What is Phrase Mixing? Beginner DJs Need to Learn This

Phrase mixing opened up a whole new world for me when I first learned about it. My mixing got a whole lot better and it gave me so much inspiration. Phrase mixing is a very important skill that you need to master if you want to get good at mixing music. In this article, I’m going to try to explain this term to you and tell you how to use it in your mixes.

With phrase mixing DJs create smooth and structured transitions from one song to another. It’s the overlapping of a specific part of a song, with another specific part of a different song. The mix will sound more harmonic and the two songs will blend perfectly without sudden interruptions.

For a full explanation of what phrase mixing is and how you can do it too, keep on reading.

What Are Phrases

Phrases have everything to do with song structure, So to help you understand what phrases are, we need to take a look at how a song is structured.

Every song consists of phrases, beats, and bars. All phrases have bars, and all bars have beats. All these phrases, bars, and beats make up the structure of a song.

The BPM of a song will tell you exactly how many beats per minute a song contains. You could read my article about what BPM is and how to use it, if you want to know more about that first.

The number of phrases in a song varies from song to song. The number of bars in phrases also varies from song to song. However, each genre of music does have a structure that is most common.

Every bar consists of beats. Now, the number of phrases and bars might vary from song to song but in 90-95% of all music that you’ll be DJing with every bar consists of 4 beats.

Below you’ll find an infographic that I created to get a better picture of the structure of a phrase.

beats bars and phrases
How a phrase is structured

Beats are the rhythm of a song. You know this because you’ve been bobbing your head to your favorite tunes all of your life. Now counting these beats is your next step.

A song starts with beat number 1 in bar number 1. Then comes the 2, 3, and 4. Then bar 2 starts with beat number 1 again.

In the image below you’ll see a waveform of a song that I loaded up on my DJ software.

You can see the first beat. It starts together with the first bar. Shown in the picture below as number 1. You also see number 2, which represents the start of bar number 2.

Between number 1 and number two at the top of the waveform, you can see 3 small vertical lines. These represent beats 2, 3, and 4.

waveform with white lines representing beats and bars
There are 4 beats in this bar

Now, you could look at your laptop screen and see at what number of beats or bars you’re at, but that is not the best way to learn to DJ and mix music. As a DJ, you need to develop your musical ear and learn how to count music by ear. So you’ll need to practice counting music, without looking at your screen.

In the DJ industry, there is a way to count the bars along with the beats and it goes like this:

1 (bar) – 2 – 3 – 4

2 (bars) – 2 – 3 – 4

3 (bars) – 2 – 3 – 4

4 (bars) – 2 – 3 – 4

Do you see how the first count is always a reference to what bar number it is? You don’t have to say the word ” bars” every time. So to continue the bar count above, it would look like this:

5 – 2 – 3 – 4

6 – 2 – 3 – 4

7 – 2 – 3 – 4

8 – 2 – 3 – 4

The above information is the theory of music, what a song looks like on paper. Divided into phrases, bars, and beats.

Phrases, however, are also very easily recognizable when you listen to a song. There’s always a change in the music whenever there is a change of phrase, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle.

When you transition from one song to another, counting beats and knowing about phrases, is very important.

I recommend that you listen to some music right now and that you try to count along with the beats and bars and try to recognize when the music changes.

Soon you will be able to recognize the start of a new phrase on every song that you listen to. If you’re like me after a while you’ll find yourself subconsciously counting along with every song you hear on the radio.

Recommended: Club Ready DJ Course Review

Why Phrases Mixing is Important

As I just explained, songs are all structured in a certain way and there is a reason that they’re structured this way. Songs sound good with these structures. They take you along on a journey.

Song structures are important. They might not all have the exact same structure but all structures are very important nonetheless.

This is also the reason why phrase mixing is so important. You don’t want to mess up the structure of a song when you’re mixing in another song.

You don’t want your favourite song to be cut off right in the middle of the part that you love the most, do you? You want to hear every beat of it. This is what phrase mixing is all about and why it’s so important.

How to Mix Phrases

Now that we know what phrases are, we need to learn how to mix phrases so we can smoothly blend two songs together without interrupting the flow.

Good phrase mixing starts with knowing your music. Remember I told you that every genre has a most common song structure? Knowing your music means knowing the song structure of your music.

The best way to do this is to look at the genres in your music collection. Find 5 songs for each genre and listen to all the tracks. Soon you’ll recognise a pattern within every genre. You’ll notice a song structure that is very common.

Matching Phrases

If we want to mix phrases, we need to match phrases. This means that both phrases, of the song on deck number 1 and the song on deck number 2, need to be equal.

Let’s say you want to mix the outro of song number 1 with the intro of song number 2. The first thing you need to look at is the length of both of these parts of the songs.

Let’s say song number one’s outro has 1 phrase of 8 bars and song number 2’s intro has 1 phrase with 8 bars. You start song number 2’s intro at the start of song number 1’s outro. We’ve now matched phrases because both are equal in length.

Tip: when there is no intro, or a short intro, you can create one by using loop.

When song number 1 ends, song number 2 will be at the start of the next phrase. This creates very smooth transitions and can sound very cool if you do it right.

Now let’s say song number 1 has an outro of 8 bars but song number 2 has an intro of 4 bars. You could say that this creates a problem. However, being a DJ, we can create a phrase match.

We can do this by letting the outro of song number 2 just play out but repeating the 4 bar intro of song number 2. Now the 4 bar intro of song number 2 is played twice which makes this an 8-bar intro. Now both phrases match.

Always keep in mind that you should never mix two phrases that both have vocals. Sometimes these mixes work, but you’ll probably need a bit more experience to create mixes with 2 vocals.

Mixing Different Phrases

The great part about learning how to phrase mix is that we can experiment with different parts of a song.

Mixing the outro of a song with the intro of another song is very common, but there are more combinations that work very well.

Here is a list of possible combinations that you could use:

Song 1Song 2
OutroIntro
Chorus/HookIntro
BreakdownIntro
Outro (instrumental)Verse
VerseIntro
VerseBreakdown
Different ideas to combine when phrase mixing

Keep in mind that the phrases need to have an equal length. Verses, intros, outros, choruses, they all could have a different number of bars.

Phrase Mixing in Different Genres

Genres matter a lot in phrase mixing because there are certain combinations of phrases that work better in one genre than in another genre.

For example, in the dance music scene, a very important part of the song is the drop.

Although a drop is a lot like a chorus or a hook, in that it’s the most catchy and memorable part of a song, it’s never a good idea to start mixing at the start of a drop. Contrary to let’s say, Hip Hop, where the hook could potentially be a good point in the song to start mixing in your next song.

Here is a list with common mixing points for different genres, to mix in a new song.

GenreCommon Mixing Points
Dance Music (EDM, House, Techno, etc.)Breakdown, Build-up, Drop swap
Hip Hop and R&BHook, Bridge, Verse, Outro
PopChorus, Bridge, Verse, Outro
The 80s and 90sBridge, Outro
Mixing points of different genres

Now, the above ideas are not the only ones, but you could start by experimenting with these mixing points.

Conclusion

Songs consist of phrases, bars, and beats. Every song has phrases, every phrase has bars, and every bar has beats.

The goal of mixing is to keep the harmony and flow of the music going. Phrase mixing is the way to do this.

With phrase mixing, you’re making sure that the 2 parts of the songs that overlap each other when mixing, have the same length, so the transition into the new song will sound smooth and seamless.

Phrase mixing can be seen as the foundation of a good DJ mix. When you master the concept of phrase mixing, your DJing level will improve massively.

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