DJ on vinyl turntables -Variable Speed/Pitch Control

What is the Slider, Fader on the Turntable, why is it so much fun to play with?

Have you ever been confused when looking at all the controls of a DJ setup?

Part of the fun of DJ’ing is being in control of the music, the art of mixing is the way that the DJ uses the tools available to make the music bend to their will. Taking pre-recorded music and manipulating it to suite you. Similar to the way we speak, we can change our pitch, tone and speed.

It can be easy to confuse all the controls on a DJ setup. Let’s break it down and focus first on the Vinyl Turntable, the grandfather of the DJ setup. All subsequent DJ equipment has evolved around the turntables and their ability to adjust the speed of the record/music.

Why is Pitch Important?

Being able to manipulate the speed/pitch of music is a core element of DJ'ing.

This is one reason why the pitch slider is featured on all DJ hardware and software, it is essential to mixing regardless of what DJ equipment you use. 

The DJ will speed up or slow down the music, to match the beat and tempo to the other song that is playing using the slider and also by touching the platter to get the 2 pieces of music in sync. Other creative uses exists although 99% of the time, it is used as a tool to align the (BPM) beats of the currently playing track. 

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What is Pitch?

Pitch in this instance refers to the perception of musical frequencies. Changing the tempo/speed by moving the slider will change the pitch of the music. 

Does the music sound “higher” or “lower”. A high pitch is often associated with a shrill chipmunk sound and a low pitch is associated with rumbling bass.

Most DJ’s agree that a 4% difference in pitch/speed will be noticeable to most ears in most environments, but the ear can be very sensitive to variation in pitch.

Some turntables have a “Pitch Reset” button that will reset the speed of the record to  ±0% even if the slider is not in the middle position.

A tool called “Key lock” or “Master key” can be used to lock the pitch in place even when the slider is not in its nominal position.

Pitch as a tool

The process of changing the speed of the song is part of cuing or bringing in the next song. Its fundamental to beat matching, one of the most common mixing techniques. 

A DJ's most valuable skill initially, is to be able to listen to 2 songs at once and distinguish if the second song is faster or slower than the first and to adjust accordingly.

Some newer DJ equipment will allow you to do this automatically, but it is always best to learn how to do it yourself first, in order to gain a core understanding of bars beats and rhythm. 

The pitch Slider is the core tool to control the speed of the platter although some DJ’s use it in creative and innovative ways.

Where did it come from

Many moons ago, there was no real standard for the speed that music was recorded at.Vinyl was pressed in house and the equipment would vary between studios.

Radio DJ’s would use the pitch slider to manually adjust the record as a result and this feature seemed to stick.

When other DJ’s notably Francis Grasso started to incorporate Beat matching into his DJ sets, it ensured that the pitch slider would not be going anywhere.

Now all DJ equipment has this ability and the functionality has been extended.

What are the dots on the side of vinyl turntables, is it decoration?

DJ Machines in motion

TLDR: The dots have utility and are not just to look cool. DJ’s use it as a tool to see what the rotating speed is, relative to the normal speed. A quick look at the dots will tell you if your Turntable needs a service or is faulty. Its due to the “stroboscopic” effect

Utility, using the dots as a tool

Observing the motion of the dots, you can visually see the relative speed of the platter depending on what lines appear to be static. A row will appear frozen and stationary while the rest of the dots move.

The stroboscopic dots are designed to be used as an indicator to show the change of the speed of the record relative to the normal speed. In simple terms it’s a way to quickly see how much faster or slower the record is.

This can be a helpful tool when keeping the music consistent and not going too far away from the intended speed of the record, making it simple to see that the rotational speed of the platter is consistent.

Issues?

Issues can occur If the speed of the dots seems drastically inconsistent, jumping back and forth, or drifting when the line should appear static. There could be an issue with your speed, that can be tweaked or your pitch/speed slider may be faulty.

If you notice that the lines of dots do not line up, you will need to service the turntable and have the pitch slider looked at.

Why? Because...Science

The physics behind this magic has to do with a concept called the stroboscopic effect. The light beam acts as a strobe, oscillating at specific frequencies depending on if you have a 50Hz or 60Hz turntable. 

Pro Tip: Most new turntables can run on 50 or 60Hz power (It will say on the back of the device)

Buying a turntable from a different country?

If you are buying a turntable from a different country make sure you get the correct power rating for your country.

The fluorescent light will operate at 50 or 60Hz depending on what your local power rating is.  120V 60Hz is for America, Japan etc and 230V 50Hz is for Europe, Australia etc. For more information on outlet power, you can find all the power rating here

Reference -

Buying Guidance - DJ Vinyl Turntable

Everything you need to know about vinyl turntables, all your Disc Jockey questions answered. Part 1

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Why are belt driven turntables so much cheaper than direct drive turntables. Is this a gimmick or a scam?

TLDR: Short answer is, you can DJ on both but the direct drive is better if you can afford it.

The belt-driven turntable uses a rubber belt to drive the turntable and can be less consistent than the direct-drive turntables, that use a magnetic driver that is directly coupled to the spinning DJ platter.

What does this mean for me when I’m mixing you ask. The biggest difference is the speed and steadiness that the vinyl platter can get to the normal rotation.

There can be more mechanical noise on a belt-driven turntable (although it's practically negligible), but these days it does not make a massive difference and it has more to do with what you can afford. 

The belt drive can wear and tear after a while, affected by heat and friction. The belt-driven TTBLS sometimes uses a gear system to change between the rotation speed of 33.3 and 45 (Revolutions Per Minute) RPM.

With a belt-driven turntable, if you take off the platter for a service, you need to release the tension of the belt before removing the platter.

Here is time tested explanation from Ellaskins (the Original DJ Tutor) 

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