How Can I Modulate Smoothly from One Key to Another?


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How Can I Modulate Smoothly from One Key to Another?

The first thing you need to do is ensure that you do in fact wish to modulate rather than transpose your music.  Many people mix up these two terms because they appear to be similar, whereas in practical terms they are very different.  If you wish to modulate from one key into another, you are moving the music along and playing the music in the keys in which it was composed (or arranged).  Transposing on the other hand is taking the existing music and changing it into a new key.  Clear now? 

OK, so you’re sure that what you want to do is modulate from one key into another, so how do you go about it?  Well, it is possible to just play the original chord and then follow it with the new chord.  If you’re lucky, it will fit without jarring on the listeners ears.  Many times however this doesn’t happen and so what you need to learn are the basics of chord progression so that you make the key change almost invisible.

In order to make the transition from one key into another, you need to know what your pivot chord is.  That’s the chord which occurs in both the key that you’re currently playing in, and the key you are going to modulate into.  Although you could use any chord, for the modulation to be really smooth, you should choose something other than the tonic or the dominant of the key you’re modulating into. 

Another way of modulating from one key to another is by using the circle of 5ths technique.  This creates an even distance between the notes, a perfect 5th.  This means that having played the tonic, you’ll then play the dominant chord (a 5th above), or the subdominant (a 5th lower).  Having some understanding of how the circle of 5ths works will allow you to modulate more freely when you are improvising as you will acquire an instinctive feel for which chord should come next as you move from one key to the next.

Other types of modulation are common-tone modulation where one note from the current key is played repeatedly as the chord changes into the new key and so creates a musical bridge linking the two keys, chromatic modulation where one chord, such as the secondary dominant, is used to lead the chord chromatically into the new key, and enharmonic modulation where the dominant 7th/augmented 6th are used to move smoothly across from one key to the next in 3 chords or less.  Music from the romantic period made use of enharmonic modulation but by the end of this period it was used in conjunction with chromatic modulation.

There are other forms of modulation, such as sequential modulation and phrase modulation techniques which can be used to move from one key into the next, but these offer a more abrupt way of arriving in the new key.  While they are good musical tools to have for improvisation playing, especially the sequence modulation (also known as a rosalia), and can be used to create a good effect (in particular the phrase modulation) they are not usually a way of smooth and seemingly effortless modulation.

 

 

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