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Keyboard Mode Tutorial – Rekordbox

Tone play is a dynamic and interesting technique to transition between songs. Performing them live is a difficult task but the Keyboard mode within Rekordbox Performance makes it easier than ever. With a little bit of musical theory we can easily create live tone play transitions from notes of our tracks.

How Keyboard Mode Works

Keyboard mode manipulates the tone of a track from a set hot cue. The hot cue you select will act as the root note so we recommend placing hot cues on key notes within a track. You can access Keyboard mode in Rekordbox by clicking the drop down Performance Modes menu, this is set to hot cues as default. On a DDJ 400/800/1000 controller it is a secondary function so you can access Keyboard mode by holding shift and press hot cue on the pad mode.

Access Keyboard mode inside the performance modes menu.

To select which hot cue you wish to use you can either press the drop down menu labeled with a hot cue in green or hold shift on the DDJ 800 or DDJ 100 and press Hot Cue again. You know you are in the right mode when the hot cues are flashing. To delete a hot cue, press the cog icon in the software to display a full list of the hot cues, you can delete each one individually from here.

You can change which hot cue you wish to set as the root note by clicking the drop down menu labelled A. You can delete and reset hot cues by pressing on the cog icon.

Keyboard mode allows you to pitch up and down a hot cue by 12 semitones. This allows the DJ the melodic movement of a full octave either above or below from the root note. On a controller with RBG performance pads, the Root Note will show in white, notes above show in red and those below are blue.

The Musical Theory

In musical theory a scale is a group of musical notes organised in ascending or descending order. There a few scales but the main two are called Major and Minor. A major scale uses sharp and major notes which sound happier. The minor scale will typically use more flat notes which gives a darker sound. You can see the key your track is played in within Rekordbox, you may find playing the scale that your track is in will sound better. So for example if your track is Em (E minor) you may want to play the minor scale.

Here we can see that the track is in Em, which means a minor scale would be best suited when playing in Keyboard mode.

How to play a scale on Keyboard Mode

Don’t worry about knowing all the scales off by heart, there’s a simple pattern we can remember to play either scale on keyboard mode. We will base these patterns around the 8 performance pads found on your controller. Remember that the page buttons act in reverse, so the page down button will take you to higher notes and the page up button will access lower notes.

The pattern will start on the root note. Remember this is our hot cue and will show as a white pad on our controller. To play the scale we need to press the pads in the order of the patterns below. This will be done by either playing one pad higher (+1) or missing a pad and playing the next (+2). You can see this in action on a GIF below as Jamie plays the Minor scale.

Here we are playing the minor scale in Rekordbox Keyboard mode. We are on the second step which is +3 semi tones above the root note. On our performance pads this means we have gone +2, +1.

The Major Scale Pattern On Performance Pads – Root Note +2 +2 +1 +2 +2 +2 +1

In Rekordbox software this will appear as: 0, +2, +4, +5, +7, +9, +11, +12

The Minor Scale Pattern on Performance Pads – Root Note +2 +1 +2 +2 +1 +2 +2

In Rekordbox software this will appear as: 0, +2, +3, +5, +7, +8, +10, +12

Here you can see the Minor Scale being played on the DDJ 1000

Try to play these scales quite often, going up and down the scales to build up muscle memory within yourself. Just like a musical instrument it’s much easier to play live when you can remember the scales without hesitation.

Changing Hot Cue Behaviour

Within Rekordbox there are two ways you can have your hot cues behave. The setting you chose will directly affect how keyboard mode responds. You may have noticed in our tutorial video below that when Jamie presses a hot cue in keyboard mode that it only temporarily plays the note whilst he holds the pad. As soon as he releases the track returns to the hot cue. This mode is called Gate Playback. To enable gate playback, head into the preferences and under the controller tab scroll to Hot Cue and enable the Gate Playback when pause is applied option.

We can change the hot cue behaviour in the Rekordbox preferences.

Alternatively if you leave this option unticked you can set the hot cues to play on after you tap them once. Try both settings with keyboard mode and see what works best for you.

You can learn more about changing hot cue behaviour in our dedicated article here:

Video Tutorial

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