Mixtapes and Turntablism: DJs’ Perspectives on Musical Shape


  • Alinka E. Greasley
  • Helen M. Prior




musical shaping, DJs, mixtapes, turntablism, scratching


The notion of musical shape is widely used by performing musicians, but most studies have focussed on classical performing contexts. This paper extends this research to DJs performing on turntables, chosen in light of existing evidence from a questionnaire study suggesting that shape may be a useful concept for some DJs. This paper presents an interview study investigating the use and understanding of musical shaping by three professional DJs with varied backgrounds. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse the data. Findings suggest that DJs do use the notion of shape implicitly when planning and executing their sets, and that playing sets without any shaping involves playing the music badly. DJs reported using the idea of shaping to modify a track while it was playing; to help control the transition between tracks; and in relation to the overall trajectory of a set. There was evidence that participants understood musical shaping multi-modally, through gesture and visual representation as well as sound; and results show ways in which DJs draw on heuristics to signify complex combinations of technical devices that create a particular musical shape or sound. The findings are considered in relation to existing work on performers’ use of musical shape as well as work on the practice of DJs.




How to Cite

Greasley, A. E., & Prior, H. M. (2013). Mixtapes and Turntablism: DJs’ Perspectives on Musical Shape. Empirical Musicology Review, 8(1), 23–43. https://doi.org/10.18061/emr.v8i1.3921