In This Class, Scratching Is on the Curriculum

Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal DJ Shiftee (aka. Samuel Zornow), left, offers students instruction on some of what it takes to be a DJ.


This summer at New York University, students will earn credits in some tough courses: organic chemistry and laboratory, research cell biology, multivariable calculus.

And then there’s the DJ class.

For the second year in a row, NYU’s Tisch School of Arts is offering “DJ History, Culture and Technique,” the successful completion of which means four undergraduate credits in the bank.

All students need to sign up is a high school diploma and their parents’ permission to set them back about $5,200.

“It is the first class where I am able to pay full attention,” said Alex Margolick, a Spanish major from Tulane University who is at NYU summer school to make up for short credits.

And who can blame him? It is a class where the instructors are not bookish academics but star spinners: Rekha Malhotra, known for her affinity for the South-Asian dance and music style known as Bhangra, and Samuel Zornow, a.k.a. DJ Shiftee, the only American DJ to have won the Disco Mix Club Battle for World Supremacy.

NYU is among a handful of U.S. colleges offering hands-on training in being a DJ. Others include the University of Michigan and Clemson University.

Mahin Salman, a 25-year-old geology student, came from Malaysia to attend the course, but it took a lot of negotiating. “My dad wouldn’t let me, but I struck a deal with him. I told him I would go to Sweden for another master’s in geology if he gave me the permission and the money to attend,” she said.

Each class in the six-week course is divided into culture and technique sections. DJ Rekha teaches the culture component. Students also hear lectures from people like Grand Wizzard Theodore, the Bronx DJ who is widely credited as the inventor of scratching.

The technique part is taught at DubSpot, an electronic-music production school. It is where the students learn how to scratch vinyl records in different ways. Typical instructions are, “Go back to your turntables, pick two songs that have different BPM’s [beats per minute] and mix them.”

The classroom is oddly silent. The students move vinyl records back and forth on turntables with headsets on. As the instructors check how their charges are faring with the music, their feet tap and heads move in sync with the students’.

The homework: Work on the mix, which will be played in the next class. Final words of advice as the clock signals the end of a class range from “YouTube Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc videos” to the inside dope on which DJ is playing where.

Jon Wienner, a senior at the NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, was a DJ for seven years before he joined the course last summer. “When I heard about the course, I knew I had to take it,” he said. “It was like a basketball player getting an opportunity of being coached by Magic Johnson.”


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Category(s): Turntablist, Web Story

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