A DJ is like a chef. And songs are the ingredients. A good DJ can create a mix that takes people on a journey. A great mix should uplift people, tug at their heartstrings, shock them at times and provoke a serious emotional response. Music really lights up our brains and emotion centers. One way that you can step up to the challenge and move people’s bodies and spirits is to apply music theory to your DJ mixing. Let’s take a look at a few ways of going about this.
Play With Phrases
Most electronic dance music is constructed with phrases, and around 4/4 timing patterns. Some genres like drum and buss, glitch hop, IDM and complextro break these conventions. For the purpose of this blog we’ll be focusing on 4/4 timings.
Four beats make a bar. Most dance music has phrases of four, eight, sixteen or thirty-two bars. Often a subtle change will occur at the start of each phrase. Hi hats come in and out, the bass kicks in or the kick drops out. Learning how phrases work and working them into your mixing is worth doing. That way you can time a drop to come in right at the end of a phrase. This has maximum impact on the listener and when done right can absolutely demolish a dancefloor.
Experiment with Key Changes
All western music is in certain keys. Traditionally, songs in major keys tend to be more “uplifting”, happy and joyous. While minor keys tend to have more contemplative, melancholy or somber vibes. However each major key has a relative minor. This means you can mix in a minor key track if you’re currently spinning the correct major key. You can take a mix from uplifting and joyous and introduce a darker flavour, only to return to the light side again. Dancefloors love this. After all, variety is the spice of life and a DJ mix should be a journey.
There’s some awesome software called Mixed in Key that helps you with this technique.
Playing with Melody
This is great for genres like trance and certain genres of psytrance where melodic lead lines really drive the music. Mixing melodies together, keeping the key of the song in mind, can generate some unique and interesting dancefloor artifacts. Just remember to tweak your levels as you do this. For example, if you have two high-pitched lead lines at once you might want to cut the bass slightly to allow them room to breathe. Or reduce the level of one to make one more prominent!
Experiment and Have Fun!
Even if you make some mistakes along the way, it’s all part of the learning process. Enjoy yourself and have a good time!