The first thing you’ll have to do is enable three tracks in Traktor. To do this, open the Preferences, and navigate to the Decks Layout. In the Deck Layout, check the box that says ‘Enable C & D’; you can also choose your preferred deck size here.
You’re In Control
You’re going to need to think about how you’ll navigate and control your third deck. If you've been mixing with two decks, you may need to add another controller. Portable controllers like the Kontrol X1 and the F1 are easy to add to your setup. You may also want to consider a MIDI Fighter with a customized mapping for the additional deck. No matter which device you choose to work with, a controller will give you the freedom to focus on your performance, and allow you to take your hands off your laptop during your set.
Midi Fighter by DJ Techtools.
Now that you’re set up and ready to play, what are you going to use your third deck for? Here are a few ideas that may help you out along the way.
Sync It Up
The sync function in Traktor will really come in handy when you start to dive into three deck mixing. It’s a challenging feat to be able to mix more than two tracks together. You’ll want to select one track as the ‘master’; possibly keeping this master track playing as you mix in and out on Decks B and C. Press the sync button on the other two decks to keep the tempos tightly locked together. Providing you have already set up your beat grids correctly, everything should fall nicely together into place when you mix your tracks.
Use the third deck to add additional elements into your mix by mixing as usual with two decks, and load percussive or melodic loops into your third deck. You can either prepare loops, or use Traktor’s looping capabilities to create loops on the fly.
To use the loop function, simply press the number of bars of loops you would like to engage. (If you’re using a controller, make sure you map the looping function) You may want to start out with a simple four or eight bar loop, a good loop doesn’t have to be long to be effective.
You’ll want to pay attention to how many musical ideas are being added into the blend, and take care not to overload your mix. If you are adding additional beats with the third deck, it’s a good idea to have a mix that’s more minimal playing on decks A and B.
Remixing on the Fly
You could dedicate your third deck to playing acappella vocals, and create your own remixes on the fly.
Here’s an idea for mixing, using ‘stems’ of songs:
- Load up a bass line on Deck A.
- Mix in a percussive track on Deck B.
- On Deck C, bring in the acappella vocal.
- Switch up the percussive groove or bass line to add variation to your mix.
Setting Up with Turntables/CDJs
If your setup includes turntables or CDJs, you may want to use Decks A and B with your traditional DJ setup, and control Deck C with an external controller. This will allow you to do the majority of your mixing on your familiar setup, (as well as any fancy tricks that might require use of the turntables/CDJs) and you can work your way towards incorporating the extra deck into your set.
How about using the third deck to play melodic ideas, and improvise? To do this effectively, you will need to prepare the sounds you’d like to play. You can either choose to work with an existing track that has a melodic section that you like, use samples, or perhaps even record your own.
It’s very important when you improvise notes over mixes that your tracks and/or samples are in compatible keys. I like to use harmonic mixing when I mix or drop samples, and find Mixed in Key is a very helpful software program for discovering the keys of my tracks. It takes the ‘guesswork’ out of blending tracks together by providing you with a guide to navigate through your record collection, and make solid musical choices along the way.
If you choose to improvise with an existing track, here’s how to go about it:
- Start by choosing a simple track that has a single melody. Place a cue point on each note in the melody.
- Choose tracks and/or loops to play on Decks A and B, and begin to play the tracks. Make sure these tracks are in compatible keys to the track you have chosen for Deck C.
- Get familiar with the melodic ideas you have placed on Deck C by practicing. If you are using a controller, map each cue point to a button, and play around until you develop ideas that you like.
- Once you are confident that your melodic ideas work well over a mix, play these parts over your mixes. If you are just beginning to work with this technique, consider improvising over one or two mixes to begin with during your set.
Samples and FX
You could also use your third deck to drop samples, and layer them with FX to add flavor to your mix. The possibilities are really endless here, and I think that it’s a good idea to use samples layered with FX sparingly, so as not to add too much clutter to the mix. Start with experimenting with a few effects, and get to know them really well. Play your samples and tweak the effects; if you have a controller, you can map the dry/wet signal of the effect to a knob and ‘play’ the effects so that your samples come alive. Try layering your effects to achieve an original sound, and spend time with your effects chains. Be selective about where you drop your samples, and aim to create a seamless wall of harmonious sound!
If you’ve been mixing with two decks for a while, it’s time for you to move forward, and challenge yourself as a DJ by adding a third deck to your setup. Have fun creating new mixes that sound great!