At some point in time you’re probably going to hear “mixing in key”, or “harmonic mixing” get thrown around a lot.
This article will go in full detail what all these terms mean, and I’ll also show you that once you get the hang of this technique, it’s a simple yet insanely effective way to mix tracks that compliment each other by using similar keys.
A DJ mixing key chart involves learning how to use harmonic mixing, a technique that incorporates two tracks in a related or same key. This technique often results in longer mash-ups or blends. The whole purpose of using a mixing key chart is to eliminate mixing two tracks with clashing keys.
Using the key chart can be done in just a few steps:
- In order to mix in key, you need to determine the key of each track. This can be done in several ways, using the Camelot mixing key chart, or using Mixed in Key software. If you use a software, it’ll be much faster and it will automatically tag each of your tracks based on the key. Using the Camelot chart can be a little more time consuming, but it’s just as effective, and an option I recommend overusing software, since it teaches the user how to identify the keys of a track, which is a must-have skill for any DJ. So, get the Camelot wheel.
- You can easily find a copy of the Camelot wheel online by doing a simple Google search. Once you’ve downloaded the wheel, save it to your desktop, or you can print it off. This chart will show you every musical key there is. All of your tracks can be tagged with a key, using this chart.
- To use the chart, you’ll find the key of the song you’re playing on the chart. This will allow you to mix any song into the track that’s in the same key. You can also mix songs that are on an adjacent key on the wheel. This means, if you move right or left one segment, these tracks will be compatible. The mixes end up sounding great because they’re in a related key or in the same key.
Now that you’ve organized all of your tracks based on key, and you know how to use the key mixing chart, you can also get to work putting together experimental, unique tracks that will not only set you apart from the competition, but it’ll give your sets that pro mixing quality sound that you’ve been looking for.
Harmonic Mixing Basics
This is a technique that most DJs use. With practice, this technique will teach you how to determine the key of every song so you can mix songs that are compatible with each other.
To begin, you’ll start off by finding the keys of both tracks. The keys can be detected easily by people who have taken a music theory course, anyone with a practiced ear, or with the use of a piano. There’s also pro DJ software out there that will immediately scan a track and determine the key.
The Camelot Wheel
The Camelot wheel, also known as the DJ mixing key chart, was created by Mark Davis to help beginners learn about harmonic mixing. The wheel is basically just a visual representation of the keys that are compatible with each other.
When you look at the wheel, you’ll notice that every key has been assigned a key code number, ranging from one to twelve, just like the hours on a clock.
For your first mix, I recommend mixing a couple of tracks together that share the same key code. This will sound just like a pro blend that was laid down in the studio, even during a live performance.
In order to choose a compatible track, you must choose two key codes that are within the same hour. As an example, if you’re in the 8-A section, then you can play 7,8, or 9-A. If you go with a track that’s in 12-A, then you can choose from 11-A-1-A. Once you mix the tracks together, you’ll be surprised by how smooth they sound.
Some DJs prefer to mix tracks that are between the outer and inner wheels, which also works, just as long as you stay within the same hour.
The Beauty of Harmonic Mixing
This simple technique can mean all the difference when it comes to the sound and overall quality of your set. If you experiment with different genres and tracks you’ll find some unique song combinations.
This mixing technique has shown literally millions of DJs all over the world how powerful it is to mix compatible tracks together.
It can help you test out your mixing skills, whether you’re blending basslines, melodies, vocals, samples, tracks, and more. This basic technique really can unlock a whole new world of possibilities. You’ll enjoy flawless mash-ups, and impeccable mixes, while learning how to control the energy of your set like a pro.
If you’re new to harmonic mixing, then you’ll probably want to use headphones first to make sure your upcoming tracks are in the right key.
Harmonic Mixing Software Can be the Answer for Beginners
Mixed in Key is a popular DJing software that makes mixing in key a breeze. This program will scan your music library and match the results to the Camelot wheel. The resulting information will tell you what key the sample or song is in, but that’s not all. Mixed in Key goes one step further by telling you what songs will work the best together. This can be a great option for new DJs because the user doesn’t need to have a deep understanding of music theory or keys.
This software was developed over a period of ten years, undergoing independent testing that showed it’s literally the most accurate key detection program in the world. Most dedicated DJing software does feature a section that’s dedicated to mixing in key, but you’ll quickly realize that these programs don’t put much thought or effort into the harmonic mixing features, resulting in an inferior system.
Whereas, Mixed in Key remains the go-to choice for DJs and musicians of all skill levels. It’s a program that covers all the bases, and one that will automatically send the sorting results to your DJ software in order to provide you with the most accurate information possible. Obviously, this is a surefire way to ensure that your mixes are always on point.
The Importance of Key Matching Mixes
Key matching is a big deal, and it’s not something you want to ignore when you’re first starting out in the DJing scene. As a beginner, you’re going to struggle to learn how to seamlessly blend songs together, but if you use this key matching technique correctly, you can mix tracks that sound like they belong together. Using the Camelot wheel will liven up your set, giving it a pro sound.
But is using this mixing technique really as easy as it sounds?
How to Mix from the Outer to Inner Circle
For a great sounding mix, use the same number, while changing it at the same time. As an example, 8-A will go with 8-B because they both have the 8 number, so you can easily mix between them. This will give you a total of four mixing options within the same number. If you’re using harmonic mixing software, then you can easily search for songs that are adjacent to the current key code. All of the songs in the same code will be compatible.
Experimenting with Harmonic Mixing
Once you get the hang of the basics, you’ll find that you can mix up and down the mixing key chart and love the results each and every time. However, there’s definitely more to the Camelot wheel than meets the eye. You can try going through the wheel anti-clockwise or clockwise, which will leave your set sounding both dynamic and fresh. You can even get really creative and drop in some curveballs.
Some DJs will get the attention of the crowd by going crazy with certain moves such as using a mix from 3-A and then switching straight to 9-A. This is definitely a bold move that should be used with caution, however, making this type of brazen switch will allow you to experiment with your sound and make your sets sound more unique and creative.
Unlocking the Power
While this may sound extreme to some DJs, this is a perfect example of what you can do if you utilize harmonic mixing like a pro. Once you have gone through each of your set’s tracks and used the Camelot wheel to categorize each song by key, take a total of thirty-two tracks and do a mash-up based on harmonic mixing. Since you’ve analyzed everything in this set, you’ll have a complete set that’s ready to go, with absolutely no key clashes.
World class DJs will use this mixing technique in order to ensure the quality of each and every set. However, these pros have years of experience and know how to manipulate their audience with song selections that have the right energy level. But some DJs will take it even a step further and experiment by labeling their tracks based on energy, not just key.
In terms of labeling based on energy, they’ll use a scale of one to ten. This process can really come in handy if you need to choose some tracks that will increase or decrease the energy on the dance floor. Paying attention to your crowd and switching up your set based on their vibes will ensure they stick around on the dance floor longer.
Which Controller Should I use with Harmonic Mixing Software?
If you’re a beginner, then I recommend the NI Traktor Kontrol S8 DJ Controller. This is a pro-quality controller, but it’s very versatile and easy to use. It can also be used with a wide range of software programs, unlike competing models that are only designed to work well with the software they’re sold with.
Can I still Mix Tracks without using Harmonic Mixing?
You can, and many DJs do. But using the mixing key chart will ensure that the songs you use blend well together and can prevent you from using songs in your set that clash and sound rough when mixed with a song in a different key. To learn more about how to mix like a pro, see my article on DJ mixing for beginners.
Can I use Harmonic Mixing Software with a DJ Controller?
Of course! However, not all DJ controllers work with different types of software. While most will, ultimately, they work the best with the software they’re specifically designed for. But some models are more versatile than others.
If you plan on using different software as opposed to what comes in your DJ controller package, then it’s important to ensure that the controller and software are compatible. If you’d like to learn more about controllers, how they work, and how to tell if the model you’re interested in will work for your harmonic mixing software, read my DJ controller buyer’s guide here.
How to use a DJ mixing key chart is simple. Download the Camelot wheel, which can help you to determine the key of each song in order to find songs in the same or related key that will work well for a mash-up. This way, there will be no key clashes, so each song will blend together well and sound like one long piece.
This technique is referred to as mixing in key and it’s a great technique to use in order to improve the sound quality of your set. Unfortunately, not many DJs are familiar with this technique, which is why some DJs have transitions that sound really rough and overwhelming.
Whether you use the Camelot wheel or harmonic mixing software, can train your ear to automatically pick out songs that will blend well together, which should be a goal for every DJ.
If you’re looking to beef up your setup, check out my DJ speakers buyers guide here!