The Camelot Wheel is a useful system for working out which tracks mix together well based on their musical key.
In my experience, mixing your tracks in key is essential for improving the coherency and flow of your DJ sets - it also helps you avoid any awkward clashing chords that kill the dancefloor.
This is a skill that many DJs forget to learn, but using it separates the amateurs from the professionals.
In this guide, you'll learn what the Camelot Wheel is, how to use it, and why it's so important for DJs to understand!
TL;DR - The Camelot Wheel#
The Camelot Wheel shows you which musical key signatures go together.
It's based on the circle of fifths.
It's incredibly useful (and important) for DJs to use harmonic mixing.
DJs now have access to tools that make using the Camelot Wheel effortless, like DJ.Studio.
Mixed In Key’s Camelot Wheel with color codes
The Camelot Wheel Explained#
The Camelot Wheel is a modern system to help DJs navigate the musical keys of their music. (Read more about Musical Keys here.) It's based on the circle of fifths, with the only difference being the use of additional labels.
Each key has a unique relationship to the other key - some keys sound great together, while others sound clashy.
The purpose of the Camelot Wheel is to give DJs a simple technique for identifying which key pairs sound good - making harmonic mixing easier.
Rather than needing to understand the more complicated circle of fifths, DJs can use this system to arrange their mix playlists without needing to spend too much time thinking about key arrangements.
Professional DJs use this system when mixing to make sure they mix two songs that have well-related keys. This is vital for any type of music which uses harmonic and melodic elements - which is most music these days realistically.
While harmonic mixing was traditionally seen as an advanced technique that required music theory knowledge, Camelot values it makes it easy to mix and match songs. Nowadays there are powerful DJ software programs (like DJ.Studio) that use this system to make the process even easier, but I'll talk about that later.
How Does the Camelot Wheel Work?#
Mixed In Key’s Camelot Wheel organizes the keys in a way that shows you the strong connections between each key.
Each segment shows one of the 24 available keys, where each key is given a Camelot key following the Mixed in Key notation - anywhere from 1B to 12B, or 1A to 12A. This value is also known as a Camelot value.
The Camelot wheel has two concentric rings, the outer ring shows the Major keys, while the inner ring shows Minor chords and keys.
When you identify the key of a song, you can easily work out which other keys would make a good match using the Wheel - it helps you find two keys that work together.
In essence, you can move around the wheel in different ways to find compatible key signatures and avoid key clashes.
For example, you can move one step left or right around the wheel, or you can move from the outside to the inside ring (or vice versa).
There are also other ways to use the wheel...
How to use the Camelot Wheel?#
Using the Camelot Wheel makes it super easy to choose the next song to mix harmonically into the current track based on the combination of keys.
Imagine you were playing a song in the key of A Minor - which corresponds to the label 8A in the Camelot wheel...
Same Key - Mixing other 8A songs into it is one option. It would be easy to flawlessly mix two 8A tracks together because they are in the exact same key signature, and use the same notes.
You could also move from 8A to 8B - which is the relative Major key. All Major music keys have relative minor keys which use the exact same notes, just in a different order. This makes them harmonically compatible.
You could also move a step forward or backward around the same ring of the wheel. For example, from 8A to 9A or 7A. These are harmonically connected keys, which are a perfect fifth and a perfect fourth apart from the original key respectively. There would be only one note out of place.
Change the mood, by going from the same note's major to minor key (or reverse). For example, going from C Major to C Minor, or from A Minor to A Major.
Using the Camelot system in this way makes it easy to perform harmonic mixing with any track selection and key signature.
The different types of key signature connections also create transitions with certain feels. Typically the energy and mood are changed in certain ways based on how the two keys relate.
Match Types, Energy Changes#
The type of key transition you make when mixing two tracks together will affect the energy and vibe of the set.
The table above shows how different keys relate, and how this affects energy and mood levels.
There are four main types of key transitions when moving between keys:
Perfect Mix - mixing two songs with the same combination of keys, like two C Major keys. This means both tracks use a selection of the same notes. This will retain the same feel and energy level
Energy Boost (+1, or Energy boost) : An upwards key change that brings the energy up.
Energy Drop (-1) : A downward key change that lowers the energy.
Mood Shift : Changing from a Major key signature to the Minor key of the same note, like C Maj to C Min.
Why is the Camelot Wheel Useful for DJs?#
Ask any of the top DJs about their most useful secret mixing techniques - I'd be surprised if any of them didn't mention harmonic mixing or the Camelot wheel.
In short, the wheel makes it quick and easy for DJs to mix harmonically.
It gives DJs a straightforward process to mix in key and find out the closest key signature for each track. This gives their sets a much more coherent and professional sound.
There's nothing worse than two tracks that don't have compatible key signatures being mixed together - it can completely kill the vibe of a party or show.
At the same time, clever use of keys makes thrilling and emotionally charged DJ sets, so understanding how to use them is an important skill and can really make your mixes stand out from the crowd.
The Camelot Wheel is a good base system to mix in key, however, there are software tools that use the wheel as a foundation to offer an easier, enhanced mixing experience...
DJ.Studio - An Automatic Camelot Wheel Mixer#
Software like DJ.Studio uses the Camelot Wheel to help you find tracks that sound great together. It also offers a range of proprietary automatic mix features to instantly do the hard work for you - and it has a bunch of other useful functions for DJs.
Unlike most DJ software, DJ.Studio combines key detection software, the Camelot wheel, and a huge range of other DJ features to make a product unlike anything else. This tool helps you build the perfect DJ set literally in seconds with minimal effort.
Its powerful key detection algorithm shows you how all the songs in your library connect based on their keys.
It can also automatically create a DJ set based on your chosen playlist. It doesn't just stick the songs together in any order - it actually arranges them based on the Camelot system, making sure that each song follows on to the next in the best way possible.
Beyond the key-based tools, DJ.Studio offers a huge range of other features that make it incredibly powerful and efficient as a DJ tool. I'm pretty sure this will become your favorite DJ software overnight.
Here is a brief overview of DJ.Studio's workflow:
Import your song library. You can import music from a wide range of sources, including wav and MP3 files, from YouTube, Soundcloud, Serato, rekordbox, and Mixed In Key.
Once your library is loaded, you have a few options:
Manually select your playlist and arrange it by hand
Use DJ.Studio's AUTOMIX function to automatically arrange a seamless mix based on the key and BPM of each track.
Now you can tweak the mix, including:
Create and automate seamless transitions using a range of techniques, like EQ, filters, reverbs, echoes, a humble crossfade, cuts, or more. (You can also combine these in any way you like).
Edit the arrangement and positioning of tracks.
Add repeats and custom build-ups/breakdowns.
If there are any gaps in the mix where there aren't enough songs to navigate through the Camelot wheel or BPM, then DJ.Studio can recommend other songs from your library which fit the gap.
If you want to reshuffle the mix, you can use the Key Lock to keep certain songs in an order you like them, then re-use the AUTOMIX function to shuffle the order.
After you are happy with your mix, you can export it to a range of locations, including Mixcloud, YouTube, your hard drive, or even an Ableton Live set.
Summary - Harmonic Mixing is the Key to Success!#
As you've learned, if you use the Camelot wheel it makes it easy to harmonically mix songs together without needing to know much music theory. Using this technique can help you take the sound of your DJ sets from amateur to professional.
Manually using the Camelot Wheel still takes some time - but you can quickly make any dance floor groove by pairing it with smart software like DJ.Studio, which offers automatic key detection, BPM matching, detailed transition editing, and a whole range of other features.
Understanding and implementing the Camelot Wheel and key signatures into your DJ sets will quickly make a noticeable improvement. Don't just take my word for it though, try it out and hear the results yourself!
FAQs About the Camelot Wheel
- How do you Read a Camelot Wheel?
- Who Created the Camelot Wheel?
- What is the Camelot format?
- How do you move around the Camelot Wheel?
- Should you mix in key DJ?
Harmonic mixing with compatible keys is vital for pro-sounding DJ mixes - learn how to do it here!