With the explosion of technology, DJs have a lot of tools available to them. One of those tools is the ability to visually see beatgrids for the tracks in your collection. This vital piece of information can make a DJs time on the decks so much easier. In this guide, we’ll go over what a beatgrid is and how you can fix them if your software doesn’t analyse your music correctly.
What is a Beatgrid?
DJ software will analyse your music and provide you with information about the tracks BPM, Key and more. It will also show you a waveform of the track. This waveform will also show a beatgrid. This grid will be layered on each beat of the track and is usually marked by a vertical line. The first beat in a bar will usually be a thicker line or even a different colour. This coincides with the structure of the song. You can learn more about beats, bars and phrases in this guide.
Using these beatgrids is how DJ software is able to match the BPM for two tracks. It will first stretch or compress the track to match the BPM and then align the beatgrids so that the beats are matched. This is generally activated via the Sync button.
If you do plan on using Sync you need to understand beatgrids and how to change them. As with all algorithms, it sometimes gets it wrong. If your beatgrids are not placed correctly by your software using the Sync button will not match up the two songs. Check out the image below highlighting when a beatgrid has been placed incorrectly.
Now let’s dive into how to fix these misaligned beatgrids so that the Sync function will work as intended. All the major pieces of DJ software like Serato, Traktor Pro and Rekordbox will have tools that will allow you to edit beatgrids. Check the documentation for your software to find where the tools can be located. Get familiar with what each function does so that you can be ready if you ever need to fix a beatgrid.
While there are differences between software the general techniques tend to be the same. Let’s cover some of the most common beatgrid issues you’ll encounter and how to fix them.
First Beat Fix
Some tracks will have an initial intro sound or section which may not be a full bar or phrase. Your DJ software may recognise this section as the first beat of the song and place the marker there. As a result, you may find that the first beat of the song may not be set as the first beat of a bar. Check out this example where this issue is evident.
Luckily this is one of the simplest fixes you can do to a beatgrid. In this case, you’ll need to move the entire grid over so that the first beat of the song is properly gridded. The first beat should be the thicker line or different colour to represent the start of the bar. You may need to hit one button to move the whole grid across one beat. There may also be a button which allows you to mark the first beat of a bar and it will then alter the rest of the beatgrid based on your placement.
When analysing your music your DJ software may not recognize all the beats. It may also recognise too many. For most electronic music genres this is a rare occurrence. Genres like drum and bass tend to suffer from this problem more than others. The issue here is if you try to Sync these tracks the song will be doubled in speed or slowed down by half. In both cases, it will not sound right.
By doubling the beatgrid or halving the beatgrid you’ll be able to fix this issue. A track may be analysed as 64 BPM but has extra beats between the beatgrid markers. This is where doubling will come into effect. Most software will have a button to press to double or halve the BPM value. You’ll then see that the beatgrid aligns and has a BPM of 128 BPM.
While not a common problem it will happen from time to time. The issue can be helped by checking the analysis settings within your software. Most software supports setting a range for BPM which can help guide the software and prevent very low and very high BPM from registering.
There will be occasions that the software gets it completely wrong. If you know that the song has a consistent BPM you can use the tap method to set the beatgrid.
In this method, your software will have a button you can tap on each beat. All you do is play the song and continue tapping on the beats and the software will assign a BPM value and a beatgrid based on your tapping. While not 100% accurate it will give you a base BPM that should be pretty close to the correct value. You can then stretch or shrink the beatgrid to get it more precise. You may need to zoom in on the waveform to see the exact moment the beat hits so that you can align the grid. The Tap Method is often used in conjunction with the Nudge Method that I’ll cover below.
Your own ears are your best tool and this is a perfect example of how your own knowledge can assist DJ software. It’s worth trying out on some tracks to practice. Select a track and clear the beatgrid and try setting it using the tap method to see how accurate you can get it. You can always analyse the track again to reset it to its original state.
In some instances, the analysis of the track will find the correct BPM but the beatgrid can still be misaligned. In these cases, the beatgrid may be a fraction off from the correct placement. With the variety of sounds layered in modern electronic music, it’s not uncommon for this to happen.
In this scenario, you can adjust the beatgrid by using the nudge functions in your software. Zoom in on the waveform and find the exact spot that the beatmarker should be on. Then use the nudge buttons to move the beatgrid left or right depending on where the initial marker was placed. The more accurate your placement the better the Sync function will work. Even if you’re not 100% on the right spot it should only take minor adjustments to the track when you are mixing it in.
Rebuilding from Scratch
There are some scenarios where all the above still won’t fix a beatgrid. This is especially evident in tracks that have variable BPM values throughout the track. It can also occur with tracks that have recorded drum beats. In some cases, long sections with no beats can also throw off the software and result in an inaccurate beatgrid. Certain genres of music will also be difficult for the software to analyse.
In these cases, you’ll need to build the beatgrid yourself. Good DJ software will have a built-in metronome you can use to assist with determining the BPM for certain sections. You’ll then have to place beatmarkers on the key sections of the track that you intend on using in your mix-ins and mix outs.
As a beginner working with tracks with variable BPM is a challenge. If you do rely on the Sync button you may want to avoid these tracks until you have mastered beatmatching by ear.
Make it a Habit
You now know what beatgrids are and how they are used by DJs. You also know the common issues you’ll encounter and how you can fix them.
The next part is up to you. Make it a habit to check the beatgrid after your software has analysed the track. It should be part of your process for adding tracks to your music library. When it comes to DJing preparation is one of the best ways to achieve better mixing and prevent trainwrecks.
Taking that extra bit of time to check the beatgrid will be worth it as your collection grows. It’s even worth comparing the beatgrid with another track that you know has a properly aligned beatgrid. Test the sync function with both tracks running to see if the beats sound aligned. If they sound off you’ll need to make the adjustments needed using the most appropriate method.
With proper beatgrid placement, you can place more faith in the Sync function. This will minimise the amount of time you spend beatmatching in a live mix. You can then spend more time concentrating on track selection and crafting the perfect transition. Make it a habit to check beatgrids and your mixes will improve!