What is Harmonic Mixing - The Ultimate Guide For Beginner DJs

July 19, 2021
Written by
Kieran Wilson & Buster Bennett
What is Harmonic Mixing - The Ultimate Guide For Beginner DJs

What is Harmonic Mixing and how important is it?

Mixing in key, or harmonic mixing, is when we take into consideration the key of the two songs we’re transitioning between when DJing with the aim of creating a more harmonious mix. It's important to know the key of your tracks so you can avoid key clashes where the two tracks clash. The opposite of a harmony it is called dissonance. So, avoid your set sounding bad and start using your keys!

When learning how to DJ from the beginner level there are five main things to learn that make up the five fundamental skills.

The Five Fundamental Skills

Set Preparation
EQing and Blending
Phrasing (timing)
Mixing Harmonically

Why Mixing in Key or Mixing Harmonically is so important...

Every song we hear will sit in a certain key signature. When we mix in key were trying to mix our songs based on this information. If we mix two songs of opposing key signatures we can often end up with a clash of key signatures which often isn’t very pleasing to listen to.

The easiest way to think about this is Karaoke! You can sing the right lyrics but if you don't sing in the right key it sounds awful! With DJing you can do a great beatmatch, blend and have the correct timing but if the keys clash it can also sound awful!

No one wants to be that person! Make sure you're mixing in key!

How to find the key of your tracks

Using software such as Mixed in Key or the key analysis in Rekordbox, Traktor or Serato can help us determine the key signature of our tracks. These programs will give you two options. To view the key in the classical system convert the signature to an alphanumeric key. If you are a trained musician you might appreciate the more complex classical key signature but most DJs will now use the alphanumeric system which does not require any music theory knowledge.

To get the alphanumeric keys on Rekordbox go to the preferences, then click on view, scroll down and select 'alphanumeric' in 'key display format' section. You also need to make sure that when you analyse your tracks you have checked the tick box that says 'KEY'.

You should now see the keys displayed in your playlist as shown here:

Tip: make sure the key and bpm columns are next to each other, drag them into position

How does harmonic mixing work?

The alphanumeric system is based on the Camelot Key Wheel seen below. The wheel helps us understand how different keys are related and which ones sound good together. It's easy to memorise the image because it's just like a clock, with the numbers 1-12. The only difference is there are two rings, the A ring and the B ring.

The A ring represents the minor keys as shown here using the classical names like G Minor or C Minor. The B ring represents the major keys shown here like B-Flat Major or E-Flat Major. If you take piano lessons your tutor will often describe minor keys as sad sounding and major keys as happy sounding. This is quite a simplification, we prefer to think to think of minor keys as sounding more soulful. You'll actually notice with most house and techno playlists the majority of the tracks are minor for this reason.

How does the Camelot Key Wheel show us what keys sound good together?

First choose your starting key. For example, let's say that your first track of your set was 6A. The next track in your DJ set could then be any of the keys next door. 6A to 6B or 6A to 7A or 6A to 5A. However, it sounds more uplifting if you go clockwise so 6A to 7A is better than 6A to 5A. If you work your way clockwise you will have a positive harmonic progression. Later on, you might want to pump up the energy with a bigger key jump. Try going from 6A to 8A (or plus two) for an energy boost! This jump in keys will be more noticeable for the audience and feel more exciting.

The Basic Key Moves using example 6A

6A to 6A - Same key so perfectly matched!
6A to 6B - Minor to Major key change
6A to 7A - Uplifting and positive key change
6A to 8A - Energy boost key change
6A to 5A - Dark sounding or moody key change

And that's not all! There are many other options within the wheel. If you're interested in more complex harmonic moves around the wheel join our one to one DJ course.

What kind of DJs mix in key?

Mixing in key works well in most situations. You will find that it really comes into its own when mixing tracks that are quite melodic or contain a lot of vocals as this is where the key signature is most prominent. Tracks that are more percussive still contain a key signature but are less prominent meaning we can sometimes push the boundaries a little further. If you're not mixing in key try mixing at the end of the track where there is little or no melody, this will help disguise the clash.

Situations where you might consider really paying attention to the key signature of your tracks might be if you’re recording a guest mix or planning a radio show, in these situations it’s really focused on the listening experience, so you’ll want everything to sound smooth and for each track to compliment the last.

It's also very useful when making mash-ups or bootleg remixes with acapella! Make sure your instrumental track and the acapella are the same key for the best results.

On the flip side, mixing harmonically isn’t always the greatest way to work, in a live setting reading the dance floor and tailoring your set to the audience tends to be more important than sticking rigidly to key signatures. Just because a track matches harmonically it doesn't always mean that's what's right for the dancefloor. If you do find yourself in this predicament then there are always techniques you can use to work around this dilemma. If this is something you've encountered or want to know a bit more about mixing in key and how to use it to transform your DJ sets why not get in touch with London Sound Academy and where one of our highly experienced tutors can guide you on everything you need to know about mixing harmonically and more.

View our coursesView MORE posts