How To Quadruple Your "Next Tune" Options When Mixing In Key


Using this ingenious wheel devised by a Digital DJ Masterclass student, you can quadruple your options when key mixing in Virtual DJ or Traktor (download a PDF using the link in the text).

Harmonic mixing - mixing in key - is one of the greatest things about digital DJing. While it's possible to harmonic mix on all DJ gear (it's about finding music that matches harmonically, it's actually nothing to do with digital per se), digital has made it easier - so much so, in fact, that anyone with an ear for what sounds good can now produce great harmonic DJ mixes without any musical theory knowledge whatsoever.

But despite the fact that digital music can now be harmonically analysed by software to work out the underlying musical key, and that digital DJ systems can "lock" the key of a track so the pitch doesn't change when the tempo does, one of the limitations when you're looking to play a DJ set that's harmonically matched is that only a small number of tunes in your collection are going to match with the tune you're currently playing. There are 24 musical keys in Western music and only four are wholly compatible with any tune you may happen to be playing, hence only one-sixth of your collection is in contention for a potential key mix at any one time.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel as far as opening up more music in your collection to potential key mixes, though, and that is the key change knob on certain DJ software, such as Traktor and Virtual DJ. As it is possible to alter the musical key of a tune up or down one or two notes (technically, one or two "semitones"), without the sound quality getting affected too much (any more and artefacts tend to get introduced into the sound making the results undesirable), you can instantly multiply the number of potential mixing options with other tunes in your collection just by turning a knob on your software screen.

The trouble is, one of the trade-offs of the new notation systems that allow mere mortals to instantly spot potential compatible key mixes (the dominant system being the Camelot Wheel; Traktor has its own variant on the Camelot Wheel called Open Key, but it follows the same principle) is that once you start "moving" the musical key up an down a semitone or two like this, it's not clear any more where you've moved the tune to on the notation system, and thus what tunes it will now mix with. And that's where the solution we've got for you today comes in.

Ferdinand's Key Change Wheel

Using this key change wheel, produced by Digital DJ Masterclass student Ferdinand Van Wijnen, you can instantly look up what key you're moving a track to when using the key knob on Virtual DJ or Traktor or any other DJ software with an equivalent feature (alas, it's not reached Serato yet), and from there use the usual rules to work out the compatible keys for your next mix. All you need to do is ensure keylock is on, and make sure you understand how the Camelot Wheel works and how to get Camelot Wheel notation to show on your DJ software.

This strip version could be printed out and laminated for an instant reference when you're out and about DJing... again, there's a download link in the text.

This strip version could be printed out and laminated for an instant reference when you're out and about DJing... again, there's a download link in the text.

As far as the latter requirement goes, in Virtual DJ it's a simple preference change, and in Traktor you've got three options: Show existing Mixed In Key information by selecting "Key Text" in your library (if you are a Traktor user who still uses Mixed in Key for key work, you need do no more); alter the chart to show Traktor notation instead (the principle is the same); or if you want to get really clever, run this script to convert Traktor's Open Key analysis to the Camelot Wheel. Once you've done this, you're ready to quadruple your options when key mixing instantly!

What's more, Ferdinand has also produced a "strip" version of the chart that you can print out, laminate and perch near your DJ controller when mixing to be able to instantly refer to it while in the mix. Download the strip version here.

If you've got a basic grasp of key mixing this should have all made sense to you, but if not, don't worry - we're working on a brand new DJ course to teach key mixing from beginner to advanced - watch out for that. Meanwhile, if you want to get our Digital DJ Masterclass training when it next opens, you can sign up here to be the first to know.

Do you use the key change knob on your DJ software? Do you think you'll find this chart useful to help you try more varied key mixes? Please share your thoughts in the comments...

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  1. Parafinn says:

    key change link broken phil

  2. DJ Vintage says:

    And another reason to use Cross :-). Cross has a very easy way to change key (semitones up or down) and in the player the key notation will change immediately. So when you go up or down one semitone you instantly see the new key.

    Better yet, in the browser all compatible tracks (harmonically matching one up/down or A/B) are marked in orange (all other text is in white) and are easily visible as potential next tracks.

    And the kicker is, when you change the key of the track in the player the list changes accordingly. So suddenly different tracks are highlighted as harmonically compatible.

    I am so gonna stick to Cross, LOL.

  3. Alchemy432 says:

    will check all this out properly tomorrow after sleep and when I'm sober again, just wanted to drop a quick comments and say cheers to ddjt for the article and a massive thanks to the student who came up with this invention.. very very cool :)


  4. PennyStock says:

    Or you can make it easier... Just mix directly into a track that is on the key you would have change into, without changing any key. It will work harmonically, and at the same time you will be making an energy boost or drop, depending if you mix into a track with a higher por lower note...

  5. Hi guys,
    I developed my own system - easy to remember, you don't need papers, you just need to use this easy formulas:

    OK - original key
    +1: (OK + 7 x 1) mod 12
    +2: (OK + 7 x 2) mod 12
    +X: (OK + 7 x X) mod 12
    -1: (OK + 5 x 1) mod 12
    -2: (OK + 5 x 2) mod 12
    -X: (OK + 7 x X) mod 12

    I hope it helps you :-) Enjoy...

    • DJ Vintage says:

      Uhm ... this means calculating ... might be a problem for some. Whereas following a chart is way easier for most :-)

      • Alchemy432 says:

        agreed.. its like trying to tune a synth/keyboard to just intonation... all the tutorials use ratio's or cents figures.. fine for those that know how.. but as a noob to the concept I just wanted a chart of frequencies to tune the notes too... I've been learning bout it for a year now and only just figured out the equations I had to learn.. on the plus side.. I can now make a frequency chart myself to help other people in the same boat... math has always hurt my brain.. just not wired for it.. πŸ˜›

  6. Interesting topic.

    In my personal opinion, I there is a much easier way to get the same perfect harmonic mixing.Why not using the ears and the key change knob ?? πŸ˜‰ ... That's the way I do always, don't need this circle or stripe.

    I love to mash up songs during DJing on the fly, so harmonic matching is very important for me. So mostly every time before I fade in any (!) new song I use the 'key change knob' of the new song and test 0, -1, -2, +1, +2 (in this sequence), this needs less then 10 sec and you can hear immediately which one works best! And my experience, one of them works nearly always... And in the circle above you can see why: ..

    4 works always (!) with 9,11,2,6 when you use key change knob +/- 2
    4 also works many times with neighbor 3 (means also to 8,10,1,5 using key change knob) and last not least
    4 works many times with neighbor 5 (and 10,12,3,7)
    => in summary e.g. 4 works mostly with ALL (if ! you search in the range of 4 half tone steps with the key change knob)

    Details: If the song still do not sound well together, then mostly because there is a misunderstanding of the Camelot circle. All neighbors are not exactly the same ... e.g 4 differs in one tone (of 12 tones) compared to 3 or 5. And if this one 'wrong' tone is important or prominent in the fade in song, you can hear this mismatch ... again an argument why the ear should win, not the Camelot theory πŸ˜‰ ... And last not least I avoid to jump between minor to major keys (in the example above), means keep A or keep B in Camelot system (minor and major sound different, well knowing that the tones can be the same)

    And my personal opinion (ok I'm a musician): i prefer musical notation, it's much easier to see that e.g. "F minor" is 1 half tone below "F# minor" ... So i know before listening that I need to choose -1 on the key change knob. Using Camelot (same example): 4A is one half tone deeper then 11A (much more difficult to see). If you not a musician, I would propose to store both (musical and Camelot key) into the key or comment mp3 tag (mixed-in-key or key-finder support both)

    My coin πŸ˜‰ ... Does anybody have the same workflow I have ?

    • whilst I am amazed at the intricacies and the skills of the people involved in this notation graph and wheel and whatnot, I can't help but think we are overcomplicating things and that Kalo has the right idea.
      Using your ears is the right way in my opinion. Maybe I am missing something? I do see that if you are using loops and samples in the remix decks or something, then having a list of musically keyed loops to pick from can speed up selection and be very useful.
      I just find that by changing the key of a track you can lose the integrity and the original feel of the track, especially with vocals.
      Maybe it's just that I'm lazy, but I just feel that we are creating more work than we need to?

  7. Interesting topic πŸ˜‰ great.

    In my personal opinion, there is a much easier way to get the same perfect harmonic mixing. Why not using the ears only combined with the key change knob ?? That's the way I do always, don't need the circle or stripe, but need the key chang knob.

    I love to mashup songs during DJ'ing on the fly, so harmonic mixing is very important to me. So mostly every time when I fade in any (!) new song, I use the 'key change knob' for the 'fade in' song and test 0,-1,-2,0,+1,+2 (exactly in this sequence). This needs less than 10 seconds and I can hear immediately which one works best.! And what I learned: one of this 5 options works nearly always .... and the circle/stripe in this blog tells us why:

    4 works always(!) with 9,11,2,6 (when I use the key change knob to select the best)
    4 also works many times (details below) with neighbor 3 (which means also with 8,10,1,5 using key transpose)
    4 works many times with neighbor 5 (and 10,12,3,7)
    -> in summary: e.g. 4 works mostly with ALL (if ! you search in the range of four half tone steps -2 ..+2)

    Details: If the song do still not sound well together, then mostly because there is a misunderstanding of the Camelot (or Open Key) circle. The neighbors are not exactly same ... e.g. 4 differs in one tone (of 12) compared to 3 or 5. And if this 'wrong tone' is important or prominent in the 'fade in' song, you can hear this mismatch ... again an argument why the ears should win ... not any Camelot theory ;). Also this 'improved' circle or stripe has this problem.

    What I also learned: I avoid to jump from any 'minor' scale to 'major', means 4A is NOT same to 4B, the tones are the same, but often the mood and flavor is so different. Also the example above (and the message 'one works always' using -2 ..+2 key knob position) works only without jumping between major and minor. btw: most EDM songs are in minor, so I avoid major at all πŸ˜‰

    And my personal opinion (ok, I'm also a musician ;): I prefer the musical notation, it's so much easier to see that e.g. "F minor" is 1 half tone below "F# minor" ... so I already before I load the song, that I have to set the key change knob to 1. Using Camelot in the same example: 4A is one tone deeper than 11A (this is much more difficult to see). If you not a musician, I would at least propose to store and display both (musical and Camelot key info) into the key tag or comment mp3 tag (mixed-in-key or keyfinder support a combination).

    That's all about the way I work, maybe not for you ... so does anybody use the same workflow I described ?

  8. DJ Vintage says:

    Yes, life is MUCH easier when you are a musician. I am not and I have a hard time mastering the key system (I know how it works, but that is a far cry from reading it like it was text).

    But I CAN count up and down one. So for me the Camelot wheel is a godsend. And if musicians prefer other notations, then that is fine of course. Everyone should use what they feel works best for them.

    I know some DJ software (Cross for example) allows you to choose which notation to use. Personally I would not want musical key info shown, it would only confuse me.


    • Yes you are right ... But also if your are not a musician, this workflow works well:
      In summary:

      .. use the ears and the key change knob only: In first step I search for a song with the exact same musical key or musically close like Fminor and F#minor (for F#using key change knob later) if i can't find such a song I use ANY minor song I want. After loading into the deck I test key change knob 0,-1,-2,0,+1,+2 during pre-cueing in the headphones, select the best value, needs 5-10 sec only). Works fast, no need for any cirles/stribes/paper close my laptop πŸ˜‰

    • Yes you are right, but also if you not an musician, it's easy to find a perfect matching song without any theory ... The combination ear + key change knob works perfect. Here how you could proceed (maybe was unclear in my 'large text' above :) ...:

      I first step I search for a song with exactly the same key (call it Fminor or 4A), if i can't find any song I choose ANY(minor or A) song I want. After loading into the deck I test key change knob 0,-1,-2,0,1,2 during pre-cueing in the headphones, select the best value (you can hear which one is perfect) ... Done in 10 fast, no need for any circles, stripes,paper or calculator πŸ˜‰

    • Alchemy432 says:

      my understanding is that key changes in the context of djing refer the the root/fundamental tone, beyond that is kind of irrelevant/needlessly complicated.

      when composing songs in a traditional manner, there's a chord progression that is like the backbone, and determines what notes can be used for melody, thing is though, theres like 5+ 'modes' of any given scale for any given key.

      if the chord progression is in the key of A Major, the 'scale' can be A Major scale, i.e. a set of notes that can be used to make a melody and will match the chord progression harmoniously, but you have the different modes, each with a different set of notes, e.g. A Major scale in Lydian mode.

      when writing a song, you can switch from one mode to another many times within a song, and some of the 'scales' from one key can be used over the top of chord progressions in other keys too. so the options are pretty endless, and to be honest, most musicians write the song by ear first, then work backwards to figure out what key they've just written in, because to memorize the whole complex system is difficult, and limits creativity.. its like painting by numbers imho... sometimes songs are never related back to the keys/scales/modes until someone who knows how translates it to sheet music. take 'hey joe' by jimi hendrix, people have been debating what key that song is in for decades. Jimi just used his ears.

      also switching back and forth from major to minor is very common in song writing, so it really wouldn't be hard to play a song that start in major, then when it switches to minor, mix in a song that starts in minor, then when that song switches back to major, mix in major tunes again.. and in my personal opinion, that would sound and feel much more entertaining and interesting that avoiding major/minor all the time.

      especially with edm as you're already confined to a 4 beat rhythm in 4/4 with a 1st beat emphasis.. at least with D&B the emphasis is on the off-beat, i.e. the snare.. which creates a rolling perpetual groove..

      that's my 2 cents anyways...

      • This is basically moving the "root" so you can then mix more music - as you outline it can get needlessly complex past that, and as we always say - trust your ears, and these are tools, not rules...

      • Yes Alchemy you are right πŸ˜‰ ... There are more than only minor or major, modern music modes like Lydian, Dorian, Myxolydian ... But i did not want to confuse all non musicians πŸ˜‰ ... There are e.g 3 major and 4 minor scales for each tone, not only A or B ...;), also jumping from Cmajor to Aminor is not same as Aminor to Amajor (the second one is sometimes very intersting), but all this you can't see in Camelot, that's the reason I don't like these numbers at all.

        But my message was much simpler to all non musicians:
        using the ears and check a range of 4 half tone steps with the key change knob -2 to +2... This works so many times in DJ'ng and mashup on the fly. so no need to be afraid for all DJs, test it, forget theory and circles and enjoy ... As Jimmy did πŸ˜‰

        • Alchemy432 says:

          Interesting stuff Kalo, thank you for the reply. Yes, I am more one of those musicians who work backwards and uses the ears, my post above was more or less the limit of my knowledge on the topic lol, I find it all confusing myself :) I do very much look forward to learning my way around the camelot wheel and its variants though and hope I didn't discourage anyone from the system, it is indeed much easier to learn then the music theory counterpart and surely worth any dj's time to explore. Peace!

    • Hi DJ Vintage, yes you are right , but also as a non musician it's so easy to find a perfect matching song without any theory ... the combination a) ear and b) key change knob works perfectly.

      Here how you could also proceed (maybe was not clear in my 'large text' above;) - that's how I do:
      In first step search for a song with the exactly same key (call it 4A or Fminor, don't care). Always the best. If you can't find such a song then choose ANY song (in A), don't care about any keys (keep only the minor/A because the first was also A). After loading into deck test the key change knob 0,-1,-2,0,1,2 during pre-cuing in the headphones, select the best value (you can hear in few seconds which one works best) ... mostly works very well... that's what the stripe tells us at the end. So I don't need any circles, stripes, paper, or calculator ;))

  9. I don't know if I'm right but the chart for download (x4) seems wrong, Phil!
    Following the Camelot Wheel A and B positions (in and out respectively > it says that the outer notes are B and the inner are A...

    The rule on the new chart explains that if you change 12A +1.00 you get 7A! Isn't it 7B?
    Same for 2B in the chart logic, that making it -2.00 it turns to 12B when according to the Camelot Wheel, it should be 12A...

    I'm confused! Hahahaha Help? Thank you guys!
    And congratulations, very interesting post!! πŸ˜€

    • Doesn't A / B have to do with Major key or Minor key? Moving a whole tune up +1 semitone or down -1 semitone wont change the key from major to minor, so it would stay either an A or a B.

    • vasenpolvi says:

      Pitching the tone does not change the "mood" from sad to happy i.e from A to B. It just plays the same steps / tones from a different start point. By a change from B to A will require a one note to be detuned in a major chord to become a minor chord. Most ears can detect this (the boring stuff done with)

      Two weeks ago I did a moving wheel on the idea of Camelot wheel that has a slotted top revolving surface. I states zero and one semitone change +1,0, -1possibilities only. I could have done it to cover two semitone changes but the holes in the upper spinning disc would have become quite complex to make. Maybe next time with some re-engineering I'll do it. The base of this tool is the fixed Camelot Wheel. It fits nicely into my CD holster.

      Now I can choose fast a notation B or A from the outer or inner ring and at least see the III common matching neighbors, and respective minor and major keys (subtract 3 and change B to A and vice versa 6B-->6-3=3, thus 3A), but as well +/- 5 hours ccw/cw that require only one semitone adjusting (this being well in the limits of most Dj-software). [Please someone speculate SERATO pitch issues and plans here as SERATO was build on a pro pitch-tool]

      This comes quite handy if I now choose the next upcoming tracks to be matching neighbors. Let us say I am far from a song or songs I want to play soon. I can navigate by one semitone change easily to the other side of the wheel where my target is. f.g. towards 4A and 5A.

      This is how it computes; coming from the region 9A ccw+1=4A and 12A cw -1= 5A (there is a gap of II between 9 and 12). Nine and twelve being 5 apart from their targets. I am an engineer who sang in a choir and I do understand the pain trying to understand even basic musical theory as it is not always that motivating for most of us mere logical people πŸ˜‰ Therefore I spent an evening playing with my mind, scissors, tape, glue, a pin some superglue and clear A4 pocket cover.

      Now that I have played with this idea I found myself learning the logic behind this and soon the toy will be futile just as resistance agains the BORG in StarTrek.

      Now I do not have to think anymore. Maybe I will start listening more. Have fun.

      p.s. I dj on top of a spinning bike and use now IOS7 dj player since it has pitch addj and 4 decks

      • @vasenpolvi:
        Could u drop a picture of your ''scissored, taped, glued, superglued and clear A4 pocket covered moving wheel'' here please?

      • vasenpolvi says:

        So here it is. These are not to be taken literally. Listen first. My wheel indicates the five hour rule *** of one semitone change, the three hour rule ** re major to minor change and the matching neigbors* rule

        Some explanation:

        Inner ring, blue arrowhead indicates minors or A tags (here 9A that go with it's neighbors, 9B but also with 12B**)

        Outer ring, blue arrowhead gives us now the majors (f.g. here 3B) goes with it's neighBors, 3A and also with 12A** <1B ->12B that are five "hours" offset on the other side of the wheel. What if for some reason already matching neigbors* are not enough for you, you can have their *** counterparts from the other side to mach as well, maybe it is merrier over there :)

        The more you play with it the more fluent it becomes in the mind and soon you can go back and forth. Just remember to recover changes to pitch. Listening and trying it on headphones does the trick with not so much effort as many have stated before.

        Nothing fancy but something anyone can do if you feel for it. Have fun with it

        • I definitely love this wheel! I'm going to make my own for harmonic & modulation compatibility this way =)
          But... U mention a 'five hour rule'' i'm not familiar of.
          Could u elaborate?

          • vasenpolvi says:

            I call the one semitone change +1 or -1 of the pitch a "five hour rule" because the resulting tone is expressed by a TAG offset 5 hours in the camelot clock/wheel.

            if you target your way 5 hours backwards around the clock/wheel traveling i.e. counter clockwise it is always a +1 physical addjustment to the tone . In real life this means that you start your C_major merry melody (do re mi fa sol la si do's) from the next black key on a piano key boad C# or Db (same thing both, different notation). On the camelot wheel it is not the next TAG but the one 5 h to the past on the clock. Same applies to -1 and you go 5h to the future of time.

            To put it in another way. You do not target any new camelot TAGs, but choose to make a random,(let us say this time a minus one semitone) change to your track with your software, what will your your new camelot TAG be? Easy! Just go clockwise (remember it is minus one change in the pitch) 5h to the future and you will arrive to your new TAG.

            We are talking about physical changes to the tone i.e. semitones and pitch alterations and we have visual steps or hours on the camelot wheel. Do not get confused. Quite soon the eye starts picking up things as the analog clock and it becomes easier to remember or even see in ones mind that f.g. what is on the opposite side of 3B (9B) so its neighbors 8 and 10 are 5h past or future from startpoint 3 re. pitch bend plus or minus one.

            I did mention the 3h rule as well it too is easy for the eye it is a straight angle 90 degrees visually. No changes to the pitch here since it is the major and minor of the same scale.

            I hope this elaborates to everyone. Make yourself a spinning wheel, play with it a while and soon you do not need it anymore. I work as a coach and do confirm that any aid especially a non static in these kind of things helps the brain to cope fast.

  10. Younez says:

    Completely awesome Phil, I've been looking for a while for extra options apart from the usual one-number-up, one-number-down, change-to-minor-or-major, when mixing in key.
    For me and what I like to do, this is the most useful article almost ever on DDJT.

    Cheers to you, may you continue to LARGE IT at CafΓ© del Mar for many more years to come.

  11. djrizki says:

    Can we get some kind of example for the articles above? i am very *confused ! *scratch head !

  12. Um The problem is using key change on a track can sound horrendous,on lots of tracks even a slight adjustment can sound ridiculous and degrades the sound quality of the track.My fear is lots of newcomers trying this out live thinking it sounds good when the opposite is true.Mixing in key is only a tool there's plenty ways to pull off a really good mix with tracks with incompatible keys.

  13. I like this. Yet, I do this another way. The next three or four main notes over.. From C, I use either an F note or G note. Or I can go two notes back to a minor key. C goes back to A. I use Virtual DJ. This usually works most of the time for me.

  14. michael says:

    glad to see the topic tackled. had my own flow chart and ideas but this is a different approach for me.

  15. This might sounds like a silly question \, but how do you find the key in which your original 'starting' song to you mix is in. Almost none of my songs have a key, and if they do it's not a number like on the chart. Is there some sort of software that can categorise my music into the number 'key' system?

  16. ruhrkraft says:

    What a great tool, thanks so much for sharing! This comes handy exactly at the right time for me..

    PS: links work fine again now, thanks for fixing Phil

  17. Quadrupling the number of tracks available for harmonic mixing sounds like a great option, but I won't be doing it. Trading overall sound quality for more mixing options sounds like a bad deal. If the Key/Pitch Lock or Warp Mode algorithms eventually become transparent, then it'll be a good option. No kidding... I don't even consider myself an 'audiophile', but I can tell the difference on my headphones and on any decent sound-system (in a decent space or outdoors).

    I absolutely LOVE mixing with harmonically compatible songs. It MAKES the mix, even when tempos aren't matched. I use Key Lock in Traktor, while mixing between two songs with different tempos.
    BUT, once I've mixed over to the new song, I turn off Key Lock.
    Key Lock, and the coinciding Key Shifting functionality, drastically affect sound quality. In Traktor Pro 2, the same algorithm as Ableton Live's 'Complex Pro' Warp Mode is used. I can hear the difference; it sounds muffled. Bass frequencies sound dulled, as well as higher frequencies.
    If you can't hear it, put the same track on two different channels in Ableton Live, then invert the phase of one of the channels... one with Complex Pro Warp Mode (Key Lock) on, and the other off... you'll then hear the difference.
    Note, if you DJ with Ableton Live... the ONLY Warp Mode that doesn't affect sound quality at a song's original tempo (aside from Re-Pitch) is the Beats Mode. Even while playing back at the song's original tempo, Complex Warp Mode (as well as Traktor's 'Key Lock' function) affect sound quality at an audibly noticeable level.

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