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What Is The DJ Circle of Fifths for DJ Mixing?

The circle of fifths is a musical tool that helps musicians (including DJs) to identify and understand how musical keys connect.

This diagram makes navigating through the 24 key signatures quick and easy - so you can work out which keys sound good together in an instant.

As a DJ, using the circle of fifths, and Mixed In Key’s Camelot Wheel helps you to mix harmonically compatible tracks - creating a smoother set without mixing clashing songs.

This guide explains everything you need to know about the circle of fifths to ensure your mixes sound amazing every time - whether you're a DJ or a traditional musician!

TL;DR - What is the Circle of Fifths?#

  • The circle of fifths demonstrates how all the musical key signatures connect, via an easy to understand diagram.

  • It helps you work out which keys are closely related, so you can be more harmonically considerate when composing or mixing music.

  • DJs can use the Circle of Fifths (or Camelot Wheel) to ensure they mix harmonically compatible tracks, for a more seamless performance.

  • DJ.Studio has AI tools that help you instantly harmonically arrange a setlist, maximizing the professionalism of your DJ mixing.

What is the Circle of Fifths?#

Circle of fifths

The circle of fifths is a diagram and tool that uses music theory to show a range of musical key information.

(You can find out more about keys here: A Beginner's Guide To Musical Keys)

The circle of fifths has 3 main purposes:

  1. Identifying all 24 keys (12 major, 12 minor) and their corresponding key signatures.

  2. Showing how all the keys connect together.

  3. Displaying the written key signatures for each key.

It's easy to understand the circle of fifths once you spend a bit of time studying it. It's a highly valuable tool that is at the core of music theory. Whether you are a classical musician or an electronic dance music DJ, it's essential to understand the circle of fifths.

The first thing to understand is that it shows the twelve major keys around the outside and the twelve minor keys around this inner ring.

The closer keys are in the circle, the stronger their relationships are.

How Does the Circle of Fifths Work?#

Primarily, the circle of fifths shows how all the keys connect. It revolves around the perfect fifth interval.

If you don't know what intervals are:

  • Intervals describe the relationship (distance) between two notes in semitones.

  • A perfect fifth is an increase in pitch by 7 semitones. So, from a C to a G.

  • The fifth is called a perfect fifth because it has the most satisfying and strongest harmonic connection.

  • There are 7 core intervals, with minor and major variations.

Here are all the core intervals with their variations.

Core intervals with minor an major variations

Semitone Change = Interval Name:

  • +0 = Perfect Unison

  • +1 = Minor Second

  • +2 = Major Second

  • +3 =Minor Third

  • +4 = Major Third

  • +5 = Perfect Fourth

  • +6 = Diminished Fifth / Augmented Fourth

  • +7 = Perfect Fifth

  • +8 = Minor Sixth

  • +9 = Major Sixth

  • +10 = Minor Seventh

  • +11 = Major Seventh

  • +12 = Perfect Octave

These intervals are at the core of how, and why, the circle of fifths works. It all revolves around the strength of connections for each key. You need to understand this basic concept to fully understand the circle of fifths.

Moving Through the Circle of Fifths#

How can you move through the circle of fifths

There is a range of different movements you can make through the circle to determine which keys sound good with each other.

You start on one key - typically the key of the song you are working on. Then you can move in any of the following directions, for a certain type of key change, each with a unique feeling.

  • Moving one step right (clockwise) = Moving up by a perfect fifth. This is one of the strongest key connections and only has one note different from your starting key.

  • Move one step left (anti-clockwise) = Moving down by a perfect fourth. This is another strong connection.

  • Going from inner circle to outer circle, or vice versa = This connection switches between relative major or minor scale or key. For example, A minor is the relative minor key of C major. And G major is the relative major key of E minor.

  • Using the same key = is the cleanest transition, and keeps the music in the same key.

Several other connection types are not as strong but still work.

How is the Circle of Fifths Useful for DJs?#

You might be wondering, how exactly is the circle of fifths useful for a DJ?

Well, it's actually a very useful tool, and understanding how to incorporate it into your mixing techniques can make you stand out of the crowd.

It all comes down to the concept of harmonic mixing techniques...

What is Harmonic Mixing?#

DJ.Studio Energy Mixing Table

Harmonic mixing is an advanced DJing technique, It's called harmonic mixing because DJs pay attention to the harmonic relationships between their song's keys.

Harmonic mixing is performed by making sure that two songs are harmonically compatible. This avoids key clashes and creates a more cohesive, flowing sound with a working harmonic progression and compatible melodic elements.

Using the circle of fifths, or the Camelot wheel makes it easy to mix songs in key and find other tracks which connect to your current tune.

Harmonic mixing is a skill that sets the pro DJs above the amateurs. By using this concept, there won't be any uncomfortable clashing keys in your mixes, and everything will sound more seamless and flowing.

The Camelot Wheel#

Camelot wheel with Mixed in Key notation

Mixed In Key’s Camelot Wheel is a system based on the circle fifths, which is designed to make harmonic mixing easier for DJs.

⁠It lets you understand the key information without needing to understand key signatures or even key names.

The Camelot wheel works in the exact same way as the circle of fifths, the only difference is the labeling of keys - which use a number and letter combination instead of the traditional key notation.

Essentially, it shows you which keys are connected, exactly like the original circle of fifths. The outer ring shows major keys, major chords, and major scales, while the inner ring shows minor chords, minor keys, and minor scales.

You first need to figure out the key of your first song. Based on the Camelot wheel, you can find tracks with the same number, or letter, or shift around the outer circle or inner circle, much like the circle of fifths.

You can use the Camelot easymix system to harmonically mix your music library, and find two tracks that go together. This was the basis for the popular Mixed In Key software.

This DJ system has been used to make an accompanying table that shows how different changes create a range of feelings, energy, and mood changes. This is used for energy boost mixing.

DJ.Studio For Harmonic Mixing#

DJ.Studio harmonic mixing

DJ.Studio uses automatic key analysis algorithms whenever you import tracks into your library. Automatic key detection determines the different keys of your track library and makes a note of it in the browser. You can use this DJ Automix Software to quickly find the best order for your setlist based on harmonic mixing.

DJ.Studio Automix Screen

Moreover, DJ.Studio can use this information to make automatic playlists that arrange a DJ set ensuring all the tracks are lined up in a way so that all the transitions use suitable key pairings.

This is a super powerful piece of software that is designed to help DJs make the most of harmonic mixing and the Camelot Wheel.

It works like this:

  1. Open DJ.Studio - You can run DJ.Studio in your browser, or download the app for a better experience.
  2. Create a Project - There are three main project types in DJ.Studio, each designed to work with a different type audio source:
    1. Local File - This works with downloaded audio files, and can be connected to your main DJ software and music libraries for seamless connectivity.
    2. YouTube - Use this to make mixes with any song on YouTube or Spotify.
    3. Beatport - Access over 12 million tracks on the Beatport Streaming library, letting you make full mixes. Use the Legalize function to download and share your mix.
  3. Make a Setlist - Now it's time to add songs to your setlist that you want to use in your mix.
  4. Automix - Use DJ.Studio's AI automixer to analyze your setlist and work out the best arrangement based on harmonic mixing, the Camelot Wheel, and the Circle of Fifths.
  5. Edit and Refine - Now it's time to use the powerful editing timeline to sculpt your mix in more detail. You can use this to add samples, make edits, use effects, and even stem separation to customize your mix. The transition editor has a bunch of quick presets, or you can use manual mode to edit transitions in as much detail as you want.
  6. Export - DJ.Studio provides a wide range of export options, letting you quickly convert your mix into a finished, sharable product.

DJ.Studio helps DJs take advantage of the essential power of the Circle of Fifths and harmonic mixing without needing to study the theory in detail. This makes your mixes sound more professional - as well as opening a bunch of other doors thanks to the app's productivity powers.

Summary - The Circle of Fifths for DJs#

Understanding how to use the circle of fifths is a skill that separates professional DJs from amateurs.

By incorporating this knowledge, and using the Camelot system, DJs can make super smooth mixes without a single note sounding out of place. This is a great tool for making compelling DJ sets.

DJ software like DJ.Studio uses this tool automatically, making it even quicker for DJs to build the ultimate playlist and find songs that match - so you can mix the perfect two records.

You can try this automixing software yourself with the free 14-day trial

Noah Feasey-Kemp
I started DJing when I was 15. Started a record label, residency by a club in Bristol. I’ve played at all the biggest clubs in Bristol (and the small ones) and have entertained thousands of dancers! I love writing about music, DJing, and technology. I've been blogging for DJ.Studio since the start of the project, and am always happy to answer questions and help fellow DJs out!

FAQs about DJ Circle of Fifths

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