How to Mix in Key: A Step by Step Guide

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How to Mix in Key: A Step by Step Guide

By Ferdi Vol

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Mixing in key or harmonic mixing is one of those things that you should at least know what it does. If you apply it to your sets is all yours. It's a common technique often used by DJs and some even say it's the holy grail.

So, what is mixing in key or harmonic mixing? Mixing in key or harmonic mixing is a technique used by many DJs to smoothly transition between songs by having both songs in the same key which means that both songs sound well together and people will barely notice the transition because it is so smooth.

If you want to watch a video about mixing in key you can watch the following video below. If you want some more information you can read further in this article and we will also discuss if you should even mix in key and how to do it correctly and what software to use to find the right key of a song.

What is mixing in key

Mixing in key is a technique used by many DJs to make smooth transitions because the songs match well together.

Mixing in key exists of 2 parts, the first part is knowing what key your song is and the second part is knowing which keys are compatible with mixing. If you want to know more about how you can detect the right key for your songs you can read near the end of this article where I will show you different software that can detect the right key.

Lastly, I will show you the exact steps for mixing in key. This is both done for the traditional way and the way I do it most of the time.

How to mix in key

Before we move on to detecting the right keys for your songs its important to know how to exactly mix in key and when you should mix in key.

Circle of Fifths

The evolutions of mixing in key might come from the circle of fifths that is something that was used to teach Western-style polyphonic compositions in the 17th century. If you want to know more about the circle of fifths you can out the article from Wikipedia that goes into a lot of detail.

Camelot wheel

For mixing in the correct key we will be using the Camelot wheel. Its a visualization to easily find your way with mixing in key. On this particular wheel, the letters match those of a clock and that will help you with remembering the Camelot wheel and being able to visualize it. Because the letters and numbers are in chronological order it's really easy to know what goes together well.

The Camelot wheel is thus made up of 12 numbers ranging up from 1 to 12. Every number has 2 layers that exist of an A or a B. The A stands for minor and the B stand for major keys. Every key also has a certain color associated with it. Be aware that different wheels and notations might have different letters or colors. This particular one is that the software mixed in key uses which we will talk more about at the end of the article.

I will explain to you how to mix in key with an example that is showed in the picture above. The key takeaway is that when you have the current key of your song you might only go to a song with the same key or that has either, the same number with the other letter (From A to B and from B to A) or the same letter a number higher or lower by 1 position in the Camelot wheel (From 12 to 11 or from 12 to 1). The example used in the picture is the key 8A which allows you to mix to 8A, 8B, 7A, or 9A.

So, you can mix from the current key to another song with the same key

Or you can mix to other songs with a key with a lower or higher number but the same letter

Or finally, you can mix to the same number but another letter

I have made a table below with all the possible mixes within the Camelot system. This can be handy at first, but try to remember where you can mix to (same key, the other letter, or 1 number up or down). So you can use this with every key notation there is.

Current KeyKeys to mix to
1A1A, 1B, 12A OR 2A
1B1B, 1A, 12B OR 2B
2A2A, 2B, 1A OR 3A
2B2B, 2A, 1B OR 3B
3A3A, 3B, 2A OR 4A
3B3B, 3A, 2B OR 4B
4A4A, 4B, 3A OR 5A
4B4B, 4A, 3B OR 5B
5A5A, 5B, 4A OR 6A
5B5B, 5A, 4B OR 6B
6A6A, 6B, 5A OR 7A
6B6B, 6A, 5B OR 7B
7A7A, 7B, 6A OR 8A
7B7B, 7A, 6B OR 8B
8A8A, 8B, 7A OR 9A
8B8B, 8A, 7B OR 9B
9A9A, 9B, 8A OR 10A
9B9B, 9A, 8B OR 10B
10A10A, 10B, 9A OR 11A
10B10B, 10A, 9B OR 11B
11A11A, 11B, 10A OR 12A
11B11B, 11A, 10B OR 12B
12A12A, 12B, 11A, OR 1A
12B12B, 12A, 11B OR 1B

Why should you mix in key

Lots of people say that mixing in the right key is absolutely essential. Others say it doesn't matter a lot because people might even notice that you're actually mixing. Either way, there are a few reasons that people want to mix in key.

Blending better than only beatmatching

Beatmatching ensures a smooth transition with your mixes. But that's not everything that comes to the table. Having the right key is just as important as having your tracks beat matches to each other to ensure a smooth transition.

Just like you should use your ears with beatmatching you should also use your ear when transitioning and matching keys. This way you will learn valuable skills which let you understand music in another way.

Keep people engaged with the current vibe

When you have your vibe going crazy on the dancefloor it's a good idea to keep it that way for some time because that will keep people happy and dancing. The way this can be done is by playing the same key or near the same key after your current song or by having the energy level the same (more on that later).

Up the vibe by playing in another key

When you feel like the vibe isn't at the right level it's useful to not stay in the same key and try to fiddle around with it to make sure people will get in the right mood and vibe so they can enjoy themselves and come to the dancefloor.

When to mix in key

Lots of people differ from the way they think correctly mixing is. However, I think that there's something that's more important than mixing in the right key and that is choosing your energy level. So, I will give my own take on this.

Sometimes your goal is not to have the smoothest possible transition

Smooth transitions are very nice but something your goal is not to have the smoothest transition possible. Sometimes you want your crowd to notice that you're mixing or they will just feel like they're stuck in the same music for an extended period of time.

Knowing your music and matching songs is something that will let you control how your transitions will be and make sure you will keep the crowd energized and interested. This means that picking the right track for the right moment might become more important than mixing in the correct key.

Detect and choose your energy level

Detecting the right energy level can be done by ear but you have to be very experienced to do this. The best software to do this is Mixed in Key which detects both keys and energy levels (more on that below).

When you want to change the dynamic of the dancefloor the most important thing to do is change the energy level rather than the correct key. After you have detected every energy level of your songs you can choose the right energy level for the dancefloor at that time.

Do you want to let them rest a little or chill, choose a lower energy level, do you want an energetic dancefloor then you can mix in songs with some more energy. You will have a selection of songs with the correct energy levels and you're ready for the next thing.

Pick the closest key to the right spectrum or keys that are in the right spectrum

After you have selected the correct energy level that you want to use it's now time to look at the keys of those songs and choose 1 that matches the currect key or closest matches the current key of the playing song. This is how I often mix and gives some perspective on when to exactly mix in key.

How to detect the right key

The human ear can detect keys but there's a lot of software out there that can detect the right key of a song for you. Something to note, however, is that you should always detect your songs with 1 type of software. This is due to different software programs using different key letters (and colors). So, make sure that you use 1 type of software for your music library or you might mix the wrong keys together.

DJ Software

Traktor

If you a visual guide about mixing in key on Traktor you watch the video below. It also shows some nice mixing to listen to while he's explaining the different steps.

Traktor uses the open key notation which is different from the Camelot system. I have provided a combined picture of the Camelot system and the open key notation below.

Camelot system and open key notation

Mixed in Key software

Mixed in Key is the industry-leading software for detecting the right key for your songs. I use it and many other DJs in the world use it for good reason. If you want to know more about the Mixed in Key software please click on the link.

A wonderful feature that I often use is the energy level detection because I find that just as important as mixing in the correct key. Not many software programs detect energy levels but Mixed in Key does it and does it correctly.

They also offer great software for lots of other things useful for DJs and producers. If you want to learn more today please check out their guides as well.

Exact steps to mix in key

Default way

Step 1: Analyse your songs to tag them with the correct key

Its mandatory to have your songs tagged with the correct key before you can use them to mix in key.

Step 2: Enable keylock

Enable keylock in the DJ software you are using (sometimes your DJ controller has a button built-in). This will make sure that when you're altering the BPM of the song the key stays the same.

Step 3: Choose a song that is near the same BPM

Step 4: Choose the right song within the allowed keys

Step 5: Use your headphones and ears to check

Choosing energy level over the right key

Step 1: Analyse your songs to tag them with the correct key and energy level

Apart from only tagging your songs with the correct key for this method to work you will also need your songs to be tagged with the correct energy levels.

Step 2: Enable keylock

Step 3: Choose a song that is near the same BPM

Step 4: Choose the right song with the desired energy level

Step 5: Choose the song with a key closest to the original

Step 6: Use your headphones and ears to check

More Info

How to mix as a beginner DJ? If you want to try out your first mix with your DJ controller you can check out the following article about how to mix which is a step by step guide. This will help you complete your first mix and be the start of you being able to start mixing fast.

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About the Author
Ferdi Vol is a DJ that is active for several years. His mission is to help people become a better DJ. If you want to read more about Ferdi Vol you can click on the button below
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