Focusing some practice time on vinyl-manipulation techniques can pay great dividends and will help improve your skills — even with fader-centric scratches. Precise control of the vinyl is an essential part of most scratches, so exploring the finer details of the tweak and tap scratch techniques, both of which focus on platter manipulation as opposed to fader technique, can help you improve that control.
First popularized by Invisibl Skratch Pikl alum and resident Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike, the tweak is more of a concept than a specific movement of the vinyl. It is best performed with a long sample or tone, and what is unique about the tweak is that it is typically executed with the platter motor turned off. The basic concept is to push the platter forward and backward at varying speeds to create varied but melodic tones. While doing this, you can open and close the fader to chop the sound into pieces or simply vary the tone by abruptly changing the speed or direction of playback. The tweak is often performed by gently hitting your thumb on the side of the platter to change the speed, but you can also do it with your hand placed directly on the vinyl.
To perfect the tweak scratch, you should practice performing it with a spontaneous but fluid movement. This is particularly important if you are heavy-handed, as a needle skip during the tweak will certainly ruin your sound. To make it easier when you begin practicing the tweak, look for a battle-break album with a locked tone that you can use. Providing that the needle stays in the groove, your sound can play for as long as you want, allowing you time to perfect the technique.
As with pitch-fader tone scratching, you can attempt to re-create recognizable tunes with the tweak scratch, or you can simply play around with various noises and effects to the accompaniment of a drum track or song played on your other turntable. One option that you can try, possibly at the end of a scratch routine, is to push the platter as fast as possible and then tap the side of the platter to abruptly slow it down in stages, creating an interesting tone effect that progresses from a high pitch to a low pitch. When I perform tweaks, I invariably end up singing in my head the melody that I would like to create. For an example of Mix Master Mike's tweak style, check out the 15-minute scratchfest “Atmosfear” from his Valuemeal 12 Inch Combo Deluxe (Asphodel, 1998) vinyl EP. The tweak shows up about 12 minutes in.
The tap technique, otherwise known as a breakdown, also involves vinyl manipulation. It differs from the tweak scratch in that tapping requires a high degree of precision to perform even the most basic method. This drumbeat-manipulation technique involves slowing a beat down by playing each drum part at regular speed but introducing a slight pause between each part. The drum parts sound normal, but the beat itself is slower than the original. You are unlikely to master tapping in one practice session; however, fine-tuning your abilities will add another great scratch to your repertoire and provide a good foundation for the art of beat juggling.
To explain this technique, I will describe how to tap the following beat: kick, snare, kick, kick, snare. To begin, select an uncomplicated drumbeat with clear, distinctive parts. For each individual part of the drumbeat (snare, kick or hi-hat), your aim is to pause the record just before the part that you wish to play, push and release the vinyl to play the drum part at full speed, and then briefly hold the record before the next part again, as follows: push, kick (pause), push, snare (pause), push, kick (pause), push, kick (pause), push, snare (repeat).
If you find the technique hard to grasp at first, try it with the pitch slowed down, as it will be easiest to perform. Progressively increase the pitch as your comfort level and precision increases. Once you have it down for one drumbeat, you can try the technique with different drumbeats. Be sure to focus on perfecting the point at which you hold the record between drum parts, as any slight movement will result in a sloppy-sounding beat. When performed well, the beat should sound slower in tempo but have the same pitch as the original.
An interesting variation of tapping is known as push-sliding. With push-sliding, the goal is to play the parts of the beat faster but introduce the pause such that its tempo sounds as close to the original as possible. To perform this technique, you have to continually push each drumbeat part faster than when played at normal speed. When doing this, you want to push through the entire playback of the drum part, then add the slight pause between each part. The increased speed of playback with added pause should match the timing of the beat when played unhindered at regular speed. The sound of the beat should be a higher pitch, but the tempo should match.
Both of the techniques described here require some practice and dedication to the art of vinyl manipulation. Turntablism is often thought of as primarily about fader manipulation, but to truly expand your scratch repertoire and perfect fader-based scratch techniques, you need to focus some time on improved vinyl control, as well. If you are unfamiliar with these scratch techniques, learning the tweak and the tap will give you some new scratches to add to your performances and help improve your platter control. It's a win-win situation.