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.