DJ notation and what it does


DJs have hundreds and thousands of songs in their libraries nowadays. What's more, thanks to CDJs and digital DJing technology, they can bring them all to the club. While it's great to have such a broad choice of songs, it makes it almost impossible to remember them all.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to look at your song's listing during a gig and instantly know:
  • whether the song you're playing is ending with beats only or if it fades out or if there's melody up to the very end
  • which other song will be easy to mix in next
  • which one is very hard or almost impossible to mix into your currently playing song
  • when exactly comes the major build up / break down of that particular song
  • and much more?
This all might be solved by this proposal of DJ notation. Read on for specifications and examples. Note that DJ notation is also very useful when using harmonic mixing.

Why this way?

It was a lot of hard decisions, but I concluded that these are the crucial requirements for the notation:
  • intuitive (horizontal timeline metaphor, visualization of the composition)
  • editable using any keyboard (basic ASCII characters only)
  • modular (the precision/granularity is up to the user/DJ)



The very basic DJ notation example. This track starts with a melodic sequence with no beats and ends with beats only. Conclusion: the track might be difficult to beat-match into, but on the other hand it will be easy to transition from this track to the next one. A good start of a set, maybe?


The other extreme: a very elaborate example of DJ notation. This track starts with hits (beats with discrete, sporadic notes). When the CDJ or DJ software shows -6:08 remaining, the riff comes on. (In most cases, you want to be full on with this track by now.) Between -2:57 and -2:27, there is a short sequence with no beats and only a melody. When this ends, we go back to the riff. Then, after an unspecified time, the riff starts fading out into beats only. By -0:15, only beats are playing. 

You would read the example above out by saying: "hits, six oh-eight riff, two fifty-seven melody, two twenty-seven riff, fade to oh fifteen beat".

See more examples of song notations and even whole DJ sets.

The notation marks

This is version 2 of the notation (Dec 2013). The one major difference is the addition of +. There are some additional improvements in wording.

 The essentials 

- (dash)

Read: beats. Listen.
Beats only, no harmonic sounds. Safe to mix into anything. Many tracks begin and end with these dj-friendly sequences, but definitely not all of them do.


Read: hitsListen.
Beats with discrete, sporadic notes (they don't create a continuous melody). When mixing harmonically, it is definitely safe to mix one track's hits with another track's hits. Moreover, it often sounds right to mix one track's hits with another track's drone or even riff.

~ (tilde)

Read: melody. Listen.
No beats, only melody or nonrhythmic sounds. Might be difficult to beat-match.

= (equal sign)

Read: drone. Listen.
Beats and melodic/harmonic sounds (but not too melodic). Many techno tracks, for example, will consist mainly of this. When mixing harmonically, it's pretty safe to let two drones of the same key play at the same time. Often, it sounds great even if you mix a drone with a (harmonically matching) melody or riff.

# (hash)

Read: riff. Listen.
Denotes a sequence with tonal/harmonic shifts. Beats might or might not be present. Core of most melodic house and trance songs. Hard to mix, especially into another melody.

(0:00) (timecode in parenthesis)

Read: the time in parenthesis.
Specifies the time at which the next event happens. It needn't be super accurate in most cases: dance music changes in bars so a DJ can guess the precise moment on their own.

Note that the timecode may be let out, but in many cases, it's very handy for planning ahead. 

The preferred way is to record the remaining time (time to end of track) because most CDJs (and DJ software) show that by default. In that case, write the time with a minus sign, e.g. (-1:30).

Note that CDJs (and software) do not modify the elapsed/remaining time according to time shift. So if your track breaks down at (-1:30), your CDJ will display "-1:30" at that moment even if you're playing the song at twice the speed (so the remaining time is, in fact, -0:45). In other words, no need to recalculate the timecodes in your head when mixing.

 The nice-to-haves 

(exclamation mark)

Read: detunedListen.
Detuned sounds or melody. Beware! Don't try to mix with anything else but beats unless you're sure what you're doing.
This is a prefix. Put before other marks so it looks like this: !~ (detuned melody).

(lower than)

Read: faded in.
When used at the very beginning of the notation, this means that the track is slowly fading in. Pain to beat-match or mix. For example, <~ means that the track fades in from silence to a melody.

When used in the middle of the track, this signifies a slow transition from the preceding section to the following. So, =<# means that a drone slowly transforms into a riff, and there is no single point of change.

This can also be used with a timecode. In this case, <(1:00)~ means that the melody attains full volume only after 1 minute. Similarly, =(0:30)<# means that the drone starts fading into a riff at 0:30. You can even write something like =(0:30)<(1:00)# (slow transition from drone to riff between 0:30 and 1:00).

> (greater than)

Read: faded out
Same as <, but reversed. At the end of track, this means it fades to silence.

Between other signs, the < and the > are interchangeable. Both mean 'transition'. In reality, you use < when the track is getting louder/more elaborate and you use > when it's getting quieter/simpler. Something like =<# or =>- just feels more natural than if the other character was used. But if in doubt, use whatever.


Read: build upListen.
Major build up. It's good to transition to a new track before it's first major build-up. 

\ (backslash)

Read: break downListen.
Major and/or final break down. It helps to know when this happens so you can mix in the next track's melody right after the current track's breakdown.
Filip Hráček,
Sep 12, 2008, 1:48 PM
Filip Hráček,
Sep 12, 2008, 2:10 PM
Filip Hráček,
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Filip Hráček,
Dec 4, 2013, 4:26 AM
Filip Hráček,
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