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How To DJ using compatible Keys with Harmonic Mixing

The Camelot wheel from Mixed In Key is a system for DJs that helps them to navigate musical keys, in order to mix harmonically.

Harmonic mixing is a technique that defines professional DJs from amateurs. In short, you make sure that two songs have compatible keys when you mix them together. This helps to create seamless transitions, while also giving the DJ the ability to control the energy and mood changes of their set.

If you don't mix harmonically, there is a good chance you might mix two songs that don't sound good together, which can create awkward and dissonant mixes.

In this guide, you'll learn exactly how to use the Camelot wheel to mix harmonically compatible songs, while also discovering the power offered by DJ.Studio's unique and harmonically enhanced automix system.

What is the Camelot Wheel and how does it work?#

The Camelot wheel is a system based on the circle of fifths but adapted to be used by DJs rather than musicians. This revolves around the music theory of key signatures and compatibility and harmonic theory.

Circle of fifths

To understand the Camelot wheel, first, you need to understand musical keys. I'll give a short explanation, but you should check out our larger guide on understanding keys for a more in-depth lesson.

Essentially, there are 12 major and 12 minor keys in music. Each of these uses a different, and unique, combination of notes. You can play any notes within the key, and it will sound good. However, if you play notes outside the key, it sounds clashy and dissonant - often sounding like a mistake.

When it comes to DJing, you mix songs with different keys. You want to make sure that the keys you mix together are harmonically compatible - which is easily done by using the Camelot wheel from Mixed in Key - or associated tables.

Key Display in DJ.Studio

The wheel shows how all the 12 major and 12 minor keys connect. Each key has a few other keys that it connects well to, due to having a similar selection of notes. Some connections are stronger than others, due to the keys being closer. But each type of connection has a certain effect on the mood and energy of a mix.

For example, moving from the inside ring to the outside ring (or reverse) is one of the strongest connections, as this is changing to the relative major (or minor) key, which shares most amount of notes. Mixing songs in the same key gives the most natural sounding mix, and can make it sound as if two songs are actually one, making a super smooth transition.

Moving one step clockwise or anti-clockwise around the circle is also another strong connection.

I'll explain these different energy changes in more detail below.

To better explain the effect of the movements around the Camelot wheel, we created this table, which makes it easier to understand how these changes affect the energy of the mix.

Harmonic mixing table wide

DJs can use this table as a tool to sculpt the energy of their DJ set as they progress through the playlist.

Why are the Camelot Wheel and Harmonic Mixing Important?#

DJs who use the Camelot wheel and harmonic mixing techniques in their work will generally create much better mixes.

There are several advantages to using these tools:

  • Using the Camelot wheel makes it easier to understand keys, and navigate key changes. Using the circle of fifths is fine, but it might be confusing to DJs who haven't learned how to play any musical instruments. The Camelot wheel has been adapted to be easier for DJs to use, meaning it can be understood quickly, and you don't need much prior knowledge of music to get stuck in.

  • Another core benefit to harmonic mixing is that you will avoid mixing two songs with badly matched keys. Keys aren't compatible with every key, and sometimes mixing certain keys together will sound noticeably bad and dissonant. DJs should avoid this at all costs

  • By understanding the Camelot wheel and the associated tables, DJs can make better-informed decisions when it comes to choosing the next track in their mix. Each type of key change creates a certain change in mood and energy. By understanding these changes, DJs can get more creative with the progression of their DJ set, allowing them to sculpt the energy of their performance more effectively.

Now, let's have a look at these mix energy changes in more detail.

Transition Types#

Using the Camelot wheel and harmonic mixing opens up new options for mixing creatively. By considering the key change between two tracks, you can effectively control the energy and mood of a mix. Each type of transition has a distinct effect on the feeling of the next track. because the second track starts, within the context of the first track, the type of mood this creates depends on how the tracks connect.

We will walk you through each of the different transition types.

Harmonic mixing wheel wide

Easy Mixes and Strong key Transitions#

Here are some of the best mix transitions to perform - using the most closely related key connections. These three transition types are the easiest to pull off and have the most harmonically satisfying sound (in theory).

Perfect mix

The perfect mix is the strongest and most seamless mix. This is when you mix two songs with the exact same key together, for example, 1A and 1A, or C Major and C Major. 

This will create the most cohesive transition, and if every other element is mixed well, your audience might not even notice that you changed to a completely different track, they might just think it was another section.

This is because the notes in both songs will all be taken from the same possible selection, as they are in the same key.

+1 mix

This type of transition has the second strongest harmonic connection and will bring the energy up slightly. In this type of mix, you move one step clockwise around the circle, for example, from 8B to 9B, or C Major to G Major. This is a strong and harmonically positive mix as its shifting up the center of the key by a perfect fifth, which is the strongest interval connection.

In terms of theory, there should only be one note which is not in the key of the first song, so it creates a very harmonically compatible mix. This type of mix is generally the best to choose in most cases, as it creates a slight (but not too exaggerated) upwards shift in energy.

-1 mix

This type of mix is also very strong and is performed by taking one step anti-clockwise through the circle. For example, 9B to 8B, or G Major to C Major. This is a shift of a perfect fourth, which is almost as strong as a perfect fifth, but slightly weaker.

This also means the second song is sharing all but one note with the original track. This also creates a strong and cohesive shift in mood and has enough connected notes to sound very compatible.

More Experimental and Unconventional Key Transitions#

The following transitions are slightly less conventional, and use more separated key connections, although they can still all be used in a powerful way.

Energy boost

This type of mix creates a drastic and noticeable boost in energy. It feels as though you just stepped on the accelerator of your car. This transition works by moving two steps clockwise around the circle, for example from 9B to 11B, or G Major to A Major.

This is an interesting type of transition that shifts the key center up by two semitones (one whole note). This unique transition can sometimes sound a little clashy depending on the scales and notes used within the two songs, but for the most part, it should be fairly smooth and interesting. It creates a strong upwards shift in energy.

NOTE: We advice you to avoid using more than 3 of these in a DJ set, or it will begin to lose its effect and make your overall mix sound a little incohesive.

Scale change

The scale change mix is another powerful transition, which is also very cohesive and well-connected. In this mix, you move from inside the circle to the outside (or vice versa), for example, from 8B to 8A (or 8A to 8B), which would be from C Major to A Minor.

This is transitioning between the relative major and minor key. This is a strong transition because related keys contain the exact same notes, just in a slightly different order. This has the power of changing the mood from happy to sad, or vice versa, with a cohesive and smooth feel, rather than clashy.

For example, C Major uses the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B - in that order. While A Minor uses A, B, C, D, E, F, G - in that order. You can see how these are the exact same combination of notes, they just start in a different place.

Diagonal mix

The diagonal mix is another interesting, but sometimes risky, transition, where you move one step left, and change from the inner to the outer ring (or vice versa). For example, from 9A to 8B, or E Minor to C Major. This is a unique transition, where you are moving a perfect fourth down in the key center, while also changing the quality of the key from major to minor (or minor to major). It creates a change in energy and mood. it can be a little hard to pull off, but it's worth practicing to see how it can affect the feeling of your mix.

Special Effects Mixing#

These other transitions are the hardest to pull off and should be avoided in most cases. They are some of the most dissonant connections, although they can work sometimes (just don't use them too often in a set).

Mood Shifter

The mood shifter is a combination of changing quality (major to minor or reverse), while also taking three steps clockwise around the ring. For example, From 1B to 4A.

This is one of the furthest 'compatible' transitions and has a drastic change in the mood. It's quite hard to perform and won't work with every pairing of songs.

Jaw's mix

The dreaded Jaw's mix is named after the classic Jaws movie theme tune with its dissonant and creepy two-note riff. This mix changes the key center by moving one semi-tone up (from 1A to 8A, or A-flat Minor to A Minor), which is 5 steps anti-clockwise.

This is one of the most unpleasant key transitions out there and has a very dissonant and clashy feel. This should only be attempted if you know what you are doing, and you have tested that the two songs work "well" together. That said, it can have a cool and mysterious effect if pulled off well.

DJ.Studio's Harmonic Automix Tool#

DJ.Studio has a state-of-the-art and proprietary automixing algorithm which uses the transition types described in this article to find the best order of the tracks in your mix. This system lets you create harmonic mixes with lightning speed and takes away the tricky process of needing to manually work out the best mixes to make.

Automix April

This is how it works.

  1. Import your music into DJ.Studio's library.

  2. Select a bunch of tracks you want to use in your DJ set.

  3. Hit the Automix button.

  4. You'll now be given a slider to choose whether to Automix with a preference for key or BPM.

  5. Make your choice, and let DJ.Studio do the math.

  6. DJ.Studio will now scan through every possible combination to bring you the optimal order for your DJ set based on your choices. Your PC will make million of calculations in a matter of seconds and saves you hours of time

  7. You can spend all of your time and creativity in making the best sounding transitions.

Using this system, you can guarantee that your DJ set will be mixed in key, provided you have enough songs with compatible keys in your chosen playlist.

More Harmonic mixing features#

DJ.Studio is a powerful piece of software that has a number of different features which make DJs' lives easier - particularly when it comes to harmonic mixing.

Besides the automixing, DJ.Studio also gives you a clear indicator in the playlist view of how each transition will affect the energy and mood of your DJ set. You can then choose other songs from your music collection, by seeing how compatible they are with a selected song in your mix, to add more tracks to your set that will mix harmonically.

DJ.Studio's Harmonic Mix Indicators

Mixing harmonically without these tools can be quite tricky, and adds a lot of extra time to the preparation stage of your DJ set. You'll need to spend a few hours working out the keys of each track in your playlist, and how to connect them all together in a seamless and flowing way.

By taking away the hard (and boring) work, DJ.Studio saves a huge amount of time for DJs, letting them get more creative with other areas of DJ mixing. The results of this will be that DJ mixes sound much more professional because they won't have any awkward clashing mixes, and their transitions will sound more coherent and satisfying.

DJ.Studio mixes tracks with incredible accuracy, so you won't need to worry about creating mixes that don't sound great. Melodies, chords, and vocals from different songs will sound like they were made to be played together.

Closing Thoughts#

Understanding and mastering harmonic mixing techniques and the Camelot wheel is an essential step for any DJs who want to take their mixes to the next level. Implementing this method will make your mixes stand out. Understanding how to use it will also help you to develop your own unique style too.

The harmonic and automixing tools in DJ.Studio is a great way to quickly start using this method in your DJ sets. This will make a huge improvement to your mixes, and give you an edge over other DJs. There are several other advantages to using DJ.Studio too - check out our other articles and try out the software yourself!

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 Harmonic Mixing and Compatible Keys

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