DJ 101: A Basic Guide To Harmonic Mixing

camelotSmallThe Camelot Wheel is a user-friendly representation of a harmonic mixing tool/guideline called the Circle of Fifths which, unlike the Circle, is designed to be a little more user-friendly for those who know squat about music theory.

The Circle of Fifths represents the various chords and their harmonic possibilities – that is, an ensemble of notes that sound well together. Some chords will share a majority of notes. This means that you can superpose some chords and the result won’t be a mess of sonic discord and ear torture.

For those of you scratching your heads as to how any of this makes sense, what follows are some basic chord superposition rules.

Use the wheel for reference to give you a visual representation of what we’re talking about below.

Basic Combinations:
  • You can stay on the same chord. This will be the most perfect mix harmonically.  Example: 12A to 12A
  • You can go +1 or -1 on the wheel. Example: 4A to 5A or 7A to 6A
  • You can go A to B or vice versa. Example: 5A to 5B or 10B to 10A

Of course, those basic rules will soon have you in a bind. You need a huge collection of tracks to be able to mix harmonically with only those rules.

Here are a few other less well known tricks that can expand your options:

  • You can go +1 and B to A. Example: 7B to 8A
  • You can go -1 and A to B. Example: 8A to 7B

All of those rules work all of the time.

The following rules may or may not work, but are worth a try. Use your ears to figure out if they make sense in your particular situation:

  • You can go +3 and A to B for a dramatic shift. Example: 5A to 8B. The reverse is true too: 8B to 5A could work.
  • You can go +4. Example: 2A to 6A. Better to check this one beforehand, it’s hit or miss.
Modulating Keys:

Only to be used for a short mix, like a cut or mixing on a part that doesn’t have any harmony, like a break. Trying to do a superposition will result in a key clash. This technique gives the impression of an energy boost.

  • You can go +7 (or -5). That is equivalent to +1 semitone. Example: 1A to 8A or 10A to 5A (remember that this is a wheel, when you go over 12 you start back at 1).
  • You can go +2. This is equivalent to +2 semitones, or one whole tone. This one tends to work better than the previous one. Example: 6A to 8A
  • Conversely, going -7 (+5) or -2 will give the impression of an energy drop. Use wisely.
Using Keylock and Key Adjust

Sometimes nothing will fit. If your DJ software has Keylock, and you have the possibility to adjust the key, you can easily expand your options by changing the key of the incoming track (never touch the one that’s currently playing!)

  • +1 semitone at key adjust is equivalent to +7 (or -5) on the wheel. Example: 10A at +1 semitone is 10+7=17. But this is a wheel and once you get past 12 you are back at 1. So, if the result is more than 12 you subtract 12: 17-12=5A, if you see that the result will be obviously above 12, just subtract 5 instead to simplify matters: 10-5=5A. It’s not rocket science, just a bit of mental math you’ll soon get used to.
  • Conversely, -1 semitone is equivalent to -7 (or +5) on the wheel.
  • +2 semitones at key adjust is +2 on the wheel. Easy!
  • Conversely, -2 semitones is -2 on the wheel.
Using Only Pitch
  • +6% on the pitch fader is equivalent to +1 semitone: +7 (or -5) on the wheel.
  • +12% is +2 semitones or +2 on the wheel.
  • The reverse is true as well.

At the end of the day, use your ears! If it sounds good it sounds good! If it sounds bad it sounds bad!

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