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CHAPTER 6:
How Chords and Chord Progressions
REALLY Work
  
6.12 Modulation Ways and Means

 
PAGE INDEX
  

6.12.1 Modulation: The Soul of the Western Tonal System

6.12.2 Near vs Remote Modulation

6.12.3 Relative Key Modulation

6.12.4 Parallel Key Modulation

6.12.5 Shift Modulation (Don’t Do This!)

6.12.6 Sequential Modulation

6.12.7 Pivot Chord Modulation

 

~ • ~ • ~ • ~


6.12.1

MODULATION: THE SOUL OF THE WESTERN TONAL SYSTEM


Modulation is the single most extraordinary and musically potent aspect of the Western tonal system of 12 major keys, 12 minor keys and equal temperament.


     As discussed near the end of Chapter 5, modulation means changing the key, moving the tonal centre within a piece of music.


     Too bad most songwriters don’t know how to exploit the capacity for modulation. It’s one of many reasons they turn out boatloads of unforgivably monotonous tunes.

 


     Making the transition from the original tonality (key) to a new one usually takes from a couple of bars to a full four-bar phrase. Songwriters who know how to modulate will often change keys at a natural sectional boundary, such as the end of a verse, going into a bridge or chorus. At the end of the contrasting section, tonality moves back to the original key.


     If the tonality does not move back to the original key, you probably have a shift modulation, a decidedly distasteful way of moving tonality (see below).



6.12.2

NEAR VS REMOTE MODULATION


If a song modulates to a closely-related key (a key that shares many of the same scale notes and chords with the original key), it’s called a near modulation.


     If the tune modulates to an unrelated key (a key that shares very few of the same scale notes or chords with the original key), it’s called a remote modulation.


     If it modulates to a key that’s neither remote nor near, it’s called ... um ... a moderately distant modulation. Or something.


     To get an idea of what’s considered “near” or “remote,” have a look at Heinichen’s Circle of Fifths (Figure 101). Pick a key, any key. Whatever key you pick is closely related to other nearby keys in the Circle of Fifths. For example:

 

        The key of D major is “near” such keys as B minor, G major, E minor, A major, and F♯ minor.

 

        The key of D major is “remote” from keys on the other side of the Circle of Fifths, such as the keys of A♭ major, F minor, E♭ major, C minor, C♯ major, and B♭ minor.

 

        The key of D major is “moderately” related to keys such as F major and D minor. (Even though the keys D major and D minor share the same tonic note, they use significantly different scales, so they’re only “moderately” related).

 



FIGURE 101  Heinichen’s Circle of Fifths








     In general, regardless of the method of modulation, you absolutely must establish tonality firmly in the original key before modulating to another key. Otherwise, confusion reigns. You establish the original key by using the I, IV, and V7 chords at the outset of a tune. Simple triads and dominant seventh chords serve as the most useful chord types in establishing and supporting an initial tonal centre.


     In the new key, you need at least one cadence (especially V7 – I, where I is the new tonic chord) to clearly confirm or validate the new tonality. Otherwise your brain assumes it’s only a possible shift in tonality, a transient modulation.


     If you use jazzy, extended chords from the outset, such as 11th chords or suspended chords or 13th chords, you will find it harder to establish tonality (at least in the collective mind of your audience—regardless of whether you think you’ve succeeded in establishing a tonal centre). And you’ll find it even more difficult to successfully modulate.


     It’s not always easy to modulate to a nearby key. You can, for example, easily modulate from the key of C major to its relative minor, the key of A minor, and vice-versa, because the modes differ: major and minor keys sound way different, even if they share the same scale notes.


     However, if you’re modulating between closely-related same-mode keys, such as C major to G major, it’s easy to lose the sense of tonality because the two keys share not only the same mode, but also most of the same chords and most of the same scale notes. So, if the harmony and melody don’t clearly emphasize the key, the brain asks itself, “Which key am I in, G major or C major?” and wanders off in confusion to find a better song.


     Modulating to a remote key stands out to a greater degree than modulating to a nearby key. Remote keys have few chords and scale notes in common (for example, the key of D major and the key of C minor). Your listener’s brain senses fresh new harmonic territory and stays interested.


     Here are some modulation ways and means.



6.12.3

RELATIVE KEY MODULATION


In relative key modulation, the song establishes tonality in a major key (such as C major), then moves to its relative minor (A minor) and establishes tonality there. Or vice-versa.


     NOTE: A large proportion of popular songs have a casual mix of major and relative minor chords. But casual use of relative minor or relative major chords in a song that does not actually establish tonality in the relative key does not constitute relative key modulation.


     Chase-charted examples of relative key modulation coming up:

 

        “Dear Landlord”

        “Lovesick Blues”

        “Georgia On My Mind”



6.12.4

PARALLEL KEY MODULATION


In parallel key modulation, the song establishes tonality in a major key (such as C major), then moves to its namesake minor (C minor) and establishes tonality there.


     Or vice-versa.


     Chase-charted examples of parallel key modulation coming up:

 

        “Kaw-liga”

        “It Was A Very Good Year”



6.12.5

SHIFT MODULATION (DON’T DO THIS!)


Shift modulation is the most common and most abused technique of changing keys.


     Typically, a shift upwards occurs near the end of a song to create a contrast with the rest of the song. For example, the song starts off in, say, the key of C. Then, for the last verse or chorus, tonality shifts upwards to the key of D. Why? Because an increase in pitch is exciting (recall “Emotional Effects of Pitch” near the end of Chapter 3).


     The hallmark of shift modulation is that the song almost always does not return to the original key, as is the case with other kinds of modulation. Ballad-like songs sometimes shift-modulate to relieve monotony.


     It’s not uncommon for a songwriter to write a song in a single key, only to have an arranger introduce a shift modulation (without authorization) for some artist covering the song. In such a case, the shift modulation is called an “arranger’s modulation.”


     In some recordings, shift modulation occurs multiple times. For instance, the song starts in the key of C major, then shifts up to D, then up to E, and so on, once every verse or two.


     Here are a few songs with shift modulation:

 

        “And I Love Her” (The Beatles)

        “Fever” (Peggy Lee recording)

        “My Generation” (The Who)

        “Soul Man” (Sam & Dave recording)

        “You Are the Sunshine Of My Life” (Stevie Wonder)


     Great songs, aren’t they?


     But wait.


     Shift modulation has a problem. It was relatively novel up to the 1950s and 1960s. But since then, it has been done to death.


     Shift modulation is the easiest way to change keys. Even a complete dolt of a songwriter or arranger can shift modulate. Consequently, that’s exactly what has happened over time.


     Today, shift modulation is the mark of a rank amateur.


     Don’t do it.


     Well ... don’t do it unless you have a good reason, or you really know what you’re doing.


     Here are two examples of shift modulation done well, both by the great Johnny Cash (and both, incidentally, from the 1950s, when the technique had not yet been completely abused):

 

        “Five Feet High and Rising” ... In this tune, Cash keeps shifting the tune upward with each verse to match the ever-rising flood waters in the song’s lyrics. “Two feet high and rising ...,” “Three feet high and rising ..., “Four feet high and rising ... “

 

        “I Walk The Line” ... In the original recording of this song, here’s what Cash does:

 

                -    Starts in the key of F, then

 

                -    Shifts down a fifth to B♭, then

 

                -    Shifts down a fifth to E♭, then

 

                -    Shifts back up a fifth, returning to B♭, then

 

                -    Shifts back up a fifth again, returning to F, ending the song in the original key.

 

(No doubt, the guitar players at the recording session had capos on the first fret and were playing the chords, E, A, and D, instead of F, B♭, and E♭, respectively.)

 

But here’s the kicker: The second time Cash sings the tune in F, he sings the melody a full octave lower than the first time in F. The words are identical in the two F-key verses, creating a striking contrast. Overall, it’s a masterful piece of arranging. Within this song, Cash’s singing range is two octaves plus a major second.


 

Truck Driver’s Gear Change Hall of Shame

 

Shift modulation has become such a horrible cliche that there’s a website dedicated to exposing recordings of shift modulation. The website is called The Truck Driver’s Gear Change Hall of Shame, so named because shifting gears while driving a truck is an apt metaphor for this type of modulation.


Before you consider writing another “truck driver’s gear change” song, you may want to check out the website: www.gearchange.org.



6.12.6

SEQUENTIAL MODULATION


In sequential modulation, a melodic phrase or a configuration of chords (or both) repeats at a different pitch to bring about a modulation, which eventually returns to the original key.


     Several chords of the same type can be used palatably, such as C - D - E - F♯ (sequence of major seconds). Or chords of the same type can progress along a scale: Gm7 - Fm7 - Em7 - Dm7 - Cm7 ( C minor scale).


     Chase-charted examples coming up:

 

        “It Was a Very Good Year”

        “The Girl from Ipanema”

 


6.12.7

PIVOT CHORD MODULATION


A pivot chord is a chord that’s common to both the prevailing key and the key to which tonality eventually moves. For example, the chord F major is common to both the key of F major (the tonic chord) and the key of C major (the IV chord). So F major can be used to “pivot” out of the key of C major and into the key of F major.


     Figure 102 (below) shows an example of using a pivot chord to modulate to a remote key and back again (no particular song, just a generic example).


     In this example, the original key is C major. The remote key is C♯ major / A♯ minor. The pivot chord is F in the original key and F7 in the remote key.




FIGURE 102  Chase Chart: Using a Pivot Chord to Modulate to a Remote Key





 


 




     Two keys, no matter how unrelated, will always have at least two chords that share the same root note (usually more than two chords). You can use these chords as pivot chords.


     You can often exploit the diminished chord for pivot potential. The diminished chord has equal-sized minor third intervals, so, technically, it has no root. Therefore, it repeats itself every three semitones (see Figure 103 below). Since it’s so unstable, you can use it to take a number of different harmonic paths.


     (Also, as noted earlier, the VIIm can sometimes substitute for VIIº, as these chords have two notes in common.)




FIGURE 103  Chase Chart: The Versatile Diminished Chord







     Figure 104 below shows the potential pivot chords for two keys that are moderately closely related: the key of G / Em and the key of E / C♯m.



FIGURE 104  Chase Chart: Potential Pivot Chords, Modulation to a Moderately Close Key







     Chase-charted examples of songs using pivot chords coming up:

 

        “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”

        “Three Bells (Jimmy Brown Song)”

        “Kodachrome”

        “Dear Landlord”

        “One Fine Day”


~ • ~ • ~ • ~

 

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~ • ~ • ~ • ~

 

You are reading the FREE SAMPLE Chapters 1 through 6 of the acclaimed 12-Chapter book, How Music REALLY Works!, 2nd Edition. Here's what's in Chapters 7 through 12. 

 

To order the book, click here:

        
 

 

 

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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