One of the great things about DJing is that you don’t need to be able to play a musical instrument in order to play great music (in fact, some might argue that a DJ controller is a musical instrument in itself). At the same time, there are certain advantages to understanding some basic music theory, especially when it comes to something like a DJ MIDI keyboard controller. Here are a few essential keyboarding skills that any DJ should learn.
The most basic way to add a DJ MIDI keyboard into your setup is to use the keyboard in the same way you would use a DJ controller. With some basic MIDI mapping, you can set up a MIDI keyboard to control functions such as your transport controls, cue points, pitch/tempo controls, effects controls and so on.
The advantage of using a DJ MIDI keyboard rather than a DJ controller is that it can allow you to control multiple parameters at once. For example, you could control both your pitch and tempo parameters at once by pressing down multiple keys at the same time. This frees up your other hand to control a filter knob, for example, or find a new cue point.
In addition, if you’re used to playing keyboards outside of DJing, just having the feel of keys at your fingertips rather than a bunch of buttons could make the whole DJing process more tactile and enjoyable for you.
While all EDM genres are fundamentally based around rhythmic structures, most will involve some harmonic elements as well. This is where learning some basic piano chords can really help you. Whether you’re producing tracks or simply seeking to understand the music in your DJs sets on a deeper level, developing some basic knowledge about harmony and chord structures can go a long way. This can also help you out when it comes to other aspects of DJing like mixing in key.
On top of learning some basic chords, learning to play some basic basslines and melodies can also go a long way in helping you understand any type of EDM. These skills are also essential if you have any interest in production. Plus, learning some of these basic keyboarding skills can also help you get into other production tools like synths, arpeggiators, and all sorts of other keyboard-based instruments.
The Advantages of DJ MIDI Keyboards
Even if you’re not playing your own basslines or other musical elements using a DJ MIDI keyboard, having a MIDI keyboard in your setup can still present some advantages. For starters, most MIDI keyboards will integrate easily with any DJ software, which means that you can hop between Ableton and Traktor and still use the same MIDI triggers without too much difficulty. Re-mapping controls on a MIDI keyboard is usually a fairly simple task as well, so if you only want to invest in one piece of hardware but want to be able to use it for multiple functions, for example as a DJ controller and as a music production tool, a MIDI keyboard can be a good option.
For more on DJ MIDI keyboards, check in on the blog in the coming weeks for a run-down of the best MIDI keyboards for DJs to buy. And for more tips on how to become a great DJ, check out Spin Academy’s online DJ school, where you can learn everything from how to set up your DJ gear to how to perform DJ tricks like looping and live remixing, all for only $19.95/month.
When you think of EDM right now, some of the first people to come to mind might be European DJs like Tiësto, David Guetta, Hardwell, and Armin van Buuren. DJs from all over continental Europe have played a major role in shaping many EDM subgenres, and remain a dominant force in the world of dance music today. How did European genres become so dominant in EDM? To find out, we need to go back to Germany in the late 1960s.
The Rise of the Synthesizer
In 1967, a German musician named Edgar Froese founded the group Tangerine Dream. Their groundbreaking second album, Alpha Centauri (1970) was a merging of space rock and electronic music that relied heavily on the sounds of keyboards and synthesizers. That same year in Düsseldorf, the band Kraftwerk was founded as an experimental rock band. By 1974, their sound had changed to embrace synthesizers and drum machines.
Kraftwerk’s albums Autobahn (1974), Trans-Europe Express (1977), and The Man-Machine (1978), as well as Tangerine Dream albums like Alpha Centauri (1970) and Phaedra (1974) became important influences for a number of early American house and techno pioneers, and laid the foundations for the rise of electronic music all over the world.
The rise of these European electronic music pioneers paralleled in some ways the rise of disco in the United States, but while disco would eventually take over the mainstream American dance scene, electronic music in Europe stayed decidedly experimental and avant-garde, despite the popularity of many of the pioneering bands in this genre.
Of course, that doesn’t mean disco had no impact at all in Europe. It was, after all, Italian producer Giorgio Moroder who helped Donna Summer record “I Feel Love,” the first electro-disco song to be released in the US.
By the late 1970s, as disco was on the decline in the US, the genre was experiencing a renaissance of sorts in Europe led by groups like ABBA and Boney M. Soon, American disco artists like Donna Summer and the Village People, experiencing resistance in the US, would make the move to Europe to capitalize on the popularity of the Euro disco scene.
The disco craze would eventually die out in Europe as well, and by the 1980s and ‘90s, dance music fans in Europe were looking for new sounds to listen to. Enter artists like Klaus Schulze and Paul van Dyk and the development of Trance music, a highly melodic EDM subgenre based around relatively quick tempos (usually between 125 and 150BPM). Trance in its early days became known for its long build-ups and explosive climaxes, as well as the hypnotizing or “trance” like feel that the music provokes in its listeners.
Early trance music led to the development of a number of EDM subgenres we know today like acid trance, progressive trance, uplifting trance, and hard trance. By the early 2000s, Dutch DJs like Tiësto and Armin van Buuren had become dominant figures in this genre and helped bring European trance into the mainstream EDM culture.
Today, the European EDM scene continues to be dominated by trance music, and European DJs have also been at the forefront of other recent EDM subgenres like tropical house and future house. With the world as connected as it is now, only time will tell what developments in the world of EDM will arise from Europe in the years to come.
Want to become a master of European EDM subgenres like trance and future house? Check out our lesson series on DJ’ing basics to develop the skills you need to master any style of EDM. All of the video lessons in this series, as well as tons of others, are included with a monthly pass to Spin Academy’s ultimate online DJ school.