Pitch Control On The Vinyl Side

Most DJs are very familiar with the idea of pitch control, and DAW experts probably associate the phrase with timestretching, tempo modification and sample slicing. However, when you’re slinging vinyl, pitch control is an essential part of beat matching, due to the very real physical relationship between rotation speed/BPM and playback pitch…

If you’re just beginning as a DJ, then you’ll have to learn to master pitch control before you move on to more advanced techniques such as transformer scratching. But what is pitch control all about?

The Pitch is Playable

If you have a decent direct drive DJ deck, then your pitch control will probably be a slider at the right side of the unit that allows you to alter the pitch of the record by at least 8%, and hopefully more. This means that you can play with the pitch within this range to either pitch match or beat match two discs.

In the purely mechanical terms of how the turntable mechanism operates, pitch control actually adjusts the speed of the platter rather than the pitch itself. Because the pitch of a sound is directly related to its frequency (measured in Hertz, or number of oscillations per second), lowering the frequency will also lower the pitch. This is what ‘pitch control’ does – it slows down (or speeds up) the platter rotation by a certain amount. This reduces (or increases) the number of times the record will spin past the needle in one second (i.e. the frequency) and therefore the pitch will drop (or rise).

Using Pitch to Control the Beat

When using pitch control to reduce the pitch of a track, it is important to remember that this causes the tempo (measured in beats per minute, or BPM) of the track to drop also. On the other hand, if you want to increase the BPM count of your track, you can do so by giving the pitch control a bit of a boost in the + direction. The upshot of all this is that you can use pitch control to bring your records into sync, and then set it so that they stay beat matched, even if they may have been originally recorded at different tempi. (One caveat here – you can only beat match two records like this if the tempo difference is within the pitch control range of your turntable. In the case of a Technics 1210MKII, for example, there must be less than an 8% tempo differential to overcome).

The interdependency of pitch and tempo is something that can be circumvented (to some extent) in the DAW environment, where time stretching can be employed to alter the tempo of a musical segment without affecting the pitch. But I’m sure you knew that already…(Dr. Rex, anyone?)


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