DJ COURSE

Mix in Key & the Camelot wheel

Mix in Key & the Camelot wheel

What does it mean to mix in a harmonic key? What does it mean for a DJ to make passages with songs in different keys? How can the Camelot wheel help?

INDEX

  • Premise
  • What it means to mix in key
  • How to identify the key in a track
  • The Camelot Wheel
  • The effects of an in-key mix and the different ways of passing from one key to another
  • Conclusions

Premise

The basic premise when it comes to mixing in key is that: IT IS NOT STRICTLY NECESSARY TO MIX ALL THE TRACKS IN KEY.

Although a DJ set in key is often synonymous with a high-quality mixed sequence, it is not an essential condition for the success of a DJ set.

In fact, very often it is not necessary to mix two tracks ’in key’ for a change to be of good quality and ’aesthetically pleasing’. Rather, it is essential for DJs to ask themselves the question: is it better to choose the next track according to the logic of harmonic compatibility, or to put on the right track for the dance floor?

What it means to mix in key

Mixing in key simply means composing a sequence mixed between tracks in ’compatible’ harmonic keys, following the rule of the Circle of Fifths.

How to identify the key of a track

To date, various tools are available for identifying the harmonic key of a track: from specialised software (such as Mixed In Key), to the functions offered by mixing software such as the analysis of tracks offered by Rekordbox, Serato or Traktor, or even the latest generation modular CDJs that have this analysis function integrated into their firmware.

The Camelot Wheel

The Camelot Wheel is an ingenious way to learn or review the rule of the circle of fifths, in a simple and intuitive way.

The Camelot wheel is divided into:

LETTERS: letters distinguish between major (B) and minor (A), arranged in two rings.

NUMBERS: each number is accompanied by the respective letter, in segments around the ring.

COLOURS: to help the user to distinguish the ‘compatible keys’ at a glance

How do you read a Camelot Wheel? Once we know the combination of NUMBER and LETTER, we can then move on to the Camelot Wheel. Let’s assume that we have our track in 9A, we can move on the same letter A (therefore always in the ring of minor keys) but moving higher and lower than the previous one. So, from 9A you can go to 8A and 10A. Furthermore, you can move from the minor A key to the major B key without altering the number. So, from 9A we can go to 9B.

The effects of an in-key mix

Below we briefly explain what it means to mix in key, and what impact this type of mixing has on the listener:

  • Mix in the same key: if the tracks are perfectly compatible it will seem as if the tracks are a single composition.
  • Mix by raising the key by one point: the tracks remain in harmony. The effect on the track is to increase the energy, as in a crescendo.
  • Mix by decreasing the key by one point: the tracks remain in harmony; the track will not have the sensation of a crescendo but the change will be perceived by the dance floor.
  • Scale change from minor to major (e.g., From 7A> 7B – D min.> F Maj): this is a type of harmonic mixing where the change of energy and mood for the track will be self-evident.
  • Change of note but in the same ring: changing key in the same ring (I.e., remaining in major or minor) is always a “clean” change and also in this case the change of mood will be perceived by your listeners. 
  • Move 3 notes anti-clockwise on the same ring: this change will be pleasant and will give a good increase of energy on the track (e.g., 12B> 9B – E Maj> G Maj) 
  • Modulation Mixing: moving to the opposite side of the ring by increasing 7 steps on the Camelot wheel. This type of transition is suitable if you perform on outro or intro that does not contain melodic elements (such as basses, pads, leads) but which only have rhythmic parts with drums and possibly percussion. This mix will give an increase in energy to the track.
  • Energy Boost Mixing – moving two steps clockwise on the same ring (e.g., 6A> 8A – G Min> A Min): this type of transition will give the kind of tension to the crowd known as: “Hands in the air” 
  • Changing ring, also increasing or decreasing by a note (5B> 4A – E-Flat Maj> F min): this is the best method to go from a major to a minor key and vice versa. 

Conclusions

To conclude, it is not always necessary to make changes between songs in compatible keys, but it is an interesting exercise, as well as an excellent tip for being able to make dynamic changes during a DJ set.

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