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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 (yes, DJs are musicians) to identify and understand how musical keys connect.

This diagram makes it quick to navigate through the 24 key signatures and makes it easy to work out which keys sound good together.

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.

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

  • The circle of fifths demonstrates how all the musical key signatures connect.

  • It's used to make clean transitions between keys.

  • It's useful for DJs who use harmonic mixing to improve the coherency of their sets.

  • DJ software like DJ.Studio has automatic features, which use the circle of fifths to suggest the best in-key matches for your tracks.

Circle of fifths

What is the Circle of Fifths?#

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

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 = 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 = 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.

There are several other connection types that 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?#

Harmonic Mixing

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.

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 uses harmonic mixing to prepare your tracklist for you

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.

Automix on key

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.

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.

FAQs about DJ Circle of Fifths

How do DJ keys work?
Do DJs always mix in key?
How does harmonic mixing work?

Excited to start mixing?