While most DJs in the world are pre-occupied with getting the latest imported vinyl, having the latest DJ gear, and being the first to play a track, you will not find many DJs mixing by keys.Let’s face it, anything that takes time to understand, learn and practice, is probably not high on the list of a DJ’s priorities. The average DJ is to busy being a star.
For a DJ to take on a challenge such as mixing all night by keys, is to readily admit he or she may not know everything there is to know about mixing… something the average DJ’s ego just won’t admit.
Taking the step beyond BPMs to incorporate the other basics of music, is a task only a true professional DJ would take. For over 20 years there have been a handful of pioneering DJs around the world that have taken the next step into perfection and have managed to be noticed for their DJ skills. You too can become one of those DJs with a little effort, and hopefully this course will help you to achieve your next goal. Harmonic mixing!!
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE MUSICAL TERMINOLOGY IN THE CLASS
A distinct unit of music with an assigned number of beats. The house, techno, trance and progressive dance tracks almost always have four beats to a measure (4/4 time), though rarely tracks are done in 3/4 or 6/8 time. Most songs or tracks are usually built on 8 measure phrases with the chorus containing those 8 measures (sometimes repeating for another 8 measures: 8 + 8), while the verses are often 16 or 24 measures or more in length.
A term used in overlaying records where the DJ mixes in correct musical phrasing, or set of measures. For example, an 8-measure track intro can be neatly overlaid on an 8-measure break.
The tempo is the speed at which musical notes are executed, commonly expressed in the DJ world as the number of beat per minutes.
When a DJ mixes in key, he or she has to work with the PA and the BPM to achieve a harmonically pure mix. You can usually mix within 1 or 2 BPMs differential and still get an excellent mix, but beyond that point a quarter note or an unpleasant dissonance set in. Keep in mind that unless you own a Pioneer mixer with PA, as soon as you pitch a track more than 1.5 + or – on your Technics 1200 MK2 the key can change.
A scale of notes encompassing the entire range of notes within an octave in our Western 12 note system: Ab (A flat), A, Bb (B flat), B, C, Db (D flat), Eb (E flat), F, Gb (G flat), G. I use flat in referring to the individual note and keys for simplification of reference, but note that you can also refer to them with the use of sharp: Ab refers to the same note as G# (G sharp), Bb is the same as A# (A sharp), etc. These notes that can be written as either sharps or flats appear on the piano keyboard as the black notes between the white notes, and are known as accidentals.
The key of a song identifies the family of notes that are found in its particular scale. Though the chromatic scale contains 12 different notes from Ab to G, the individual scale identified with a particular key signature contains only seven different notes. For example, the C major scale contains all 7 different white notes on the piano keyboard: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, whereas the B major scale uses all the black notes, so that five out of seven different notes in it’s scale are flat.
A key change creates a lifting of all music and a chord by a measure degree to create further excitement or musical tension in a song. Modulations most commonly raise the key by a half step or a whole step. For example, the C major family of notes can be lifted a half step to Db major, or a whole step to D major. A song can also modulate from major to minor, or vice versa.
The DJ can create the modulation by mixing from one record to the next from one key to another key by suddenly and cleanly slamming into the next record, “slam” or “slip cue”, or with the help of a 4 or 8 measure (rhythm only) beginnin on the incoming record. For a perfect modulation mix you must remember to never allow the incoming bassline or any type of notes to play on top of the outgoing track that has any type of notes happening.
A section of music where the strong rhythm drop ourt, or in the beginning of a track before the kick drum or heavy percussion begins, such as high hats or any type of ticks or as in the case where the vocals are the only indicators of measured rhythm. Airbeats can be used in overlaying, but be carefull to overlay accuratelyor you may have what is commonly know as a “train wreck” when the kick drum on the incoming track begins.
Three or more musical tones sounding in a combination simultaneously, with the lowest tone usually considered the “tonic” or root of the chord.
The lowest tones heard in a musical arrangement, usually played in house or dance music on bass guitar or a bass synthesizer.
Sounding the musical tones of a chord in a sequence, rather than simultaneously.
A musical tone that would have a pitch found in between any two half steps in the 12 tone chromatic scale. If two record in the same key are mixed with more than 1 or 2 BPM differential between them, the pitches can be thrown off into this middle ground, resulting in a strange sour sound, rather than a harmonious mix.
Accenting of beat or rhythms in a piece of music that are usually unaccented.
HOW TO USE THE KEYS TO MIX
There are probably no two DJs whose format and mixing systems are exactly the same. However, it is quite possible to go on all night with harmonic blend one right after the another. For those DJs who lean toward perfection at any cost, here are a few tips for working with the keys with a maximum number of options.
Try to have as many of your recurrent classics available (with the keys listed). The more records you have with you in the booth, the more options you will have for choosing a track that will work on key.
Always place your records in your crates in ascending BPM order, from slowest to the fastest tempo. Also try to keep a list on a notebook or your laptop computer of all the records available to your. As more and more DJs are using computers to store record lists, if you program your computer with all the alternatives, it will bring up the 16 different categories, I will discuss later, automatically.
Divide the list into the respective keys, working in chromatic order, separating it into two lists based on the minor and major keys. In each “key” category list the respective tracks or songs in ascending BPM order as well. With this system of organization, it’s easy to find an appropriate hansfnic blend by merely going to the appropriate category on the list.
For Example, let say that Plasmic Honey’s “Take My Soul” is playing. It’s on the key of F sharp or G flat minor and the tempo is 137 BPMs. So, all you have to do is glance down at the list on your laptop or notebook and see all the F sharp or G flat minor (tonic) tracks and those that are related harmonically to the tonic key, or B sharp, C minor, and the relative A flat major. You could possible choose to mix into Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” (M’s Bass 2000 mix) which is C minor and clocks at 138 BPM. Try to use the pitch adjustment theory if there is need for it. Then what you will have is very likely a hot mix.
There are still more options. For example, a modulation mix from Gb minor to G minor (a half step), or from Gb minor to Ab minor (a whole step). The best modulations are slip cue slams or an overlay, where the incoming measure of the track have no musical value (only rhythm or percussion). At the appropriate point where the incoming bassline begins, quickly mix out of the first record where the other key leaves off. The result is an uplifting of all notes and chords by one half step or a whole step. It’s an incredible lifting in energy of the dance floor and the customers around the room. Keep in mind that you can easily demodulate as well by using the same theory.
So far I have given you eight possibilities of mixing by keys, and there is still no end in sight. You can also use the “reasonably harmonious” technique by mixing records that have a relative key or what is called in music the perfect fourth and the perfect fifth of the relative major or minor keys. For instance, A major’s relative keys is Gb minor.
Remember that if there are four harmonic keys that work with Gb minor (other songs in Gb minor (tonic) , plus B minor, Db minor, and A major) there are eight half steps key alignment options. Four up and four down. Those this sound complicated? Not really, Gb minor at 126 BPM will mix in key with G minor at 130 to 132 BPM, and at that higher tempo will also mix with C minor, and D minor. It’s as if you moved the Gb minor up to a G minor equivalent at that faster beat. You can also do a half step down mix or you can effectively mix into a much lower BPM. Even if you drop the speed, the mix will sound good because the keys match.
It is admirably complicated and challenging to go through all those options each time you mix, but if you get stuck, you do have 16 different options. That’s a lot of records to mix into in a short time. That’s why I recommend putting the list on your laptop of a notebook. Any song or track that works in the basic harmonic key format, be it a modulation mix or half step alignments will flash on your screen, and that’s got to be a DJs dream come true, beside that beautiful blonde asking your for your phone number in the middle of the night. With this harmonic key system and your computer, you can be assured of one thing… a veteran genius DJ may do as well, but no one will do it any better.
I’m currently subscribed to a service that I have found very effective. In 1998 I discovered a new service called CAMELOT SOUND owned by MARK DAVIS with a service called “Easymix System” as soon as I joined his service I wrote about it on DMA raving about the service because who has the time to find out the BPMs on all records we receive, even less the key. I still receive his services today and most recently Mark suggested that we collaborate on a new service for the Latin DJs and without hesitation we proceeded to put the wheels on drive. Very soon Camelot Sound will be providing the brand new service to Latin subscribers in addition to their existing dance and hip hop services. Hundreds of DJs around the world that want to better their skills and mix to perfection are taking advantage of this service.
Camelot can be contacted by email at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org Their site can be found at: www.harmonic-mixing.com
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