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Harmonic Mixing - What it is and How to Do it

Popularised by DJs such as David Guetta & Carl Cox Harmonic Mixing has been in the news a lot recently, but what is Harmonic Mixing and do you need to learn how to use it?

What is Harmonic Mixing?

Harmonic mixing is a music production technique used by DJs and music producers to seamlessly blend two or more songs together. The goal is to create a smooth and harmonious transition between tracks, which can enhance the overall experience for the audience.

The concept of harmonic mixing is based on the idea of musical keys. A musical key refers to the scale and tonality of a piece of music, and songs that are in the same key will have similar harmonies and chord progressions. When songs are played in succession that are in the same key, they will naturally harmonize with each other and create a seamless transition between tracks.

"Harmonic mixing is like having an extra set of ears. It helps me find the perfect tracks to play next and creates a flow that keeps the dance floor moving." - Carl Cox

One of the key tools used in harmonic mixing is a musical key detection software or app. These programs analyse the musical key of a song and display it, allowing the DJ or producer to see the key of each track in real-time. This information is then used to choose songs that are in a compatible key, ensuring that the transition between tracks will be smooth and harmonious. This is what good DJs have always done, they spent time to learn their music and mixed tracks that complimented each other and sounded good. They were harmonic mixing without realising.

There are several methods used to identify the key of a song, including the use of a musical scale or the detection of specific chord progressions. Some programs also use advanced machine learning algorithms to analyse the spectral content of the music, making it possible to accurately determine the key of a track.

Harmonic mixing is a crucial element in my DJ sets. It allows me to blend tracks seamlessly and create a musical journey for my audience." - Armin van Buuren

Once the key of each track has been identified, the DJ or producer can use this information to make informed decisions about which tracks to play next. For example, if a song is in the key of C Major, the DJ could choose to play a song in the key of G Major, as these two keys have many chords in common and will harmonize well together. In conclusion, harmonic mixing is a valuable technique for DJs and music producers looking to create smooth transitions between tracks and enhance the overall listening experience for their audience. With the help of musical key detection software, it has never been easier to achieve harmonious mixing and take your DJing skills to the next level.

"Harmonic mixing is about more than just blending tracks. It's about creating a mood and atmosphere that takes the audience on a journey through sound." - Nicole Moudaber

How to mix using 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

However, some DJs mix a song diagonally along the Camelot wheel. For example, they can go from 8B to 9A, and the mix will still be smooth. If you are going from B to A, you should add one number, and if you are going from A to B, you should subtract one number.

Each individual key is related, but you will need to experiment for some time before you start mixing songs diagonally. It is important to note that you cannot subtract one number when mixing music from B to A since the scales contain dissonant intervals. Similarly, you cannot add one number to a song when mixing from A to B. Mixing tracks diagonally is an advanced technique and should be practised thoroughly before application.

When you use harmonic mixing, the music becomes more than just a collection of tracks. It becomes a conversation between the songs and the audience." - David Guetta

Another advanced mixing technique to consider is the two-semitone jump. This technique is best used for party mixes since it offers an energy boost. To jump two semitones on the Camelot Wheel, you will have to add two numbers. For example, if you are at 3A, you can jump to 5A. This gives an instant energy boost to your mix. You can also consider going up one semitone. To do this, you will need to skip 7 numbers. Skipping one semitone is riskier and will require a lot of practice. The two-semitone jump also does not work all the time, so you will need to keep your ears open and understand your playlist properly.

By using harmonic mixing, I can create unique and unexpected combinations of tracks that keep my sets fresh and exciting." - Richie Hawtin

Alternatives to the Camelot Wheel

While the Camelot System is a popular and widely-used method for harmonic mixing, there are other systems and approaches that can be used as alternatives or supplements. Here are a few examples:

  1. Key Notation: Key notation is a simple and traditional method for indicating the key of a musical piece. It uses a letter to indicate the note of the key, followed by either "M" for major or "m" for minor. For example, the key of A major would be notated as "A" and the key of D minor would be notated as "Dm". While this system doesn't provide as much information about harmonic compatibility as the Camelot System, it can still be a useful reference for DJs and producers.

  2. Energy Level: Another approach to harmonic mixing is to use the energy level of a track as a guide. This involves selecting tracks that have similar or complementary energy levels, rather than focusing on harmonic compatibility. For example, a DJ might choose to mix a high-energy track with another high-energy track, even if they are not in compatible keys.

  3. Chord Progressions: Some DJs and producers use the chord progressions of a track as a guide for harmonic mixing. By selecting tracks that have similar or complementary chord progressions, they can create smooth and harmonious transitions between tracks. This approach requires a deeper understanding of music theory, but can be very effective in creating a cohesive and musically interesting mix.

  4. Intuition: Finally, some DJs and producers rely on their intuition and experience to guide their harmonic mixing. They may use a combination of the above methods, but ultimately make decisions based on what sounds good to them. While this approach can be less predictable, it can also lead to creative and unexpected mixes that capture the attention of the audience.

You don't have to use Harmonic Mixing in your DJ sets, it just give you a visual representation of what good DJs have always heard and it allows those starting out, without a "good ear", to learn & progress.

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