy. it also helps to beat match tracks.

Common Phrase Types#

There are several common types of phrases that are based on certain sections of tunes. These are found in most types of conventional music (and even the unconventional stuff too).

Some phrase terms are interchangeable, for example, a 'chorus' could also be called a 'drop', and sometimes a 'verse' is more of a build-up. People in the dance music community might use a different phrase to traditional music, or hip hop.

These are the most common phrase types:

  • Intro - This is the first section of a song. This is typically a minimal part of the arrangement which teases some of the upcoming elements. In electronic music, this is often a very sparse beat, which sometimes has no melodic, or even particularly indentifying elements. You count bars from when you start mixing the first bar of the intro.

  • Verse - The easiest way to understand the difference between verses and choruses are, verses typically change between each one, while choruses stay the same. Verses are one of the main parts of the song, although they aren't as catchy or repetitive as the chorus.

  • Chorus - This is often described as the 'heart' of the song, and tends to be the most memorable and catchiest part. The chorus is repeated multiple times throughout a track and typically contains lyrics and instrumentation which are the core of the song. You can find choruses in all types of music, from hip hop to pop, techno, metal, and more!

  • Build Up - This section builds the intensity and has a rising feeling which gives the impression that a big moment is coming. Not all songs have these, but they are more common in electronic music. These could be compared to a 'pre-chorus' in traditional song writing.

  • Drop - The drop is a term in dance music that refers to a sudden change, typically moving from a buildup into the hardest-hitting section of a track. You can almost think of these as the electronic equivalent of a chorus, although often the second drop hits harder than the first, and drops can become progressively harder and more aggressive throughout a track.

  • Breakdown - This is a quieter section of a track, where the energy level is temporarily reduced to create a contrast in the song. Often these will feature no percussive elements like drums, and will instead be focused on the melodic and harmonic elements. These are usually found in the second half of a track, usually in electronic dance music.

  • Bridge - The bridge is a term in classical songwriting that refers to a third section, which is neither a verse nor a chorus. These are typically only played once in a song, and are relatively different from the verse and chorus, with a refreshing sound.

  • Outro - This is the final section of a song, typically bringing down the energy and fading out to silence. In electronic music, outros are often long and minimal, similar to an intro. These give the DJ an easy opportunity to seamlessly mix in a new song.

Note, that in more electronic, or progressive music, the terms verse, chorus, and bridge may not be so relevant.

A great ear training exercise is to listen to some music and try to work out where the different phrases are. If you have the patience, you could even try to manually count the bar lengths of each section. This is a fantastic way to improve your perception as a DJ.

Most DJ software will do this task for you - and often automatically analyses and marks the phrases in a song. While this makes life easier for DJs, it's still good to practice your listening skills and not always rely on technology.

Common Structures and Arrangements#

Now you understand the core phrases, it's worth learning how they are often arranged in a track, as this helps when phrase matching.

A lot of songs actually use the same structural arrangement - particularly music that has been designed to be used by DJs.

By learning how tracks are commonly arranged, you can easily get to grips with phrase mixing and begin to implement it in your DJ mixes.

This list shows the typical order of phrases used in a song's arrangement. It also shows the average bar length for each phrase:

  1. Intro - 16 bars

  2. Verse - 16 bars

  3. Build-up/pre-chorus - 4/8 bars

  4. Chorus/1st Drop - 16 bars

  5. Breakdown - 8-16 bars

  6. Verse 2 - 16 bars

  7. Buildup 2 - 4/8 bars

  8. Chorus 2/2nd drop - 16 bars

  9. Bridge - 16 bars

  10. Breakdown 2 - 8-16 bars

  11. Build up - 4/8 bars

  12. Final Chorus/Drop - 16 bars

  13. Outro - 16 bars

Note, that the bar lengths noted here are not always accurate, as songs will often deviate from this pattern. However, this is the most common type of arrangement and phrase length. For example, hip-hop songs tend to have shorter phrases than house music.

As you can see from the list, a lot of music revolves around 8-bar (32 beats) or 16-bar phrases. Given that most music also uses a 4/4 time signature, this makes phrase mixing a relatively easy process to use. You can easily match phrases when mixing to create coherent and seamless mixing. You just need to learn to count music!

For example, you can line up the choruses of two songs, so when the verse of one song finishes, it drops into the second song's chorus. If you align any two phrases of the same type, songs should be more or less synchronized throughout the rest of the track.

How To Phrase Mix In Your DJ Sets#

This section explains some practical methods for implementing phrase mixing and phrase matching in your DJ sets. Make sure you have a basic understanding of the terms outlined above before trying out these techniques.

1) Assess Your Music Library - Determine Phrases

DJ.Studio Music Library

The first step in phrase mixing is to assess the phrases of songs in your music library. You don't have to do it for every song right away but start with a few songs that you want to try to mix together.

It's good to do some manual phrase counting, although, for the sake of speed and accuracy, I recommend you use something like rekordbox to automatically analyze your tracks. This is super powerful when paired with DJ.Studio, as you can see all the phrases are marked out on a timeline next to the tracks.

To get rekordbox phrases into DJ.Studio:

  1. Open rekordbox, then settings 

  2. Click on the analysis tab

  3. Make sure Auto Analysis is Enabled, and Phrase is checked in Track Analysis Settings

  4. Connect rekordbox to DJ.Studio

  5. Any songs used from your rekordbox library in DJ.Studio will now display the phrase markers

You can also add hot cues to the start of phrases if you want to quickly be able to jump around the track. Some AI DJ Software can help you to find new music to add to your mix!

2) Beat-Match Two Songs

Beat Matching

When you want to mix two songs together with phrase mixing, you'll need to beat match them first.

To do this, you need to make sure that both songs are playing at the same BPM, and you can line them up together on the first beat. This ensures that both songs are playing in time with each other.

3) Align the Phrases

After beat-matching the tracks, next you can start to align the phrases of the two tracks.

Start by playing the first track. While it's playing, you can prepare the second track in your cue headphones. The key is to create a cue point at the start of a new phrase you want to play on the second track.

Now you need to carefully listen to the first track, and be ready to hit play when it comes to the right point in its phrase to start the second song.

For example, it usually works well if you start the intro of one track, at the same time the chorus starts on the first track. This means that by the time the intro of the new track ends, and it starts with the verse, the chorus of the first track will end, and it moves back into the verse. This will mean that both tracks start playing their verse at the same time - so the phrases match.

This stage takes the most practice but is also the most creative and important. You can align the new phrase however you see fit - and ultimately the best places to align phrases depend on the songs you're mixing, and the type of mix you want to create.

The key is preparation and practice. The better you know your music collection and its phrases, the easier it will be - eventually it becomes natural and you won't even need to think about it too much, you'll start doing it automatically.

4) Start The Transition

After you've matched the phrases, and the tracks are playing as you would like, you can start to transition into the new song. Many DJs will wait until the previous phrase of the first song has finished before transitioning, but it's up to your tastes.

You can transition between songs in an infinite range of ways - it's all up to how you want to express yourself. For inspiration on this, check out our full guide on DJ Transition Techniques, and DJ Crossfade Techniques.

After you've pulled off a seamless mix transition, it's just a matter of loading up a new song and repeating the process!

Phrasing In DJ.Studio#

rekordbox Phrases shown in DJ.Studio

Phrasing on traditional DJ software and gear (like a mixer and decks) can be a bit tricky and takes a lot of practice until you can master it. It even takes a while to understand.

DJ.Studio makes the whole process of phrasing super easy, and can also help to just understand how it works, as it gives you a better visual representation of how phrases are matched. We added integrations with rekordbox that we recommend you try out, as this imports the assessed phrases from rekordbox into the DJ.Studio timeline.

  1. Connect rekordbox to DJ.Studio from the settings menu (find out more in our guide on Connecting rekordbox to DJ.Studio).

  2. Add songs to rekordbox, making sure your tracks are analyzed.

  3. Import your rekordbox tracks into the DJ.Studio library.

  4. Create a playlist of chosen songs, and head over to the studio editor.

  5. In the timeline, you will see each track has the phrases marked out.

  6. Simply drag the tracks around the timeline to align the phases in the transition..

It really is that easy! You can start using DJ.Studio for free with the 2-week trial!

Mixed In Key is another piece of integrated software that works in a very similar way - you also get a free demo of the connection in DJ.Studio. Find out more in our Mixed In Key DJ.Studio Integration Guide.

Mixed In Key Phrases in DJ.Studio

Closing Thoughts#

With a bit of practice, you will easily be able to incorporate phrase mixing into your DJ skills. This is a useful tool that can help you to level up the professionalism of your mixes! Harmonic mixing is another technique that you should try - see our guide on How To Mix Harmonically.

Remember, using DJ.Studio can help you to get your head around this concept, as the visual display makes it easier to understand.

Check out these Tips For Creating DJ Mixes to get some extra skills!

Noah Feasey-Kemp
I started DJing when I was 15. Started a record label, residency by a club in Bristol. I’ve played at all the biggest clubs in Bristol (and the small ones) and have entertained thousands of dancers! I love writing about music, DJing, and technology. I've been blogging for DJ.Studio since the start of the project, and am always happy to answer questions and help fellow DJs out!

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