16 Basic DJ Transition Techniques Every DJ Should Know
Smooth transitions between songs are what separates a DJ from a Spotify playlist.
These DJ transition tips will show you how to seamlessly blend two tracks, to keep your audience grooving and entertained without interrupting the flow.
There are a few things you need to know to ensure you can make smooth transitions, so check out my guide based on years of experience to level up your skills. I've been blending since I was a youngster, so I've tried out thousands of transitions in my time - let me show you some of the creative things you can do to master track mixing.
Get ready to blend like a boss!
TL;DR - DJ Transition Techniques #
Transitions are a key part of making seamless DJ sets.
Matching key and tempo are foundations that enable a good transition.
There are several tools for creatively transitioning between tracks.
Software like DJ.Studio expands the creative possibilities of your transitions.
What is a DJ Transition?#
A DJ transition is a technique to move between two tracks - how you mix from one track into the next.
One exciting aspect of DJ mixes is that the whole performance feels seamless. The DJ doesn't just wait for one song to finish before starting the next one, they use transition techniques to blend two tracks in a sophisticated way.
Transitions can be used in several ways. They can be smooth and transparent - the audience might barely notice that the song has changed, creating a fluid, trance-inducing mix. Alternatively, DJs can use transitions to build hype, raise the energy, the make a sudden drop into a new song to create a high-impact track change.
Why are Transitions Important?#
Transitions are all important parts of a DJ's toolbox. Without using traditions, you may as well just listen to a Spotify playlist which would be nowhere near as fun or groovy.
Transitions are the glue that ties the songs together. Mastering how to use transitions changes a DJ's ability to manipulate the groove and entertain their audience.
The Foundations of a Transition#
There are two central concepts, which underpin all the creative elements of a transition. These two foundations serve as the raw building blocks, on top of which DJs can express themselves more creatively using other transition techniques.
The first foundation of a good transition is tempo. If you beat match the BPM of the outgoing track with the incoming track, you ensure that the groove of the tracks mix perfectly together.
If the tempos are off, the beats will clash, which throws the audience out of the groove and makes an awkward, cluttered, and sometimes unlistenable mess.
This is why beat matching is so important. Once two tracks are beat-matched, there are only a few other things that need to be considered to make a slick transition.
The second foundation of a great transition is key. Tracks can be sorted into 1 of 24 keys. There are 12 major keys, and 12 minor keys. Each key has strong or weak connections to others.
Matching the keys of tracks also makes for a smoother mix. If you don't take keys into consideration, you risk playing two tracks with clashing keys - which is going to make for an uncomfortable, sour mix.
Check out our full guide on How To Mix In Key to learn the full details on this topic.
After you've matched the key and tempo of your two tracks, it's time to get funky with DJ transition tools.
Core Tools for DJ Transitions#
Beyond tempo and key, there are several effects and processes which open up more creative DJ mixing transition techniques.
Volume is the first transition tool to master. It's the most unanimous technique and is a control found on every DJ mixer. In essence, every transition uses volume in some way. Even if you just let one track end and start the next, there is naturally a transition in volume.
That said, there are still a lot of incredibly creative ways you can use volume to create interesting transitions - while being a basic tool, it's also incredibly versatile and powerful, and offers an infinite range of transition possibilities.
You can slowly fade one song out as the other gets faded in. Or you could bring one up to level, then let them both play for a while until you fade out the first. You can even use volume to make a quick cut between the two tracks playing.
You can also use volume to tease elements of the second track, for example quickly flick the volume up to let some of the new snare or pads come through, before bringing in the second track in its entirety.
I'll explain some more types of transitions you can make with volume in more detail later in this article.
Equalization is the second most important transition tool. EQ lets you either boost or cut the bass, mids, and treble. This lets you emphasize certain components of the current track playing.
You can use EQ to isolate and exaggerate areas and instruments by reducing others. Or you can use it to completely cut out parts of the track, for example, you might want to cut the incoming track's bass and only bring it back in when it gets to the drop, for maximum impact.
Just like volume, the timing of your EQ use is completely flexible. You can use it fast or slow, gradually or instantly.
A good way to think about EQ is that it controls the different "color" areas of your music. You don't want to clutter up your mix by having all the colors of two tracks at once, so use an EQ to control the balance between the outgoing track and the incoming tune.
For example, you can reduce the kick drums of the new track playing while the master track plays in full, to make sure that your low end isn't too cluttered.
Filters are similar to EQs, although they work and sound differently.
They are still concerned with the frequency spectrum, although they are more aggressive, are focused on removing entire areas of the frequency spectrum, and aren't used for boosting.
Filters come in a few different types. The most common are low-pass filters (LPF) and high-pass filters (HPF).
Low pass filters start by cutting the high frequencies, making the sound darker and bass-focused the further you use the filter. If an LPF is 90% engaged, you will only hear the lowest part of the track, typically the bass line and kick drum.
High-pass filters are the opposite. They start by cutting the bass and mids and end up leaving only the high-frequency information at maximum filtration. You can use these to cut the bass, thinning out tracks and focusing on the vocals and percussion. At 90% engagement, an HPF will typically leave only the hi-hats and other sizzling high-frequency volume parts.
The way to remember the difference between these terms is:
(HPF) High-pass filters let the highs pass through the filter, and block the lows.
(LPF) Low-pass filters let the lows pass through, blocking the highs.
There are other types of filters, like band pass, notch, and comb, although they are less common for DJing and more used in music production.
Filters are a great way to create build-ups and drop-downs. You can use them to alter tracks gradually, for example, slowly filtering out the low end and mids of the current song with an LPF, making room to mix in the heavy bass of the next song.
There are a bunch of other creative effects which are equally as important in a DJ's arsenal for making exciting and compelling transitions
This unique effect is based on the acoustic phenomenon of reverberation. Essentially, the sonic energy is sustained creating a longer decay of sounds. This can wash out sound and make for long-hanging build-ups where all the instruments blur into one cloud of sound. Reverb is a lot of fun to experiment with and completely changes the sound of a tack.
This effect adds a repeating delay to your track. It essentially creates additional versions of the audio on top of each other, which are staggered through time. This can be used really creatively to create trippy, dubbed-out breakdowns.
You can change the speed of the delay from short to long, which gives you lots of control over how this effect can be used. It's a great tool for extending breakdowns and leading into drops.
8) Repeats, Extensions, and Loops#
Another cool mixing technique is using loops and repeats. You can slice out a musical phrase, and loop it to create a new section of an arrangement. Making loops is a great way to create buildups and transitions for most electronic music.
You can loop any length of audio, but 1, 2, 4, or 8-bar phrases are usually the grooviest. 4-on-the-floor type beats like techno and house music are some of the easiest genres to use a background looping effect due to how their beats work. But it also works with more freestyle beats like hip hop.
9) Vinyl Breaks and Spinbacks#
In the old days of mixing, DJs had to use vinyl turntables. These are very physics-based and literally use a spinning platter to play music. These are more advanced techniques to pull off but can help you create some really satisfying transitions. These methods are also recreated in digital mixing tools like CDJs and software.
When you power off a vinyl turntable, it doesn't stop instantly, it gradually slows down the platter loses momentum. This creates a cool effect where the music slows down until it reaches a stop - this makes a neat trick for transitioning, and was a key technique in hip-hop.
Spinbacks are similar, although more aggressive. What the DJ would do is grab the record, and spin it backward quickly. This creates a rapid reversal, which makes for a high-impact cut. These days, the technique has been called a "rewind", or in the club "wind it up selecta!" This is a fun one to use when you want to restart the current song from the beginning because it's such a killer beat.
Experimentation is the trick to learning new types of transitions. Find your own unique voice and mix technique by messing around and finding out the kind of transitions you like to play with. Combine different effects and experiments with transition speeds.
Transition Speeds and Shapes (Envelopes)#
You can use any of the above tools with the following patterns. These patterns (called envelopes) show the relationship between the time and strength of a transition.
For example, you can do quick cuts, longer crossfades, or any kind of transition in between.
This is a transition where the volume of the first track is decreased at the same speed and intensity as the volume of the new track is raised. This creates a smooth - albeit uneventful mix. This is good if you want to make a more seamless mix without emphasizing a build-up or drop.
This works well when tracks have a long intro and outro, for example in house music. Although you want to be careful that you don't fade too early, and make one musical phrase clash with another.
You can think of tracks having a mix-out zone and a mix-in zone - these are the intro and outro where the tracks are more minimal which allows DJs to blend the incoming audio without making too much clutter.
11) Fade In#
In this type, the new track fades in slowly, then you can do whatever you want with the current track. You could do a hard stop, or run it out with filtering and effects.
12) Fade Out#
A fade-out is when you bring down the volume of the first track until it disappears. You can use this to then drop in the next track instantly, or align it so it fades down in time for the second track to drop into the chorus.
13) Hard Swap#
A hard cut is where you instantly cut one track and simultaneously start the second track. This can be useful if you want to make a long build-up and then hard drop the next track in, or if you want to surprise your audience with a sudden change.
You can use these transition shapes on any control factor. It doesn't have to be volume. You can fade in filters, fade out EQs, or mix and match them as you please.
DJ Transition Examples#
DJing and transitions are almost a language of groove in itself. There are endless combinations of music and transitions letting you get really creative, so you can play with your audience and their groove. This is one of the reasons why DJing is so fun.
Here are some demonstrations of the kind of transitions you can make. Some of these are more suited to certain music genres but you can take this as inspiration and make your own transition styles!
14) The Build Up and Drop#
Start to build up the tension by filtering out the low end, making the bass drop out of the outgoing track. You can exaggerate this by gradually bringing in some reverb and echo to make the track become trippy and blurred, try looping the song if it doesn't have a long enough outro or build-up. You can even ramp up the tempo if the incoming track has a higher BPM, this is a good way to connect two songs with different speeds.
As the buildup gets tenser and tenser, prepare an impactful place to bring in the incoming track, perhaps on the first beat of the chorus drop.
Now, just as the outgoing song gets close to the end, use an HPF, EQ, and some volume to rip the buildup to maximum tension point, then drop it out to silence. Now, hit play on the second track and slam it down with a heavy beat. This creates a high-impact transition which is sure to get the audience roaring.
15) The Seamless Crossfade Blend#
If you want to go for a smoother sound with seamless mixes, try out a crossfade blend. With this transition, you mix tracks of the same tempo.
When the outgoing song reaches the intro, there will be enough room to gradually fade in the incoming tune. Bring in the incoming track by subtly increasing the volume to introduce new elements. If done well, it can sound like the new track is just a new layer of the original track. After the incoming tune is up to volume, you can begin to fade out the outgoing tune.
Just make sure you leave enough time to make the transition before the second track plays into its build-up or drop.
This is a technique for really seamless mixing. Your audience might not even be able to tell you just changed the song until the hook comes in.
16) The Spin Back and Cut In#
In this simple transition, simply spin back the first beat at a good point, then cut in the new tune. This is a faster cut that lets you quickly switch up the vibe. It isn't the smoothest of DJ transitions, but it's still fun and useful.
Why not invent your own transitions and share them with the DJ community?
How Expands the Possibilities of Transitions#
When mixing live with a DJ Controller - you only have two hands, so you can only control so many variables at once.
With DJ.Studio, you can control everything at the same time. This makes it possible to create complex transitions which otherwise would be impossible - unless you had 8 pairs of hands.
Using this, you can create transitions that haven't been possible before.
Final Thoughts - Get Blending!#
Transitions are one of the most essential DJ skills. With these DJ transition tips, you'll be able to entertain your audience with a DJ set full of fluid and seamless blends.
My main tip is to just experiment with the different tools, and build your own vocabulary of DJ transitions!
FAQs about DJ Transitions
- How do you make a good DJ transition?
- How do you transition songs like a DJ?
- How do you smoothly transition between songs?
- How do DJs blend songs?