This is a guest post by Eric Coomes, a copywriter at Mixed in Key and Kansas City, MO-based DJ.
Harmonic mixing is a DJ technique with roots in music theory used by some of the world’s most popular DJs: Above & Beyond, Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, Kaskade, Markus Schulz, Sasha, Swedish House Mafia, and many more rely on the technique. Whether you are an aspiring or experienced DJ, harmonic mixing helps ensure that your song transitions won’t clash, and that your mixes sound musically seamless.
Why Use Harmonic Mixing?
Armin Van Buuren recently said, “The perfect DJ set is 1 + 1 = 3,” meaning that the sum of a DJ mix should be greater than the individual parts. Like a chef mixing ingredients, two DJs can play the same song differently in the context of a mix and achieve very different results.
A good DJ set requires several ingredients, but the ‘magic sauce’ is harmonic mixing.
Every song you play as a DJ is made of notes and melodies in a certain key. Some keys sound great mixed together, and others don’t. Key clashes can sound like fingernails on a chalkboard and mess with the flow of even the best DJ’s sets. Historically, the only way for DJs to mix harmonically was to use a piano to find a song’s key beforehand, and then label each piece of music accordingly — a time-consuming grind. So if you’re playing a track in the key of B-minor, which tracks in your library will mix compatibly?
The good news is that with the software and hardware available today, you can analyze and catalogue your entire music library without ever touching a piano.
Visual Guide: Mixing with the Camelot Wheel
Thanks to the Camelot Wheel, you don’t need to study music theory to be an expert in harmonic mixing. The Camelot Wheel is a color-coded system that helps you figure out which keys are compatible.
You’ll notice the wheel is comprised of two concentric circles; major keys are on the outer circle and minor keys are on the inner circle. Each key is assigned a code number from one to twelve, like the hours around a clock. So long as you only go forward or backward one hour, you’ll have a harmonically compatible mix.
For any key on the Camelot Wheel, the three immediately adjacent keys are compatible. So for example, if you’ve started a mix with a song in the key of A minor, which is 8A on the Camelot Wheel, that means you can mix it with any other track in 7A, 8A, 9A or 8B, and feel confident that the result will be a smooth harmonic transition.
A good process to use if you’re just getting started is to:
Harmonic mixing opens up a wealth of creativity by quickly giving you new ideas of songs that sound good mixed and mashed-up together. When mixing harmonically, you want both songs to sound as though they could have been part of the same piece of music, with a transition that feels smooth and natural. There’s an art to doing it right, and when you pull it off, your audience will sense it.
If you want to learn more about DJing, nightlife, and other ways to advance your DJ career, read the free online book with Mixed In Key founder Yakov Vorobyev and Eric, Beyond Beatmatching.