Cube-Loops

IMPORTANT
Cube-Loops was originally put together about 20 years ago. The a few years ago I started to re-write it. Didnt finish it. What follows is Cube-Loops in a sort-of halfway house. It needs a ton of work. At the time of writing this notice (22/06/2020) I’ve not even got round to uploading the downloadable PDF files. I expect to have this all sorted over the next couple of weeks. Please use the newsletter-subscribe option and I’ll send you the updates as I upload them. And no spammy bollocks either. My newsletters are good. 

Scratch and juggle techniques are naturally hard to get to grips with because music generally dictates a set pace and pitch. Music must be pretty much perfect to work. Its pace cannot be broken and any notes played must be the right ones. If pace and key are even slightly off music becomes detuned and soon becomes noise.

It’s an all or nothing type of affair. If you get music wrong, it stops being music. This makes it very difficult to practice. Until you reach near perfection, music falls down. Practice, especially in the early stages of learning a technique, isn’t enjoyable.

To get to a state of perfection, and give music the exact pace and pitch it demands, you have to go through two main stages in the learning curve. Mental comprehension and actual physical performance. For scratch and juggle techniques mental comprehension is all about understanding where each hand needs to be and the speeds and directions they need to be moving at. Both hands need to be doing completely separate things at exactly the same time so mental comprehension isn’t easy. Even so, it’s only after full comprehension of a given technique that anyone should expect to even begin to be able physically perform that said technique.

Cube-Loops allows you to break a technique down and comprehend it without the bounds of pace and pitch. Just studying a technique, on paper and away from the turntables, gives you the ability to easily mentally visualise the combination of movements required which in turn mentally prepares you for performance. With this kind of mental comprehension and understanding your physical practice can go much further because you free up a lot of mental time.

Cube-Loops increases learning curve at astounding rates.

Never forget a technique again.

One thing that scratch DJ’s love to do is jam. Many DJs entire practice is nothing more than just jamming. It’s great fun and it’s great practice. I jammed as my primary source of practice for many years and I know from experience that plenty of other DJs practice in exactly the same way. The problem with jamming however is that it teaches a very free style of DJing. This in itself is great and every good DJ knows they find their own style via their jam sessions. The problem with jamming is that it is continuous and unstructured.

In a single jam session you might find, after warming up, that you are suddenly throwing out the odd technique that you normally wouldn’t do. Something brand new and original. Or, and more commonly, you may be in mid jam when you find the sample you are playing with and the beat you’re playing too are perfect for each other. But the jam continues and minutes later you have changed the records and are onto something completely different.

As good as jamming is for fun practice it’s terrible for effective learning because most of what is picked up simply disappears as you carry on jamming. With Cube-Loops you can be much more mindful. Stumble across a sample that works perfect with a certain tune in a certain way, quickly grab a Cube-Loops sheet and jot it down. Then when you are having a drill session you just flick through your Cube-Loops sheets and pick and choose to learn techniques that otherwise may well have disappeared forever. This simultaneously increases your arsenal of techniques while adding an extra dimension to your jam sessions.

Remix the old a create the new!

As soon as a technique is written down in Cube-Loops it is ready to be remixed. In a fashion similar to copy and paste you can take any technique or combination of techniques and create completely new patterns without even touching the decks.

Chapter 2. Brief overview and history of Cube-Loops

1.A. So exactly what is Cube-Loops?

Cube-Loops is an amazing tool to help DJ’s learn advanced vinyl control techniques.

Cube-Loops started life 19 years ago back in 1998.

I was a budding turntablist (scratch and juggle DJ) at the time trying my best to learn just about every technique possible. I lived for DJ battles and quite literally went from one place to the next whuppin ass! (That’s what I tell myself anyway haha.)

Before becoming a DJ I grew up in a family with a lot of traditional musicians. My brother was an exceptionally talented rock guitarist while other members of the family were members of the The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Through this I learned that traditional music had a learning curve that was highly structured, very well documented and easily accessible. Mostly through that most important of formats – sheet music!

The structure of sheet music gives a musician the ability to break music down into its smallest parts which is invaluable for general comprehension and understanding of a particular piece of music. Music in its nature is live and the right notes must flow to a perfect pace or it stops being music and just becomes sound or noise. It’s hard for the mind to comprehend such a live thing but sheet music gives us the ability to break free and visualise. The resulting comprehension is a springboard towards great performance.

As well as a definite structure sheet music also gives the musician some amazing abilities. It’s a fantastic memory tool. It’s a way to create completely new musical pieces and, perhaps most importantly, sheet music gives the musician the ability to share musical pieces with other people. Millions of people around the world can play the same traditional, simple songs on guitar, piano, violin etc. This isn’t a coincidence. Its testimony to sheet music. 

With turntablism there was (and still is) no structured system such as sheet music. Structure and documentation was (and still is) very thin and rare. Way back in 1998 the only places to learn turntablism techniques –  at least here in the UK – was from the old DMC VHS competition videos that were doing the rounds at the time. Youtube didn’t exist and the only radio available was FM. It was a time seriously lacking in inspirational material.

Cube-Loops was originally born out of this problem and to this day has so much to offer to the DJ community it would be criminal to carry on keeping it to myself. 

The very first version of Cube-Loops wasn’t actually what Cube-Loops is today. It was nothing more than A4 lined paper with scribbles on. The first notation I tried was just a basic scratch pattern I was trying to convey to a fellow scratcher. It was rough but it worked. I was able to show another DJ a scratch technique and have them fully comprehend it without even going near the turntables. 

All the benefits of sheet music for traditional musicians instantly became a reality on the turntables. Cube-Loops was very basic but the light had switched on.

Over the next few years – until around 2003 – Cube-Loops was developed and enhanced until it became a full blown system that could handle any turntablist technique.

With Cube-Loops you can write down the most advanced scratch technique. Duplicate it onto two decks, remix it, twist it around, turn it into a juggle, add volume, gain notation and display the whole piece on both turntables all at the same time. 

It’s like a constant source of creativity and inspiration to anyone who uses it and I guarantee that even the most complex and advanced DJ on the planet today could spend 1 hour with Cube-Loops and create something they have never thought of before. 

And it gets even better!

Use Cube-Loops with modern DJ software such as Traktor and suddenly the modern DJ has everything needed to become much more than just a great scratcher and DJ – the modern DJ has no reason not to become a fully fledged musician. 

It must be noted that Cube-Loops is not a tool for CD DJ’s. It’s a tool that is custom built around the turntables. It applies to both traditional vinyl DJ’s and modern control vinyl DJ’s alike. The next chapter will give you a full overview of who exactly Cube-Loops is aimed at.

1.B. Who is Cube-Loops aimed at?

The quick answer!
Any DJ that uses vinyl or DVS turntables.

The slightly longer answer!

Cube-Loops was originally a tool developed for Turntablists. If that is a new phrase to you a Turntablist is a technically advanced DJ that utilises scratch and juggle techniques to create new music using just small parts of overall songs. A Turntablist very rarely lets the records play. You could sort of say a Turntablist is a live producer of sorts however I prefer the term ‘musician’.

Cube-Loops has capabilities much beyond Turntablism so overall I prefer to say Cube-Loops is aimed at  performance minded vinyl DJ’s. It’s scope reaches far beyond any genre or style. The only common denominator between all users of Cube-Loops is that it is tailored to vinyl DJ’s and not so suitable for CD DJ’s. That said, there is plenty of theory and technique in this book that reach way beyond the turntables.

Traditionally, scratching and juggling are considered part of the realm of hip hop and with good reason. Nearly all advanced DJ techniques originated in Hip Hop. Many of these techniques do however lend themselves to any style of DJing.

Within this book the Cube-Loops system is complemented with an army of vinyl DJ techniques and theory. If you want to learn scratching and juggling you will find it in this book.

If you want to learn to perform a beat-matched, well placed DJ set applying all sorts of sound effects via turntables and using them as a live production tool this book is for you.

No matter what, if your tools of choice are either traditional vinyl or control vinyl and you want to know the techniques needed to be an amazing DJ this book is for you – regardless of your chosen music style. 

1.C What’s in this book?

This book contains the Cube-Loops system but it stretches far beyond what Cube-Loops offers the DJ. As already mentioned this book contains more DJ theory and technique than you might ever need to learn.

The Cube-Loops system is at the heart of this book. Cube-Loops can be used to note down the most intricate and speedy of scratch and juggle techniques or can be used to notate beatmixing. It can be used to notate pretty much every aspect of your set. 

The first chapter (this one) introduces you to Cube-Loops and gives a brief history of its development as well as explaining why Cube-Loops is important. 

The second chapter explains how the system works. You shouldn’t need to spend any more than an hour in this chapter to fully understand the Cube-Loops system and how everything is noted within the bars. Unlike traditional sheet music for traditional instruments the Cube-Loops system is relatively easy to grasp.

The third chapter is all about technique and theory.

Techniques are presented in detail on the Cube-Loops bars and accompanied by a comprehensive overview of what the technique is and how it can be used. The sections in this chapter cover scratching, beat mixing, juggling, set construction and special effects.

You are free to pick and choose which parts of this chapter you get into. Just take what you want or need, this is after all the best way to develop your own unique style. 

Throughout this book you will also find plenty of side notes and tips. These side notes and tips alone could make a pretty useful reference tool so make sure to take all the information on board. 

1.D How does Cube-Loops give you an increased learning curve?

The biggest benefit the Cube-Loops system will give you is an increased learning curve. 

Once you learn how the system works and you know how to read the Cube-Loops bars you quickly get deep into the technique section. Beginners will find themselves understanding and working on techniques that otherwise may have been further from reach.

Advanced users will be remixing the most complicated techniques in any way they choose.

For some reason the ability to visualise a vinyl technique (scratch, juggle etc) on paper, away from the decks, gives an instant boost in ability. Practice is still required to achieve performance standard but the extra comprehension from using Cube-Loops frees up thinking time when it comes to practice so practice seems to produce better results.

That’s my theory anyway. I’m no psychologist. What I do know for a fact is that Cube-Loops works and those that have used it are testament to the simple fact that you learn advanced DJ techniques quicker with Cube-Loops than you do without. If you use Cube-Loops consistently you will learn to be an advanced DJ very fast.

1.E Cube-Loops is a great memory tool!

As sheet music notates pieces of music Cube-Loops will notate all your techniques if you want it to. Any DJ who likes to freely jam knows how many great mixes and techniques pop out in mid jam only to be forgotten minutes later as you get on with the jam. 

Whether it’s a mix or a scratch it only takes a few seconds to jot down what you’re doing and it doesn’t get in the way of a good jam. Believe me, the next day when you go over your Cube-Loops notes you will be happy you took the time.

In no time at all you will start to amass a catalogue of mixes, scratches, juggles and vinyl effects that otherwise may have disappeared from memory in the throws of a good jam. When it comes to putting your next showcase set together you will have more material and inspiration than you can shake a stick at. All of it original, all of it yours, and in no time at all you will be building full DJ sets like never before. 

In a nutshell, not many of us have photographic, all powerful, mighty memorising brains that never forget a single second. Cube-Loops can be a memory for you though. 

We will go over various ways to use Cube-Loops as a memory tool as we go through this book. I only mention it now because it’s one of the Cube-Loops benefits that deserves special recognition. 

Chapter 3. Understanding the Cube-Loops sheet.

So now you know what Cube-Loops is and where it came from it’s time to get into the basics of what Cube-Loops looks like and what the individual parts of the Cube-Loops bar is for.

IMPORTANT : This chapter is a brief explanation of the overall bar and it’s parts. Don’t expect to fully comprehend HOW THE BAR WORKS just now. All you need to do at this point is get familiar with the bar and the different parts that make up the whole sheet.

As soon as we get through this explanation chapter we really start to concentrate on the different parts of the Cube-Loops bar and it all very quickly starts to come to life.

This is an odd little chapter. You won’t learn the Cube-Loops system until you get to the next chapters yet at the same time the more you get from this chapter the quicker you will get through the chapters that follow. 

I have purposefully written this chapter as if I’m writing to a 5 year old so please don’t feel patronised. When going through the initial construction of this book I very quickly realised that those with analytical minds pick this up very well while others don’t. That isnt a judgement on how well you will use the Cube-Loops system. Once through the basic comprehension everybody is then on a level. It’s just this first hurdle that stumps some minds. 

I recommend going over this chapter a couple of times. And don’t forget, if you get completely stuck just head on over to the Cube-Loops website and get on the forum. Myself and our community of Cube-Loopers are always ready to help.

The forum can be found at the following URL

http://cube-loops.com/community/

2.A. An overview of the Cube-Loops system. 

Fig 1. A full Cube-Loops sheet.

A Cube-Loops sheet is an A4 sheet that contains 4 Cube-Loops bars as above in Fig 1. These technical looking bars are the entire turntablist sheet music system and all sound is noted on these bars.

The Cube-Loops bars are read vertically from top to bottom.

A single Cube-Loops bar can be seen below in Fig 2. 

Fig 2. A Cube-Loops bar.


Each Cube-Loops bar contains 8 single Cube-Loops blocks stacked on top of each other with a note area at the bottom. Each single Cube-Loops block shows everything that happens on 2 turntables over one beat of time.

Fig 3. A single Cube-Loops block.

As each block represents one beat in music so each bar consists of eight beats. 

If one Cube-Loops bar typically shows 8 beats then it stands to reason the entire sheet shows 32 beats. (What will blow your mind later is that the Cube-Loops sheet can also show 4 decks at once and a total of 64 beats per sheet. DJ band anyone? But let’s not complicate it just yet.)

For standard use the each Cube-Loops bar shows everything that happens on 2 turntables. A single Cube-Loops bar is split vertically through the middle with the left side of the bar showing the left turntable and the right showing the right. As seen in Fig 4 below.


Fig 4. A Cube-Loops bar split down the middle

The central columns of the Cube-Loops bar are the sound graphs. This is where any sound is displayed. The sound graph is highlighted red in Fig 5

Fig 5. The sound graph.

To the left and right of each sound graph there are two vertical tracks as highlighted in Fig 6. One shows the record in 33/45 mode and the other shows the overall open or closed state of the crossfader.

Fig 6. 33/45 and XFade tracks. 

For the sake of simplicity it is OK to completely ignore these two tracks for now. They have very limited use and are really only come into play at the more advanced level. A brief explanation follows but don’t worry about it too much at this stage.

At the very top of each Cube-Loops bar you can see a few circles and numbers. The outside set of circles (Shown on fig 6) indicate what rpm the record plays at. It is assumed that 33 rpm is the standard so if this column is blank the record is playing at 33 rpm.

The inside set of circles relate to the cross-fader or volume.
In 98% of situations this  column can be left completely blank as it has a very specific purpose. As you know, if you have a line on the Cube-Loops graph it indicates sound is reaching the speakers. If there is no line there is no sound.

With this in mind there seems no point in having a dedicated column to show if the cross-fader/volume is in or out – until you consider that the record can play with the volume down.)

Also at the top of the bar is the L | R indicator. This simply shows the left is the left and the right is the right. (One of those completely obvious yet still needed adding bits.)

The the very left and right of the right 33/45 tracks are the notation areas that display information relating to volume fader amount, graphic eq, gain, filter and any other effects that may be required to be noted. The notation areas are highlighted in Fig 7.

Fig 7. The notation areas.

Below the full Cube-Loops bar there is a note section for any added information such as record or song names. This is just a generic small. lined area and each DJ uses this in any way they see fit however we do provide plenty of examples of how useful this note area can be used throughout this book. 

Fig 8. The general notes area. 

And that’s the parts of the Cube-Loops bar and sheets. Let’s have a little summary. 

Summary of the basics.

Cube-Loops is a system designed to give DJ’s a form of sheet music.
Cube-Loops is written by hand, much like normal sheet music on A4 paper.
Each sheet contains four Cube-Loops bars. Each bar contains 8 stacked Cube-Loops and each Cube-Loop is a beat.
The grid running down the middle of each Cube-Loops bar is the sound graph.
This is where audio is shown.

IMPORTANT : As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, everything you have just read will become much clearer as you go through the next few chapters. If something isn’t quite making sense then feel free to get in touch at the community forums found at the URL below. And even if this is all making perfect sense and you have no need for any help we still recommend getting in touch on the forums. We do a lot over there that simply isn’t in the book. Not too mention members help each other and share turntablist sheets. And that can’t be bad.

Chapter 4. Showing sound on the Cube-Loops bar.

The graph in the middle of each Cube-Loops block is where any sound that reaches the speakers is displayed. The white areas on other side of the graphs are the effects sections. The Cube-Loops sound graph can be seen in Fig 5.

Fig 5. The Cube-Loops Sound Graph

Fig 6. Sound on the sound graph.

Fig 6 shows 1 beat of audible music playing on the left deck. A diagonal line from left top to right bottom shows sound playing at natural speed without interruption. The BPM doesn’t matter. A song playing at 100 bpm looks exactly the same as a song playing at 150 bpm. 

Fig 7. 4 Beats forward & 4 Beats Back. 

Moving along you can see that sound is shown in realtime on the Cube-Loops bar by any line that descends from left to right. All sound always descends so all lines are drawn on the bar moving vertically from top to bottom. 

From this you can imagine that if you rewind the record the line would still descend but instead of travelling from left to right it now moves from right to left.

Fig 7 above shows a full Cube-Loops bar of 8 beats. The first 4 beats are the record playing naturally forward for four beats while the second 4 beats show the record in reverse. (Manually being pulled backwards by the hand)

3.B. Showing different speeds of movement. 

Fig 8. Double speed.

If Fig 6 shows 1 beat playing uninterrupted then Fig 8 shows 2 beats at double speed.

Remember this is one single Cube-Loop. The Cube-Loops block itself is the beat. The fact the line reaches all the way across twice in one beat shows us the left RECORD is moving at double speed by  being pushed by the hand.

Conversely Fig 9 below shows the left deck playing at half speed.

Fig 9. Half speed. 

Take a few minutes to think about this. For some it will all just make sense, for others a few moments going over what is being said and studying the diagrams will soon switch the light on. Comprehending this first concept is possibly the most confusing step for some but once you have cracked it the rest of the system falls into place without too much mind-work

If you prefer a visual explanation of this we have also created a series of videos that help with comprehension of the Cube-Loops bar. These videos can be found at the following URL. 

http://cube-loops.com/cube-loops-videos/

3.C. Cutting the sound. 

So we know that any line on the sound graph is showing sound that is coming through the speakers. Naturally when the line is broken it means the sound is broken. Or in more turntablist terms – the sound is cutting. 

Fig 10. Cuts

Fig 10 shows 1 beat playing at natural speed. However the line in this instance is broken. Guess what? Yeah you guessed it, this means the sound is cut out using either the crossfader or the volume.

Nearly all cuts are shown in this way. Figure 10 shows 2 cuts within 1 beat of music resulting in 3 individual sounds. This is as fast as many people ever cut so as you can see it would be very easy to show cuts that go way beyond the realistic possibilities of human ability. Cutting the sound in and out like this is often called the “transform” and the transform scratch can sound very fast.

Unless of course you know about “crabs”.

The crab is a type of scratch that allow DJs to cut much faster than possible using the standard transform technique. Instead of using the whole hand to move the fader in and out you use individual fingers to drum the crossfader in and out. Think of drumming your fingers on a desk. Its like that except your thumb sits at the back of the crossfader paddle and acts like a springboard pushing the fader back against your drumming fingers. 

The crab sounds very fast and can be performed using either 3 or 4 fingers with the 4 finger crab actually being very rare. (Many DJs claim to use the 4 finger crab but they don’t really. They just get away with it because it is nearly impossible to tell.)

Because the crab can be done so fast we don’t show the cuts on the sound graph in the same way as transform style cuts. It is easy to do 2 crabs in one beat which would require upto 8 cuts on the line thus making it difficult to read.

For the crab we have a different type of notation as shown in Fig 11. 

Fig 11. Crabs. 

Fig 11 shows us the 3 finger crab. I’m going to leave the notation of the 4 finger crab down to your imagination. 

SIDE NOTE : Fig 11 shows a baby scratch over 1 beat. Each push and pull of the baby scratch has a crab performed through it meaning 4 crabs are performed in 1 beat. To give you an idea of how simple Cube-Loops can make an extremely advanced technique look. That scratch right there is pretty much impossible unless being performed over a very slow beat and even then I’d be willing to make a bet only a handful of DJs on the entire planet can perform that technique. 

That’s right. That simple looking notation above is a world class technique.

Chapter 4. Showing sound on the Cube-Loops bar.

The graph in the middle of each Cube-Loops block is where any sound that reaches the speakers is displayed. The white areas on other side of the graphs are the effects sections. The Cube-Loops sound graph can be seen in Fig 5.

Fig 5. The Cube-Loops Sound Graph

Fig 6. Sound on the sound graph.

Fig 6 shows 1 beat of audible music playing on the left deck. A diagonal line from left top to right bottom shows sound playing at natural speed without interruption. The BPM doesn’t matter. A song playing at 100 bpm looks exactly the same as a song playing at 150 bpm. 

Fig 7. 4 Beats forward & 4 Beats Back. 

Moving along you can see that sound is shown in realtime on the Cube-Loops bar by any line that descends from left to right. All sound always descends so all lines are drawn on the bar moving vertically from top to bottom. 

From this you can imagine that if you rewind the record the line would still descend but instead of travelling from left to right it now moves from right to left.

Fig 7 above shows a full Cube-Loops bar of 8 beats. The first 4 beats are the record playing naturally forward for four beats while the second 4 beats show the record in reverse. (Manually being pulled backwards by the hand)

3.B. Showing different speeds of movement. 

Fig 8. Double speed.

If Fig 6 shows 1 beat playing uninterrupted then Fig 8 shows 2 beats at double speed.

Remember this is one single Cube-Loop. The Cube-Loops block itself is the beat. The fact the line reaches all the way across twice in one beat shows us the left RECORD is moving at double speed by  being pushed by the hand.

Conversely Fig 9 below shows the left deck playing at half speed.

Fig 9. Half speed. 

Take a few minutes to think about this. For some it will all just make sense, for others a few moments going over what is being said and studying the diagrams will soon switch the light on. Comprehending this first concept is possibly the most confusing step for some but once you have cracked it the rest of the system falls into place without too much mind-work

If you prefer a visual explanation of this we have also created a series of videos that help with comprehension of the Cube-Loops bar. These videos can be found at the following URL. 

http://cube-loops.com/cube-loops-videos/

3.C. Cutting the sound. 

So we know that any line on the sound graph is showing sound that is coming through the speakers. Naturally when the line is broken it means the sound is broken. Or in more turntablist terms – the sound is cutting. 

Fig 10. Cuts

Fig 10 shows 1 beat playing at natural speed. However the line in this instance is broken. Guess what? Yeah you guessed it, this means the sound is cut out using either the crossfader or the volume.

Nearly all cuts are shown in this way. Figure 10 shows 2 cuts within 1 beat of music resulting in 3 individual sounds. This is as fast as many people ever cut so as you can see it would be very easy to show cuts that go way beyond the realistic possibilities of human ability. Cutting the sound in and out like this is often called the “transform” and the transform scratch can sound very fast.

Unless of course you know about “crabs”.

The crab is a type of scratch that allow DJs to cut much faster than possible using the standard transform technique. Instead of using the whole hand to move the fader in and out you use individual fingers to drum the crossfader in and out. Think of drumming your fingers on a desk. Its like that except your thumb sits at the back of the crossfader paddle and acts like a springboard pushing the fader back against your drumming fingers. 

The crab sounds very fast and can be performed using either 3 or 4 fingers with the 4 finger crab actually being very rare. (Many DJs claim to use the 4 finger crab but they don’t really. They just get away with it because it is nearly impossible to tell.)

Because the crab can be done so fast we don’t show the cuts on the sound graph in the same way as transform style cuts. It is easy to do 2 crabs in one beat which would require upto 8 cuts on the line thus making it difficult to read.

For the crab we have a different type of notation as shown in Fig 11. 

Fig 11. Crabs. 

Fig 11 shows us the 3 finger crab. I’m going to leave the notation of the 4 finger crab down to your imagination. 

SIDE NOTE : Fig 11 shows a baby scratch over 1 beat. Each push and pull of the baby scratch has a crab performed through it meaning 4 crabs are performed in 1 beat. To give you an idea of how simple Cube-Loops can make an extremely advanced technique look. That scratch right there is pretty much impossible unless being performed over a very slow beat and even then I’d be willing to make a bet only a handful of DJs on the entire planet can perform that technique. 

That’s right. That simple looking notation above is a world class technique.