This list of terms is not supposed to be exhaustive or complete, please feel free to poke me with a comment if there is something you want defined or explained. Wherever I have noticed that I have had to explain a term by using a term that is also in the glossary I have put the term in “inverted commas.”
The list is alphabetical so scroll down to find what you are looking for.
Balancing Levels – this is a technique professional DJs use to make sure they get their music as loud as possible without it distorting or sounding rubbish. If you don’t know how to do this, the “sound manager” at a venue will have to turn you down in case you damage the “sound system”. Sometimes this is known as sorting the “Gain Structure”.
Bar – in dance music a bar is 4 “beats”.
Bass - The lower end of the Frequency range you can normally control on a dj mixer.
Bassline - The driving force to most dance music. Produced by Bass frequencies.
Beat – if you nod your head to music you are nodding to the beat, if you count 4 nods at a time you are counting 4 beats to a “bar”. The beat is also called the “pulse”
Beat match - set the “tempo/speed/pitch” of two songs and play them so they are at exactly the same speed and time, making them sound like just one song.
BPM – stands for beats per minute. If you nod your head or tap your foot to music you are following the “beat”. If you count how many nods or taps you do in a minute you have calculated the BPM.
Break – 1) a bit of a song which sounds great and could maybe be used as a sample to make a new “hook” or “riff” with. 2) A change in a song where one or more instruments stops playing. 3) A change in a song where one instrument does something different eg a drum fill.
A break is distinguishable from a solo as the change will normally not last too long.
Breakdown – a bit of a song where things change and some instruments stop to let the bass and drums take over.
CD - a format of disc that contains music.
Chorus – the bit of a song that is repeated by the singer a few times in the song.
Copyright – the legal proof that someone wrote the song you are using and that you should not copy, lend or borrow bits of their work without asking and/or paying them first.
Controller - “USB Controllers” are hardware units which utilise “DJ Software” on PC or MAC computers. USB Controllers should have all the controls a DJ may want. Some of the best controllers also provide audio out for a computer, Some controllers act ad DJ “mixers” and allow other CD or Vinyl “decks” to be included. There are also USB Controllers which act as midi controllers over other elements of DJ Software. Big players in the Controller market are: Pioneer, Vestax, Numark, and most other hardward manufacturers. Big players inDJ software include: Traktor, Serato, ITCH and others.
Controllerist - A DJ who uses a “USB Controller” to make their own music by scratching, juggling, sampling etc instead of just playing the songs. See also “Turntablism” but note that as controllerists have many more functions at their disposal the sound of controllerism is often much more dominated by cue point juggling than scratching. That said good controllers have platters which can also recreate the sound of real scratching.
Cross-fader – fades between two songs with just one hand.
Cue -1) to prepare a song to be played. Normally a Dj chooses a point from which to begin a tune that is the beginning of the first beat of the first bar, or occasionally the beginning of the audio if these are not the same. More experienced DJs get creative by cueing from anywhere 2) to cue up can also be used to describe the action of setting an audio path so you can hear something in your headphones 3) on a CDJ, DVS or Controller deck the cue button is used to stutter the beginning of a song or to set a “cue point” which is where the song will begin to play from 4)On some DJ mixers the cue button for a channel will select that channel to be played through the headphones.
Cut – to swap instantly from one tune to another at a good place.
Deck – Player of CDs or vinyl records. Sometimes called a “turntable”.
Digital Vinyl System - Also known as DVS a digital vinyl system contains DJ software running on a computer which plays back music contained on the computer but which is controlled by using either “CD” or “Vinyl” “decks”.
DJ Software – Working with “Digital Vinyl Systems” or “USB Controllers” DJ Software uses the processers on Computers to play and manipulate sounds. Some DJ Software is intended to act alone without any “CD” or “Vinyl” players at all.
Echo – a type of FX.
EQ – controls that let you affect different frequencies of sound on your songs. On DJ mixers these are normally “HI/High/Treble/Top”, “Mid” and “Bass/Low”
Fade -turn volume up or down so song begins or ends smoothly.
Fader- the fader is the controller we use to “fade” a song. It can either increase or decrease volume smoothly.
Filter – a type of FX.
FX - controls that let you do all kinds of things to the sound of your songs.
Gain - a control which can be used to boost or cut volume levels. This is different to the fader as it has much more power and is normally set using headphones and warning lights before you play any sound through your speakers.
Gain Structure - this is a technique professional DJs use to make sure they get their music as loud as possible without it distorting or sounding rubbish. If you don’t know how to do this, the “sound manager” at a venue will have to turn you down in case you damage the “sound system”. Sometimes this is known as “Balancing Levels”.
Headphone Monitor – a control on a DJ mixer for choosing which channels sound is heard from in the headphones. Sometimes this is called the “Headphone Selector”.
Headphone Selector – a control on a DJ mixer for choosing which channels sound is heard from in the headphones. Sometimes this is called the “Headphone Monitor”.
Hi - HI/High/Treble/Top
High - HI/High/Treble/Top
Hook – the recognisable bit of a song you remember, hum, sing along to.
Intro – the beginning bit of a tune before all the instruments, riff or hook have really started.
Juggle – a technique used by turntablists to rearrange musical samples to sound like something new. This requires two copies of the same songs and lots of skill, or two different songs, lots of skill and incredible creativity. For examples of juggling search youtube for “DMC Champions”
Line – line level is all CD players, MP3 players, TVs, DVDs etc. Be sure you put the cable from a line level device into a line level input on your DJ mixer.
Loop – any bit of a record that you repeat. CD decks have buttons which let you set any part of the song to loop. A good loop can become the basic beat or riff of a whole new song.
Low – The bottom end of the frequency range usually controllable by the “EQ” controls on a DJ mixer. This is also called “Bass” and is where you will hear the kick drum and Bassline.
Mid - the middle part of the frequency range usually controllable by DJ mixers “EQ” controls. If you only hear the Mid range thinks sound a little like you are under water.
Middle-8 – part of a song that lasts 8 beats which is different to the rest of the song, sometimes called a break.
Mix – any way you choose to swap between two songs.
Mixer – piece of equipment which mixes the music from two decks as the DJ requires.
MP3 – a lower quality digital format for music. Downloaded music often comes in MP3 format which you can burn to your own CDs. 128 Kbps MP3 is the lowest quality you should use.
Outro – the end of a song, often the same few words being faded out.
P.A. (System) – Another word for a “sound sytsem” the initials P.A. used to mean Personal Address but also get confused with Power Amplifier. So P.A. actually means Personal Address System. P.A. became the recognised nickname for all kinds of “sound reinforcement” equipment. A portable P.A. can be simply two speakers with internal amps while a P.A. (not prefixed with the word “portable”) normally means a larger “sound system” which will require a professional “Sound man” or “Sound Engineer” to set it up and control it.
‘Phones – nickname for headphones
Phono – phono level relates only to vinyl decks – be sure to put the cable from any vinyl player into a phono input on your DJ mixer.
Phono Cable- also called RCA, the industry standard cable for DJ and home hifi equipment.
Phrase – any bit of music you can hear repeating during a song, normally each instrument has its own phrase, the drums do a beat, the bass does a bass line etc. Each repeats the same thing during the chorus or verse but may change in the break/middle-8.
Pitch – sometimes confused with speed or tempo, the pitch of music is actually the frequency of the waveform which enables us to hear music. The pitch of a sound defines it’s note. A high pitch is a high note (the “chipmunk” vocal sound- effect is achieved by increasing pitch to very high levels). A low pitch is a low or bass note. On old record players if you increased speed or tempo you always increased pitch too so the speed control was called the “Pitch Fader”. Modern CD decks can alter speed without changing pitch but still sometimes call the tempo/speed adjuster the “Pitch Fader” because of the way it used to work.
Pitch Fader – the control used to alter the speed or tempo of music. See also “Pitch”
Pulse – same as “beat.”
Requests – the public and the people dancing at clubs or parties may often request a song from the DJ. It depends what type of request it is, what type of party it is, and what type of DJ you are whether you play it or not.
Rewind – spinning the song back to the beginning to play it again because the crowd liked it.
Riff – the recognisable bit of a song you remember, hum, sing along to.
Sample – any bit of music used to make new music, often a break or stab.
Scratch – move the disc back and forth with your hand to alter the music, normally done with another song playing as a background. Scratch techniques can also use two hands with the second hand using the “cross-fader” to “transform” the scratch sound.
Scribbling – a basic scratch technique where you just move back and forward around a sound – experiment, you may find you like it!
Set - A DJs “set” is the selection of songs he or she plays during a performance. A good “set” takes listeners on a musical journey, through several different moods, hopefully climaxing one or more times. The “set” also refers to the selection of records a DJ plans to play, i.e. a DJ can plan a “Set” but then during a performance he or she may change the order of songs in their “set” or change songs entirely to suit the mood of the crowd. Unless you are playing to a stadium of people who expect you to deliver exactly what they expect a “Set” should never really be decided before a performance as this would leave no room to react to the crowd.
Song – a track or tune.
Sound Desk - An external array of faders and controls for the audio signals being generated by instruments on a stage or in a studio. DJ mixers are all “Sound Desks” but with the outstanding addition of a “crossfader”.
Sound Engineer - A qualified and/or extremely experienced self-taught professional who manages the “Sound System.” The term sound engineer is also applied to the person who uses a “Sound Desk” to mix the signals coming from a band on stage or during a studio recording.
Sound Manager - Another name for a sound engineer. Although instances may occur where a sound manager runs the system and a sound engineer runs the desk.
Sound Reinforcement - The term given to all the processes which are needed to amplify sound for projection at events. Sound reinforcement will require a “sound system” or “P.A.”
Sound System - The amplifiers, speakers, outboard units and crossovers that together create the sound in clubs and venues. Not in anyway like a home HiFi or a portable P.A. The Sound System requires a “Sound Engineer” to correctly use it.
Speed – also called tempo or sometimes pitch. This is the speed a song is playing in, it is measured in BPM.
Spinback – spinning the disc backwards to finish a mix with a flourish!
Stab – a short sound used as a sample, normally for scratching.
Stutter – using scratching on vinyl decks or the cue button on CD decks to rapidly repeat a sound like a drum roll or a voice.
Tempo – also called speed and sometimes called pitch. This is the speed a song is playing in, it is measured in BPM.
Tears – A “Scratch” Technique involving pulling and pushing a sound while altering the speed of the pull or push by hand during the scratch.
Tip – when beginning to learn how to scratch try to use just the tip of a sound to get used to how little you should move when scribbling.
Top - HI/High/Treble/Top. Also used to describe something good
Track – a song or tune on a CD.
Transform - A “scratch” technique which uses the cross-fader the turn on and off the audio signal from a deck during “scratching”.
Treble - HI/High/Treble/Top. The upper part of the frequency range which is controllable by DJ mixers. This range normally contains hi hats, shakers and some parts of voices.
Trim – another word for Gain.
Tune – a track or song.
Turntable – a “deck.”
Turntablism – using records or CDs to make your own music by scratching, juggling, sampling etc instead of just playing the songs.
USB - A standard port on computers which can be used to attach music production or DJ Controllers to a Computer.
Verse – the bit of a song where the singer/ rapper sings the main part of the song.
Vinyl – A format of disc that contains music for playback.
WAV – a high quality digital format for music on CDs, all bought CDs have WAV quality sound.