Two Deck Fundamentals

The most common form of DJing is the basic two deck setup.  Almost every club has a variation of this setup installed in the DJ booth and every professional DJ should be able to perform a set using one.

This setup uses two players (either turntables or CDJs) connected through a mixer (consisting of a crossfader, volume faders, and EQ controls, among other things).  Through these three simple devices the DJ creates a continuous stream of music by playing songs on each deck and transitioning between them using the mixer.

There are a few basic steps that are fundamental when learning how to DJ.  Once you have mastered these you can start experimenting with more advanced techniques.

Genre Selection
DJing is about playing music for an audience, so your first step should be deciding what type of music to play.  One of the easiest genres to learn the basics of DJing with is any ‘four-on-the-floor’ style of music (house, electro, techno, etc.) because the beat is very apparent and repetitive.  Even if these genres are not what you would ultimately like to play they can help you develop your skills in the early stages of learning.

Step 1 – Playing the first song
Once you have selected your first song to play you need to make sure the mixer volume is up, EQs are flat, and the crossfader is open.  Hit play on the deck and let the song begin to play.

Step 2 – Queuing the second song
Now that you have a song playing you will want to prepare the next song.  Knowing your music library is an essential part of learning how to DJ because it will allow you to quickly select songs that will fit in the context of your set.  You will want to select a song that is a similar genre and tempo to the currently playing song to make the transition between them seamless.

The most essential part to mixing beat-driven dance music is to match the tempo (in BPM, or beats-per-minute) and then synchronize the beats of both songs.  Almost all DJ software for playing digital music has automatic detection of both of these, making it very easy for the beginner DJ to synchronize beats.  If you are using vinyl records you will have to do this manually using your ears and the pitch faders on the turntables.

The best way to queue the next song is by using a pair of headphones.  All DJ mixers will have a headphone output as will as a queue switch.  This switch allows you to choose which deck you can hear in the headphones.  This allows you to play the next song and synchronize it without having it play in the main speakers.

Step 3 – Transitioning from song to song
Now that you have one song playing and the other song synchronized in your headphones it is time to transition between them.  Depending on the exact genre you are playing and the situation inside the club, there are different points in the song what might be ideal transition points.  However, for the beginner DJ it is more important to get the basic technical skills mastered before attempting to play with song structures.

There are three main ways that you can transition between songs; with the crossfader, the volume faders, and/or the EQ controls.  An easy way for the beginner to practice is with the crossfader.  If you have the volume and EQ controls equally set for both decks you should be able to make a consistent fade between the songs using the crossfader.

To start, make sure that the crossfader is positioned all the way to the left or right (depending what deck is playing).  Once you have the next song synchronized in your headphones, slowly start to push the crossfader to the other side.  This should fade out the current track while simultaneously fading in the new track.  Once the new track is playing and the old track has been completely faded out you can stop the playback of the first song and repeat the whole process.

This is the basic process of DJing with a two deck setup.  While there are many nuances to create great mixes as well as many other techniques to add complexity to your mixes, this simple process remains the backbone for many professional DJs.  Mastering this technique is a great first place to start when learning how to DJ.

You can view other part’s on our How To DJ 101 series below:

Part # 2 – DJ Mixing Techniques

Part #3 – Playing for the crowd, how to play an opening set

Part #4 – How to organize your tracks in iTunes

Part #5 – Playing for the crowd, how to play a middle of the night set