Free DJ Lessons: How to use CDJs

The CDJ was initially the first step away from vinyl records over to digital mp3s, but has since become a popular setup item for DJs who wish to combine older technology with new technology. If you want to learn how to use CDJs, you have come to the right place.

There are plenty of different types of CDJs which can do an array of unique features. Since this is the case, we will only be focusing on the typical CDJ features for this article. If you are looking to pick up a CDJ, we highly recommend the Gemini DJ CDJ-700. You can read the full review here about the Gemini CDJ.

What all of the Shiny Buttons do (in plain English):

If you simply look at a CDJ, it might appear to be a confusing piece of technology with buttons everywhere. However, when you break down all of the main features it isn’t so intimidating. Below is the Denon DJ DN-HS5500.

  1. These buttons might be self-explanatory, but they are also easily learned. The “LAYER” button allows you to switch to a second channel, allowing your CDJ to play on two different channels with a mixer.

The “DISPLAY MODE” button here simply changes the display of the screen to accommodate personal preferences, and the “NEXT FILE” button actually automatically transitions into the next song (manual transitions are usually better, though).

  1. Each CDJ controller you can buy will likely have at least a few different cue buttons. The buttons 1, 2, and 3 all are used to jump to a user-selected part of a song. An expert DJ will have cue points set up for all of their tracks so that they can mix better on the fly.

The buttons below the cue buttons do not serve any sort of purpose unless you use the CDJ function, or map them to a certain MIDI function. When you use the CDJ function the “MEMO – PRESET” button can be used to recall saved cue points (not necessary with MIDI), or recall saved setting presets. The “TIME – UTIL.” button is used to open utility mode, which allows you to navigate through user preferences.


  1. Every single CDJ, for the most part, will have a section for controlling FX. The knob on the left allows the user to modify what the FX sound like.

To the right of the FX button we have a switch which controlls the output of the motorized platter. Since this                         controller is motorized, there is a setting which allows you to control whether the sound outputs when the platter is spinning forward, or both forwards and backwards.

  1. The “TAP” button on a CDJ allows the user to manually edit the BPM of a track by tapping this button on-beat. If your software ever messes up the BPM of any of your songs, this button will allow you to quickly eliminate this from turning into a big problem.
  1. Each of these buttons are used to add in sound FX, simply by pressing the button down. The FX “BRAKE,” “DUMP,” and “REVERSE” are all FX used to stop the track. “FILTER,” “FLANGER,” and “ECHO/LOOP” are all FX that you use during a track.

  1. These buttons are very simple. The green button is used to play/pause a track, and the “CUE” button is used as the first cue point of your track.

7. Most CDJ controllers have a section set aside for creating and using loops. Nearly all CDJ controllers do this in a different way, which will initially confuse a new user. The good news is that will a little practice, you can be setting up your own loops within minutes.

This specific setup allows you to create two loops using the “A1,” “A2,” and “B” buttons. The “FLIP,” “A/B TRIM,” and “EXIT/RELOOP” buttons in this case are used to perfect, trim, or retry creating your loops.

As stated, with a little bit of hands-on practice you will quickly be able to create your own loops on your own CDJ controller with ease. You will more than likely need to figure this out on your own, since most CDJs have different ways to create loops.

  1. Unless you use your CDJ controller through MIDI or timecode, you will need controls like these to help you navigate through your playlists and tracks. When you hook up your music library to your CDJ these controls will help you jump through the different menus, settings, and so on.

9. Most modern CDJs don’t just play CDs. Most come equipped with the option to use DJ software, USB drives, and hard drives too. These buttons will help you to quickly jump into the settings you are wanting to use.


10. Every CDJ will come with a platter like this. If you are lucky, you will be able to purchase a CDJ with a motorized platter like this one.

Remember that platters typically have two options: “SLIP” and “VINYL.” The slip feature is used when you want to adjust a track’s speed temporarily, allowing you to transition on beat. Of course, the vinyl feature is used to produce the scratching sound (See #12).

  1. Every CDJ controller will allow you to control the tempo of a track. To make a track faster, simply slide the knob towards the + sign. If you want to slow the track down, slide the fader towards the – sign.

The nearby buttons “PITCH BEND,” “PITCH – Range,” and “KEY ADJUST” are best left for advanced users. Long story short, they are used in helping you to adjust and modify the key of a song to allow for better transitioning, or simply to add some personal flavor to a track.

  1. This “PLATTER SOURCE” button is used for a couple things. It can tell you whether you are looking at deck 1 or deck 2, based on the color that the button lights up as, or it can be used to change the platter from “VINYL” to “SLIP” mode, and vice versa.

If you ever wanted to match your channels up together, all you would need to do is press “MIRROR MIX.” Then you would have the same song playing on channels 1 and 2.


User Tips:

  • You do not have to use a CDJ to play CDs. They can also be used to accompany any sort of setup, and even hook up to DJ software.
  • CDJs typically have more options for customization and adding on specific features, than all-in-one controllers. Use CDJs if you want to be able to experiment and add on to your setup over time.
  • Using CDJs can be very rewarding as far as options are concerned, but they will require more effort for setup/cleanup/hauling.


Learning how to use a CDJ is not as hard as it may appear. If you are beginner DJ who wants to produce professional quality mixes, a CDJ and mixer might be a good place to start. Here is a great list of the Top 10 DJ Controllers.


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