HIM: Glossary

I have tried to write the How I Mix series in a manner both DJs and listeners can understand, but there does come a point where explaining every bit of terminology in detail weighs things down. I’ve decided to dedicate this article to some fairly standard mixing concepts and concepts found in music theory. Every time a term is referenced in future HIM articles I will link it back to this page and keep the glossary itself in alphabetical order. This glossary will also expand and evolve as I use more terms and determine better explanations for existing ones.

  • Beat matching: using either your personal sense of timing or software to take two songs and set them to the same beat.
  • BPM, beats per minute: Fairly self-explanatory. Much like heart rate this refers to how many regular significant points in the music occur per minute. I say significant points because it may or may not be based directly on the drum pattern; if nothing else count the number of times you’re nodding your head or tapping your foot to the rhythm.
  • Measure: Most music tends to be based on patterns or groups of notes called measures; this is a basic building block of a song. (More detail in the definition for time signature)
  • Phrase: Measures grouped together that have an overall repetition and signal some sort of change in the music. (More detail in the definition for time signature)
  • Phrase matching: Lining two songs up both on beat AND on phrase, which means the changes in the songs are also lock step.
  • Time signature*: This a term from what’s typically thought of as more “classic” music theory. Most music tends to be based on patterns or groups of notes called measures, and the time signature refers to the number of beats in one of those measures vs the number of measures grouped together as a larger unit of the song. The easiest example of this is of course the most common time signature in western music: 4/4. Four beats in every measure, 4 measures (typically) in every phrase. You can apply 4/4 to almost every song you listen to these days, from 2pac to Led Zeppelin. Count to four on beat four times and there will usually be some sort of change in the music. If it’s more than 4 then it (typically) is a power of 4; this is more common in electronic music as repetition is kind of the point for a lot of danceable, non-lyrical music.

* This is a very simplified version of the term, for all of the nitty-gritty I recommend Wikipedia.