DJ Schools in SA: Where to learn and what to expect!

Author: Taryn-Lee Biggar
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The first instalment in the MIO Education Series is here and answers one of our most frequently asked questions ‘Where can I learn to DJ?' MIO has enquired into DJ courses on offer in SA and brings you our findings.

Be warned, this is not the definitive guide to institutions and courses available to aspiring & professional students, but merely a rough guide as to who to contact regarding DJ courses and what to expect thereafter.

This question warrants quite a bit of response, especially since it hinges on the classic Nature vs. Nurture argument: is the skill required to be a DJ a natural, God given talent – or – is it an ability that can be nurtured?

This is an interesting issue, especially since there isn't a definitive answer that settles the debate; the increasing development of DJ schools within South Africa remains warranted - even in the midst of speculation.

The DJ Debate: Natural ability or acquired skill?

Some of the key disadvantages associated with DJ schools are that courses can be costly; course instructors can't adequately transfer skills or teach you how to DJ in the course period provided and teachers can make the mistake of imposing their techniques and styles on students, which further limits individual development.

Course instructors and practicing DJs have estimated that courses range between R1800 – R2000. Mika Cilliers - Instructor and professional DJ at the DJ Mix Club School says “Students should expect to pay between R1500 & R2000 for a reasonable course; this is currently the general trend in pricing for courses, depending on what's being offered.”

What is the actual difference between formal training and self-education? The transition period from amateur to professional might be smoother for one thing. According to Ricardo – course instructor and practicing Trance DJ at Retro Music's DJ School, “The one major difference is time. Teaching yourself to mix by trial-and-error will take much longer, as opposed to someone giving you step by step pointers. Ultimately, daily practice is a form of teaching yourself.”

Mika estimates the transition from beginner to professional as “taking a minimum period of about a year - a year working hard and luck in making the right contacts in the duration of the course; laziness won't get you far, especially since DJing is a practice-intensive form.”

“The transition period is different with each, individual student; to reach the ‘Professional' level takes years - it's not the skill that makes you Pro – its experience!” says Ricardo.

Teaching yourself to mix is certainly one option when considering becoming a DJ, but getting advice on issues like beats, bars and track selection are a few of the things a professional can best advise you on. Mika does this by providing a grid structure for students to work with, helping them identify techniques, such as mapping songs over one another, and says “Only once they have this basis, is it possible for them to develop their own styles – a style that is unique to each individual, and that is something that cannot be taught.”

Ricardo personally feels that someone can be taught the basics of how to DJ, what can't be taught is 1st hand ‘experience.' “What the instructor can do is speak about his experiences in the hope that the student learn from his mistakes, experience is something that the aspiring DJ has to personally learn and gain from.”

Whilst the argument insists on the inability of DJ schools to teach students how to DJ, their value might be vested elsewhere, such as providing information on the theory [art & form] of DJing and educating students on issues like the structure of songs. There is also the possibility of establishing or expanding on personal contact lists; numerous connections can be made when meeting other aspiring & professional DJs and the exchange of ideas or advice can provide you with some direction in your field of study and career choice.

DJ schools can also be an opportunity for you to build on your portfolio in the industry. You can go on to create your own DJ group, teach others, become involved with other events that not only benefit yourself, but others as well.

DJ Schools: What to expect from Courses and Instructors

Sometimes, course instructors can be inflexible when it comes to transferring DJing skills; it's quite possible that lecturers impose their personal taste in styles and techniques on students. By the same token however, instructors can assist aspiring DJs by providing them with the ground work and theory of the art form.

According to Mika, “Teachers need to be patient, have good communication skills and an understanding of their students' needs and their tastes in music. It goes without saying instructors need to be practicing DJs and have experience in the field if they're trying to teach others; although it isn't absolutely necessary for DJ course Instructors to have completed a DJ course themselves, it is an added advantage. If you've done a DJ course then you have a practical understanding of the course format and structure. In this way, you figure out ways to better structure your own lectures as well.”

Further emphasising the importance of instructors having extensive knowledge and experience when it comes to DJing, Ricardo says significant qualities to look out for in potential instructors are “Teachers who are patient and continually simplifying things for learners, since not everyone learns at the same pace.”

Don't be passive about your learning – if you're going to be paying between R1500 to R2000 for lessons, you are more than entitled to make enquiries regarding the DJ school/ institution and relevant course instructors:

Term Definitions

Ricardo & Mika:

beat matching & beat juggling

M : Beat matching refers to matching the speed of one record to another so that they merge into the same speed. Beat juggling is a DJ technique offered at the advanced level.

R : Beat mixing is synchronizing the beats of 2 tracks. Beat juggling is switching between tracks by means of a mixer

trick juggling

R : Sampling elements of one track into another track

mixing

M : This is basically mixing 2 songs together so that they sound like one song; mixing songs is based on the format of the 2 songs involved, with specific attention paid to counting.

R : Playing two songs together in sync and having them compliment another.

Scratching

M : Scratching is the technique of scratching sounds over another song; the effect is similar to adding an instrument sound to a song that is being played. For instance, a trumpet sound might be brought into a song that is being played, integrating the sounds and the scratching technique is very similar to this.

R : Stretching a beat of a song by juggling it back & forth, thus creating the ‘scratching' effect

The DJ School/ Institution

Find out a bit about the school, its history - how long has the DJ School been in existence and how many DJs have been successfully trained through the DJ School in question? Requesting a course outline is of course, mandatory.

Does the school offer realistic post graduate programmes? Some DJ Schools assure students career related internships once they have successfully completed the course; check with past graduates if this is indeed the case!

The Course

Find out about course specifics: does the course cover various methods for techniques and the structure of music; how the practical sessions are structured and how many students per lesson can be accommodated?

When making enquiries check that the course has the basics covered: do they offer theoretical explanations and discussion of music structure? If you're interested in house/trance/hip hop DJ courses, check that the course caters for and accommodates those styles in practical sessions.

Ricardo elaborates on the basics of DJ courses – every course has to have the basics! “The theory around learning how to mix is the same for every genre, the one thing that is different is the ‘mixing styles'; mixing trance requires long smooth mixing where as mixing house music requires shorter mixes. The most important aspect of mixing that every DJ has to know is understanding music structure, if you don't understand that, your mixing technique will never be right!”

Extras in the course structure could include guest lectures. If possible, find out who these guests will be; prominent guest lecturers are possible indicators of the calibre of that particular course on offer.

The ultimate thing to do when faced with a number of options from a range of possible schools and courses, is to choose an option based on your career requirements, interests and outcomes you're looking to gain from the course in question.

The Course Instructor

Ask to have a look at their DJ portfolio/ biography as well as their track record with the school; how long has this person been an instructor?

Last Word:

Formal training is not any kind of guarantee in terms of ‘making it' in the field of your choice but should provide the basis for learning, exposure and progress within the industry.

The DJ School of your choice should be informative and up to speed with both international and local trends in theory and methods at the very least – not only teaching you solid and technically sound methods and techniques, but providing insights into the industry at the most.

If you run a professional DJ school, please send information to info@mio.co.za to be added to this list.
 
DJ Institutions & Courses

1. DJ Mix Club's Technics DJ School

DJ Mix Club is an organisation which includes the original DJ School in South Africa - Technics DJ School - which started in 1998 and where well over 1200 students to date have been trained. They run part time Beginner and Advanced DJ Courses at their institution, where graduates receive a Technics DJ Mix Club Diploma certificate. 

There are no admission requirements, nor age restrictions, for applicants wanting to do the Beginner DJ Course.  However, for the Advanced Course , applicants must have completed and excelled in the Beginner DJ Course.  Any experienced DJ's who did not complete the Beginner Course may still apply for the Advanced Course to improve their skills, but they will need to be accepted into the Course by attending an audition.

As from June 2005, DJ Mix Club will also be implementing a  Music Production Course.

Request fully detailed course outlines, timetables and enrolment forms from the DJ Mix Club's Technics DJ School

Contact:
DJ Mix Club & DJ School

info@djmixclub.co.za
Tel: [011] 886 9113
Fax: [011] 678 5635
www.djmixclub.co.za

2. Retro Music's DJ School

The school launched at the beginning of April 2004 catering for everyone and teaching all kinds of genres and styles, with three different courses comprising of beginner, intermediate and advanced. Retro Music brings you 3 courses to choose from. They have professional trainers, great facilities and have set aside time to help you find what you are looking for.

E-mail Retro Music's DJ school at info@retromusic.co.za for more information. Request fully detailed course outlines, timetables and enrolment forms from the Retro DJ School

Contact:
Retro Music DJ School

info@retromusic.co.za
Tel: [011] 454 0005/6/9
Fax: [011] 507 6414
www.retromusic.co.za

3. Cape Audio College

The Cape Audio College is the oldest, most established audio college of its kind in South Africa , and a large percentage of their graduates are currently making a success in the audio industry nationally and internationally. The Curriculum for the DJ course has been developed and designed by Africa 's established audio training institutes and industry professionals.

It is aimed at giving the student a cutting edge overview of the main areas within the DJ industry, as well as firm individually-based hands-on training, while being exposed to the latest equipment and future technological advancement. Top industry professionals, DJ's and guest lecturers will be invited to host practical demonstration workshops.

In order to perform professionally and work in this highly competitive market today, one needs a solid grounding, based on both practical and theoretical knowledge, all of which can be obtained at the Cape Audio College .

Request fully detailed course outlines, timetables and enrolment forms from the Cape Audio College

Contact:
Cape Audio College

study@capeaudiocollege.co.za
Tel: [021] 448 8383/4
Fax: [021] 448 8704
www.capeaudiocollege.co.za

 
 
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