Harmonic mixing is a technique for DJing that involves using music theory to make sure the keys of tracks are compatible when you mix them. Harmonic mixing has the advantage of making transitions between each song smoother and harmonically correct.
Harmonic mixing is a relatively advanced skill, however, you can find powerful DJ software which makes it easier.
In this ultimate guide, I'll explain what harmonic mixing is, how and why to use it, and I'll share some powerful tips, tricks, and software to get the most out of this technique!
TL;DR - Harmonic Mixing#
Harmonic mixing is a DJing technique that uses harmonic theory to arrange sets.
Using harmonic mixing helps to keep smooth transitions and key coherency throughout a mix.
It also lets you guide the mood and energy of your mixes.
While it can be hard to do manually, using DJ software like DJ.Studio makes the process quicker and easier.
What is Harmonic Mixing?#
Harmonic mixing is an advanced DJ technique whereby the DJ takes into account the musical key of each track they play. The core process of this revolves around determining the keys of all the tracks in a DJ's music library and then arranging their playlist for the set in a way that makes sense in terms of music theory and harmony.
Harmonic mixing enables DJs to create more coherent and harmonically flowing DJ sets.
Unlike matching strictly by BPM or vibe, the notes, chords, scales, melodies, and harmonies of each subsequent track will work together - because they are harmonically compatible.
Moreover, harmonic DJing concepts give DJs a set of tools to control and alter the energy of their set. All of this will be explained in more detail later.
But first, to get a full understanding of how harmonic mixing works you first need to understand a few basic concepts of music theory.
Related Music Theory - The Circle of Fifths, Keys, and the Camelot Wheel System#
Underpinning the concept of harmonic mixing are several concepts within music theory.
Primarily, it's all to do with musical keys.
Keys are easily understood using the circle of fifths, or the more modern variation - the Camelot wheel.
Musical Keys Explained#
Musical keys are a system within music theory that dictates which notes can be played together.
Because there are 12 notes in Western music you can't play all of these notes in the same song without it sounding dissonant (awkward).
To make music sound harmonically and melodically correct you have to limit yourself to the number of notes you use in a piece of music or a section.
For example, the key of C major uses the notes C, D, E, F, G, and A.
If you played any notes other than these it would sound dissonant and out of key.
Keys are the underpinning concept of harmonic mixing, so it's important to understand how they work in order to use key mixing techniques.
The Circle of Fifths Explained#
The next core concept behind mixing harmonically is the circle of fifths.
A 5th is a type of interval. There are eight core intervals, that are based on the distance between two notes.
Each of these intervals has a distinct sound with a specific mood and quality to the sound of the interval.
The circle of fifths, uses the perfect fifth interval, as keys connected by this interval only have one different note in their key.
Essentially, the circle of fifths shows you the different ways that keys connect. Each key has connections to other keys that are either close and harmonic, or distant and non-harmonic.
There are certain ways you can move through the circle of fifths. For instance, if you're in the key of C there are two music keys that are very close - which are either G Major or A Minor. These are the closest keys because they share most of the same notes as the C Major key.
The inner circle shows the minor keys, while the outer circle shows the major keys.
It's also important to understand the concept of relative keys.
Every key has a relative major or minor key. For example, the relative minor key of C Major is A Minor. Now, although they do use the exact same combination of notes, these are technically different keys. You can switch from the inner ring to the outer ring of the same key, to make a key change between two related keys.
The context of each note and the positioning of the scale in the music determines whether a song is counted as the major or minor key.
While it may seem complicated, understanding this concept is a vital tool for DJs.
The next concept to understand is Mixed In Key’s Camelot Wheel.
The Camelot Wheel is a modern version of the circle of fifths that has been designed to be used by DJs, while using the exact same music key information.
The Camelot wheel essentially shows all the same information as the circle of fifths, like how the keys connect, however - the labeling and order are slightly changed to make it easier for DJs to understand.
The Camelot wheel has been adapted into various DJing technique tables - like this Energy Mixing table.
This uses the logic of the Camelot wheel to show you how the energy level of a performance can be changed by moving between each Camelot value (which corresponds to a key).
This shows you a few different ways you can use a song's key to change the mood from one song to the next track. For example, you can increase the energy of your mix by going up 1 value, , or you can use a major <> minor key change to shift the mood completely.
Pros and Cons of Harmonic Mixing#
Harmonic mixing is a powerful tool, although it isn't completely perfect.
It creates more harmonic and melodic mixes between songs.
It prevents awkward, dissonant key clashes.
It makes smoother transitions between tracks.
The audience will notice that your set flowed seamlessly, and sounds good the whole way through.
You can harmonically mix using the Camelot system in certain ways to change the energy - like creating an energy boost.
It can be limiting if you stick purely to harmonic mixing.
Not all music needs to be mixed harmonically.
Much DJ software pitch shifts tracks when it changes the BPM or changes the BPM to shift pitches. This can make songs sound drastically different from how they are supposed to be.
Unless you use software, you need to understand how to determine the key signatures of your music.
How To Mix Harmonically#
Follow these steps to mix harmonically:
First, you need to work out the key of every track in your library or in the set that you want to play.
To detect the key of all of your tracks it can take a lot of time to do this manually for example you need to understand how to hear different notes and to work out what key your music is in if you understand how to work out the key for each of your tracks this is fine although it will still take a fair amount of time as you have to go through and perform this check for each song.
I suggest using some key detection software much like the offerings of DJ.Studio this just makes the whole process easier and far quicker as you don't have to manually detect each key after
Next, you need to work out how you can connect your tracks in a way that conforms to the harmonic systems explained.
After you have detected the key of all the songs in your playlist you can start to work out which tracks are compatible together.
Either you can pick a first track and then compare all the other tracks in your playlist key to the starting track and work out which next song would be the most sensible transition based on the key connection to make.
Then you just repeat this process for each subsequent track making sure that they all fit together in a logical and harmonic way.
Alternatively, you can use the Camelot tables to identify certain types of energy/mood changes to sculpt the flow and feel of your DJ set manipulating the energy throughout to play with the crowd/audience.
How DJ.Studio Uses Harmonic Mixing#
DJ.Studio uses these harmonic concepts as a foundation for its automixing features.
A key feature of DJ studio is its automix, which is uniquely powerful compared to other software.
DJ.Studio scans the keys and BPMs of every track in your library detecting them accurately and quickly.
Next, you create a set playlist by selecting some of the tracks in your library.
Now, when you click automix, you are given the option of whether to bias the automixing algorithm towards matching the BPMs or matching the keys. The software will then find songs that match together perfectly.
By giving DJs this tool to quickly organize mixes arranged in a flowing harmonic structure.
Unlike most DJ software, DJ studio includes all the tools and features you need to both detect the keys and BPMs of your tracks, automatically arrange a mix based on harmonic mixing techniques, and sculpt very detailed transitions between each track using EQ, filters, and effects.
DJ.Studio also lets you import audio from a wide range of sources including streaming platforms and other DJ software and you can export your mix quicker than real-time to a range of output locations for example as a file a single file or as stems to be imported into Ableton.
This system has been designed to make an incredibly efficient and fast workflow for studio DJs who need to make long-flowing mixes without spending the time to rehearse or record the mix on a 1:1 time-use basis.
DJ.Studio will be useful for beginner and professional DJs alike and makes harmonic mixing work incredibly easy by finding matching songs and compatible tracks from your library within seconds.
Using advanced harmonic mixing techniques is a powerful way to enhance the quality of your DJ sets when mixing tracks. Whether you're doing long blends between two songs, or you're making quick mash-ups, making sure your music is mixed in key will set you apart from other DJs.
Recent DJ software like DJ.Studio helps you to mix two tracks together in perfect harmony, with minimal effort. This gives expands your creative possibilities by doing the technical work for you.
Enjoy your new DJ superpower!
FAQs About Harmonic Mixing
- What does mixing in key mean?
- Should you DJ in key?
- Can you mix tracks in different keys?
- Is it better to mix by BPM or key?