Arts & Entertainment, Music

Planning Your Set: Sequencing and Vibe Checking


Lesson time 15:48 min

Explore Questlove’s approach to curating a playlist and building a musical experience for an audience.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Beginning Your Playlist • Planning Backwards


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I want to talk to you about beginning your playlist. And what does that mean? A maniac like me will sort of compose this fictional story in his head. The playlist is highly important. And that's where I treat it like a playwright treats his story structure. If you look at the stories of our time, you'll see that there's the beginning, the establishing action. And that takes it up to the rising action, and then takes you to your climax. And then it takes you to your falling action. And then your last part is your ending. My first five records-- I have to also be my own opening DJ. Any other DJ would instantly come out the gate-- song of the moment. Whatever the song of the moment is, I'm going to do that. The problem is when people fall for that trick and they do the song at the moment, it's pretty much downhill from there. There's a difference between being effective and being good. There's music that I think is excellent that I know if I spin this for this particular crowd, it's not going to work. There are songs that I'm indifferent about-- does nothing for me. But I know if I spin this song, it's on. So, again, do you want to be a good DJ or an effective DJ? And that's sort of the do you want to be the great meet person with music taste that hates playing the music you spend, but you get hired for it? Or do you want to force your will onto the people to an empty dance floor? And that's what I'm always wrestling. I usually get hired for DJ gigs somewhere between three months and the night before. So number one is I always start off my DJ set with an instrumental choice by my musical idol J. Dilla only because that to me is a feeler. People that know and worship at the altar of J. Dilla's musical creations, there are a few of us out there. And the keyword is few. So I'll loop a Dilla song and based on the duh, like, based on the reaction or that, I can tell already, OK, somewhere between the class of '95 and 2010. So what I'll do next is I will play kind of a tested and true song that isn't exactly bulletproof but will buy me some time. It's usually a soul song. It's usually Bill Withers. I like Charles Wright, "Express Yourself" or maybe like, Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." I will start with that. For songs that have been samples before or really soulful songs that were hits 40 years ago just to see where who's responding. I'll look at the wait staff. Again, I'm looking at the older people. The one genre of music that is the absolute most bulletproof genre of music that you can play that will absolutely buy you time, be effective, and satisfy people, dancehall reggae has not failed me yet. So I'll probably spend the first 10 to 15 minutes on dancehall music just to buy time. And that will usually pull wallflowers-- oh, this is my song. So the number one riddim is the sure shot riddim-- in my opinion is the bam bam riddim, otherwise known as either "Murder She Wrote" or the inte...

About the Instructor

Ahmir Thompson—better known as Questlove—is an iconic DJ, the drummer for The Roots, and the “coolest man on late-night,” but his first love is collecting and mixing music. Now the Grammy winner is sharing his passion with you. Explore DJ techniques, expand your musical vocabulary, and learn how to glide from genre to genre—including hip-hop, neo-soul, jazz, R&B, and more—to curate your own perfect playlist.

Featured Masterclass Instructor


The iconic DJ and Roots drummer Questlove teaches you how to be a better DJ, deepen your love of music, and make a perfect playlist.

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