Basics of DJing – How to Learn to DJ for Beginners

Learning the fundamentals is always the best way to learn anything. DJing is learning the basics and repeating until you master them. It’s very important to learn these fundamental basics the right way from the start. That’s why in this post I’m going to share with you my best tips to begin to learn the basics of DJing.

The basics of DJing are counting music, beatmatching, reading the crowd, knowing song structure, and timing. The basic task of a DJ is to create harmony between all the songs during his/her performance, using these basic skills. A DJ uses a DJ controller to accomplish this.

In this post, you’ll find a more in-depth explanation of the basic skills of a DJ, what you have to learn, and how you can practice these basics of DJing.

What does a DJ actually do?

When I am DJing at my local club, a lot of my friends kind of look at me doing my thing behind the decks and they have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Sometimes they ask me and sometimes they just look a little bit a try to understand.

DJing is often underrated. People think you’re just playing some tunes. While it is true that you’re playing tunes, it’s so much more than that.

Mixing songs

What DJs basically do is blending songs together. They do this with skills they learn like counting music, beatmatching, and timing.

The goal is to flow from one song to another song, either by overlapping the end of one song with the start/intro of the other song. You hear both songs playing together for a while, and then slowly fades into just the new song.

Another way is to stop one song and start the next song. The trick here is to do this on beat. So you’ll need to use your counting skills and your timing skills to make this transition seamless. In DJ terms they call this dropping it on the one.

DJs Manage the Energy on the Dancefloor

Playing the right tunes at the right time is one of the main jobs for a DJ who is performing live in front of a crowd. How a DJ is doing that is more complicated than just stopping a tune and playing another tune.

DJing has everything to do with flow. Picture this; a song is playing and you’re having fun, dancing with your friends. All of a sudden in the middle of the chorus, the DJ starts another song. The flow on the dancefloor, the vibe, would change immediately.

Now, that was an obvious example but a DJ’s job is to make sure that that flow never gets interrupted. To do that, DJs have to learn that all songs have structures.

The DJ has to pick a spot in the current playing song, to bring in the next song while keeping the flow and energy going.

More about song structures later on in this article.

Basic Skills You Need to Learn to DJ

Now that we have talked about what DJs actually do; let’s talk about what skills a DJ needs to have in order to perform their job the best way possible.

If you really want to learn the basics of DJing the right way, I suggest you take a DJing course. If you want you can check out my DJ course recommendations for beginners.

We can split DJing skills into 4 sections.

Counting

One of the most important skills you need to learn is counting music. Every song is made up out phrases, bars and beats. These beats need to be counted, when you want to be good at mixing music and not make your mixes sound like a train-wreck.

Check out the video below to learn how to count music, by one of my favorite teachers, DJ TLM.

Song Structure

Like previously mentioned, every song is divided into different parts. These parts are called phrases, and phrases can be divided into bars, and every bar is divided into beats. All songs are also structured a certain way. Different genres often have very different structures. For example Hip Hop, House, and Dance all have very different song structures. Below is the structure of most pop songs.

Pop Song
introverse 1chorusverse 2chorusBridge2x Chorusoutro
Pop song structure example

The other part of music theory goes deeper into the song. Now that we know that all songs are divided into different parts we can learn that every part of a song can also be divided into parts, and those can be divided into parts as well.

Every part of a song can be divided into phrases. Phrases can be divided into bars and every bar is divided into beats. When mixing these phrases are very important.

Check out my article on phrase mixing if you want to learn more.

The most important part for you to remember is that you have to learn how music is structured to know when to mix in your next song.

Stick to the basic rule of mixing in a new song at the end of every part or phrase. So never switch to a new song in the middle of the chorus for example, but wait until the end. When you don’t, your mix will sound odd and won’t keep a nice flow going.

Learning to Read the Crowd

This one is only needed when you’re performing in front of a crowd. This is actually one of the most important skills of them all. If I could choose 1 skill out of all skills, this would be the one I would pick.

When you think about it, everything a DJ does is to entertain the people. If you don’t know how to read the crowd and don’t know what songs to play in order to keep them on the dancefloor, you didn’t do a good job DJing.

You have to learn to “read” where the energy level of the crowd is. When the crowd is not that high in their energy yet, playing a banger with high energy is not going to make these people happy. It’s too much of an energy gap.

This would be different when the energy is high, playing a high-energy banger would be a great choice. They will LOVE you for it.

An open-format DJ also has to “read” what music the people are into. This is mostly a matter of paying a bunch of songs and seeing where they respond to. It might seem very easy this one but you still have to read the happiness of the crowd. Some people dance to anything, and yet these people do have their favorites too.

Open format DJs are DJs that play multiple genres of music instead of sticking to 1 or 2. They’re also the ones that would take requests from the crowd.

Hearing skills/Musical Ear

A DJ needs to train their musical ear to not only play songs that the crowd would like but also what songs blend well together.

The most guaranteed way to know what songs blend well together is to play 2 songs in the same key (tone).

Thankfully, for all those DJs out there that weren’t born with a good musical ear (like me), this is actually something that DJ software can figure out for you.

Serato DJ for example, one of the most popular DJ software out there, gives you this information when you load and analyze the track into your DJ software. So pick 2 songs with the same key and your blend will most likely sound good together.

It is important to train this skill though because although 2 songs in the same key will probably sound good together, there are songs that sound awesome together and there are songs that sound okay together. Don’t you want to be that DJ that makes awesome blends?

Technical

And of course, you have to learn the technical part of DJing. Things like what is a loop, what are EQs and how do you use them. What are the effects and how can you use them?

You can also DJ using just your laptop. A lot of DJ software programs have so-called “hotkeys”. So when you press the spacebar, for example, the song will start. Or if you want to add an effect then there are different keys attached to that function.

If you’re like me though you want to have the real thing and have some real DJ gear available to you. I do understand though when you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars/euros on DJ gear if you’re just starting out.

If you’re looking for a cheap but good controller for you as a beginner DJ, on my recommended DJ gear page I have written a post about my favorite DJ gear that I used as a beginner. I didn’t want to waste my money either.

What do you need to start practicing DJing

To start practicing DJing all you really need is a laptop and DJ software but it might be more fun with a controller.

DJ Software

There are a lot of DJ software programs to choose from but the most popular ones are Serato DJ, Rekordbox DJ, Traktor, DJ, and Virtual DJ.

For more information about DJ software check out my posts:

DJ Controller

A DJ controller is not necessary but for me, it definitely enhanced the fun of DJing.

The most popular DJ controllers out there are from brands like Pioneer, Hercules, and Numark. These days there are a lot of controllers to choose from and in the beginning, it might be a bit overwhelming and difficult to choose.

Speaking from my experience, you don’t want a DJ controller that is too complicated, because you can easily get distracted and discouraged by all the different buttons and knobs.

Especially when you’re just learning the skills, you’ll master them much quicker if you’re more selective with your focus. I promise you’ll have the same amount of fun DJing on a lower-budget DJ controller as you would have on an expensive one.

For recommended DJ controllers visit my best controllers for beginner DJs page.

Is DJing hard to learn

DJing to not hard to learn, but you have to put in the time and the energy. It can be frustrating in the beginning, when you want to be way further down the road and do all these cool tricks and transitions.

Take it from me, someone that went through all of that, DJing is so much fun when you are DJing with the right songs. I’ve had goosebump moments with easy transitions (transitioning from one song to the other) just because the 2 songs were great together, just as much as I’ve had those goosebumps because the transition that I was learning went smooth.

What to practice first when DJing

As a beginner, you need to start with the basics.

I will share with you some videos of one of my favorite YouTube DJs/teachers to make this all a little bit easier for you too. I learned my basic skills of DJing from DJ TLM and I still think he is an awesome teacher. Below there are 5 videos of DJ TLM in the order that I would watch them.

To learn more about the basics of DJing, I highly recommend checking out the mix tutorial below, by DJ TLM. All videos are in the right order so you can just watch them one by one.

How often do you need to practice DJing

There is no rule as to how often you should practice DJing. It all depends on how quickly you want to learn all this and if you’re planning to be a bedroom DJ or if you really want to DJ at live gigs.

My advice would be to practice at least about half an hour every 2 days. Preferably more than 30 minutes but if you don’t have the time, 30 minutes should be enough to keep the momentum and keep your muscle memory updated.

Again it all depends on what your end goal is. My best tip would be to have the most fun as you can have because you will learn much quicker and you’ll stick to it.

You can create more fun by DJing with songs that you love, learning new tricks with songs that you love, and don’t go too fast. Master skills before you move on to another skill. This will save you a lot of frustration.

Make sure you keep it fun!


After reading this post, is DJing something you would want to do? Let me know if I can help you with anything DJ related. I’m always available for a chat. (visit the Contact page on the top menu)

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