A Beginner's Guide to Harmonic Mixing

Learn the key mixing technique to seamlessly blend whole songs, samples, melodies and vocals in your DJ mixes.

A Beginner's Guide to Harmonic Mixing

What is Harmonic Mixing

Harmonic mixing, or mixing in key, is a widely used technique for matching songs to create smooth transitions from one to another. It’s a fundamental DJing skill along with beatmatching, EQing, blending and phrasing. Mixing in key consists of two elements: knowing the key of each song you mix and which keys are compatible. If you ever listened to a mix or mashup where all parts complimented one another and flowed seamlessly, it’s because the DJ utilized harmonic mixing.

Why You Should Mix in Key

The main reason is to create a unified mix and avoid a clash of key signatures that result in dissonance - it’s not pleasing to the ear and can break the whole vibe of your set. Just like in karaoke, when you sing in the wrong key it’s comes off sonically unpalatable.

The key is most prominent in vocals and melodies, so even if you do a correct beatmatching, blending and timing of melodic and vocal-heavy tracks but ignore the key signatures, it will end up in the clash of keys that’s harsh on the ear.

Though harmonic mixing is considered to be an essential tool in a DJ’s arsenal and works well in most situations, it’s not always necessary. Just because a song is a harmonic match to the last one, it may not be the right choice for the dancefloor. Reading the room and tailoring your set to the setting is more important than abiding by the harmonic mixing rules.

Unless you’ve got background in music theory or you’re a seasoned DJ who’s well-versed in the key mixing techniques, it’s hard to harmonically match the songs on the go during your live set. However, you totally should use the techniques for recording mixes and creating mashups.

How to Detect the Key

You can find the key of a song by ear and with the help of specialized software. Pick either but the latter is the easiest way - online services, such as GetSongKey and AudioKeychain, as well as software that has key analysis feature, like Serato, Traktor and MixedInKey. Regardless of which way you choose, it’s recommended to only use one service for all songs. Since various services may use different key letters, you can find yourself in situation where the wrong keys are mixed together and no harmony will be reached.

How to Mix Harmonically

The Camelot Wheel system is a simple and extensively used tool for determining compatible keys. It’s a color-coded system where each key has a code number ranging from one to twelve, like hours on the clock. Every number has two layers on the A and the B rings. The A ring represents minor keys and the B ring is for major keys.

The Camelot Wheel.

Select the first song for your mix and find its key on the wheel. In order to find suitable key for next song, you can go up, down and across the wheel from the first song’s key, but not diagonally.

For example, your first track is in 7A, so the next song’s key may be:

7A → 7A - the same key, always a perfect match

7A → 7B - the minor to major key change

7A → 8A - uplifting key change

7A → 6A - moody key change

You can also use the table by DJProTips with all the possible mixes within the Camelot system:

Current Key    Keys to Mix to

1A                         1A, 1B, 12A, 2A

1B                         1B, 1A, 12B, 2B

2A                        2A, 2B, 1A, 3A

2B                        2B, 2A, 1B, 3B

3A                        3A, 3B, 2A, 4A

3B                        3B, 3A, 2B, 4B

4A                        4A, 4B, 3A, 5A

4B                        4B, 4A, 3B, 5B

5A                        5A, 5B, 4A, 6A

5B                        5B, 5A, 4B, 6B

6A                        6A, 6B, 5A, 7A

6B                        6B, 6A, 5B, 7B

7A                        7A, 7B, 6A, 8A

7B                        7B, 7A, 6B, 8B

8A                       8A, 8B, 7A, 9A

8B                       8B, 8A, 7B, 9B

9A                       9A, 9B, 8A, 10A

9B                       9B, 9A, 8B, 10B

10A                     10A, 10B, 9A, 11A

10B                     10B, 10A, 9B, 11B

11A                      11A, 11B, 10A, 12A

11B                      11B, 11A, 10B, 12B

12A                     12A, 12B, 11A, 1A

12B                     12B, 12A, 11B, 1B


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