The Camelot wheel used for harmonic mixing

Harmonic Mixing: Intro

There’s no limit to perfection, and this applies to DJing just as well as to any other craft. DJs are constantly on a lookout for new ways to make their sets more captivating, to direct the energy of the dancefloor and to work the crowd better. Harmonic mixing is just one of such ways. It’s a secret weapon of many superstar DJs, which leaves a lot of folks who have never heard about it wondering why those guys’ sets sound so damn good.

So what is harmonic mixing exactly? Even if you’ve mastered beatmatching, phrase matching and are an EQing pro, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of tracks just don’t fit together melodically. Listen to this transition, a pretty typical one:

Do you hear how the old track’s tinkling is out of tune with the new one’s chords, and how, instead of getting the tracks to compliment each other, the DJ ends up with a sour sounding blend? This is particularly noticeable between 00:16 and 00:31, where the new track is laid on top of the old one. You may want to listen the sample again to notice it – that’s how much we’re used to hearing key clashes in a lot of DJ sets.

At the same time, such clashes can be deliberately avoided. Here’s an example of another track fitting together well with the first one so that even a long transition sounds easy and natural. Hear the difference?

The secret here is in the musical keys of the tracks being mixed, and how well they go together. If you know the keys of two tracks, you can make a very educated guess as to how well they will come together melodically. And if you master a bit of music theory, you’ll be able to choose the next track of your set so that it’s guaranteed to work with the previous one. This is what harmonic mixing is all about.

In order to learn how to mix harmonically, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the basics of music theory that deal with notes, keys and scales. You’ll also have to sweat a bit, too, in order to master finding the key of a song by ear. No worries, though – I’ll make the learning as easy and painless as possible so you can take your DJing skills to a new level in no time. Let’s go!

Next up: The Basics of Keys

About the Author JM

JM has played open-air gigs, shared the stage with the likes of ATB and had mix albums released commercially. He has been teaching DJing since 2008.

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