Turntablism Notation Methods

    Is a turntable an instrument? Are turntablists musicians? DJ Babu, who came up with the term turntablist, describes it as  “A person who uses the turntables not to play music, but to manipulate sound and create music.” According to his words, in the hands of a skilled DJ, the turntable is supposed to be an instrument.

    One of the main obstacles of the turntable being accepted as an instrument, has been the abundance of a method to write down the sounds a turntablist plays. In every other form of music, the musicians have the ability to write a piece of music that can be played by other musicians by reading the sheets. The ability to write scratch music on paper can be useful for sharing with fellow DJ’s and archiving purposes.

    Over the years two primary forms of scratch notations have been developed, which I will briefly introduce to you. One uses simpler symbols and a notation grid and the other is based on traditional music notation.

    Rob Swift demonstrating the Turntable Transcription Methodology:

    DJ Raedawn is the inventor of the very first known documented System of Notation for DJ Music. He presented his book ‘The Fundamentals’ to John Carluccio (Video director for the X-ecutioners and ‘Scratch’ Co-producer) and industrial designer Ethan ‘Catfish’ Imboden, because he heard they were working on a similar system. These three scratch addicts combined forces and created the Turntable Transcription Methodology.

    Their organization is dedicated to the advancement of the turntable as a musical instrument and the turntablist as a musician. The current focus is the creation and evolution of a written notation system to accurately document a turntablist composition in all its subtlety and nuance.

    [doptoggle title=”“The primary interest is hearing good music. Whether …” icon=5 activeicon=6] the result is a formal arrangement on paper, a spontaneous creation and/or the most common method, performance from memory, it makes no difference to me. It seems that great music contains: great details (complex or simple), great arrangement (placement of these details), and a genuine emotion in its performance. Consciously or unconsciously all music is arranged and Turntablism can benefit from a tool that could orchestrate and arrange these musical routines.” [/doptoggle]

    Their Turntablist Transcription Method is a groundbreaking method which allows turntablists to note their music for the first time ever. Despite its major differences from that of standard music notation, it appears to be  the most popular and effective ways of transcribing turntable music. Because its notation methods are simpler, any DJ with scratching experience can learn to use this system in a relatively short period of time.

    The TTM method got featured in an episode of CSI:NY to help solve a crime too!

    Alexander Sonnenfelds’ ‘Real Instrument Skratching’ course at Qbert Skratch University.

    This notation system, which is based on traditional music notation symbols, was created by Stephen Webber, professor of music production and engineering at the Berklee College of Music and author of ‘Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ‘.

    His system uses an altered version of the traditional bar lines to describe fader and record movement. Besides altered traditional symbols, his system also includes a few new symbols to describe specific turntable- and fader peculiarities. The result is quite a complicated type of notation which is a lot more difficult to master for someone who isn’t familiar with traditional music notation.

    [doptoggle title=”“People take it for granted today that jazz is serious music worthy of the same disciplined study as classical music. But …” icon=5 activeicon=6] when Berklee began teaching jazz improvisation in the 1940′s and rock guitar in the 1960′s, most other music schools perceived those musical forms as a threat to ‘serious’ music. It’s the same situation with hip hop and turntablism today. I think this is an important cultural movement. Hip hop has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. To me, it is urban folk music that originated in the Bronx. DJ’s are the musicians of the culture, and the turntable is their instrument. The level of performance is incredibly high, and the creativity involved in developing different techniques is amazing.”[/doptoggle]

    Alexander Sonnenfeld,  who has been DJ’ing since 1993 and has been releasing scratch tutorials on his youtube channel since 2009, has spend the last 15 years developing his  S-Notation which is based on the traditional music notation too. This resulted in a music analysis of turntablism which was being reviewed by music scholars in Germany. His aim is to “legitimize turntable based music as an accepted musical art form that can be noted just as accurately as classical notation”.

    In the end it’s still uncertain whether any of these systems will pass and convince the naysayers that turntablists are musicians. Thank ‘god’ we know better and keep on spreading and evolving this undervalued form of art to a higher level.

    Links for those of you that got all excited and would like to know more:
    A debate between both sides about which method can be best applied.
    Detailed information about TTM can be found at their FB fanpage.
    Detailed information about Stephen Webber’s notation can be found in his book.
    Detailed information about Alexander Sonnenfeld’s S-Notation can be found at the FB fanpage.

    This article is written by DJ Nekst Won 
    HipHop DJ/Turntablist since 1999 – Addicted to Golden Era Boombap.


    We’re continuously looking for peeps to join us on our mission to fully and respectfully represent Hip Hop Culture online. Next to the consistent, core Tika Team of contributors we are open to guest authors, offering the platform to anyone with upright intentions, a relevant message to share and an eloquent way to put it. The above article is a living example of that and you find the info of its author at the bottom. Now, we dare you to stand up and speak up and submit your story at thetika.com/submityours.