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Using Modulation To Create Contrast

Rich Scott (693) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

Using Modulation To Create Contrast In Your Songs By Rich Scott Changing from one key to another within a particular song, referred to as modulation, is a technique used to contrast different song sections and create interest and energy in an arrangement. This technique has been around since the late 1400s and is a staple of symphonic and jazz music. Modulations are frequently used to give the feeling of change between the intro, verse, chorus, bridge, solo, or outro. There are two ways in which modulations are accomplished. The first way is to use pivot chords to make the key change subtle and smooth. Pivot chords are usually common to both keys creating a "V-I" or "ii-V-I" progression in the new key. The second way, direct modulation, does not use pivot chords. Direct modulations, as a result, are dramatic and decisive. I fully agree with Rikky Rooksby, author of How To Write Songs On Guitar, who writes that "currently modulation is the most neglected technique in popular song. It can take planning and a bit more trial-and-error with progressions, but a well-judged key change can greatly deepen a song." Below is a discussion of six types of modulation used to create contrast, interest and energy that every songwriter should know inside out. Relative Minor/Major Switch The relative minor/major switch refers to the movement from the relative minor key to the relative major key. In the key of Am that means that you would travel to the key of C (vi-I). Two examples of this type of modulation are presented below.Girl (key of Am to C) The verse and refrain section chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1965 Girl are shown below. Notice that the "Am" is used as the pivot chord as it is common to both keys.Verse Am / E7 / Am / Am7 / Dm / / / C / E7 / Am / E7 / Am / Am7 / Dm / / /Am / / / Refrain C / Em / Dm / G7 / C / Em / Dm / G7 /

bullet.gifWild World (key of Am to C)

The verse and chorus section chord progressions to Cat Steven's 1971 hit Wild World are shown below. Here the "G7" is substituted for the "E" (common tone) chord to create a pivot chord.

Verse

Am / D7 / G / Cmaj7 / F / Dm / E / / /
Am / D7 / G / Cmaj7 / F / Dm /E / / /
G7 / / // / / /


Refrain

C / G / F / / / G / F / C / / / C / G / F / / / G / F / C / Dm E

The reverse of the above modulation is the relative major/minor switch that refers to the movement from the relative major key to the relative minor key. In the key of C that means that you would travel to the key of Am (I-vi). Two examples of this type of modulation are presented below.

bullet.gifThe Man I Love (key of C to Am)

The A2 and B section chord progressions to George and Ira Gershwin's 1924 standard The Man I Love are shown below. Here the "E7#5" chord is substituted for the "Em" (chord quality change) to create a pivot chord.

A2 section

C / / / Cm / / / Em7b5 / / / A7#5 / / /
Dm7b5 / / / G13 / / / C / F / C / E7#5 /


B section

Am / Am7 / B7b9 / E7#9 / Am / / / E7#5 / / /

Am / Am7 / B7b9 / E7#9 / Am7 / A7#5 / Dm7 / G7 /

bullet.gifAnd I Love Her (key of C to Am)

The verse and bridge section chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1964 ballad And I Love Her are shown below. Notice that the "C" is used as the pivot chord as it is common to both keys.<

Verse

Dm / / / Am / / / Dm / / / Am / / /
Dm / / / Am / / / F / / / G7 / / /
C6 / / / / / / /


Bridge

Am / / / G / / / Am / / / Em / / /
Am / / / Em / / / G / / / / / / /


bullet.gifSomething (key of C to A)

The verse, turnaround to bridge, and bridge section chord progressions to George Harrison's 1969 hit ballad Something from The Beatles' "Abbey Road" album are shown below. Alan W. Pollack in his Notes on ... Series describes the key change in the bridge section as follows: "The pivot modulation here from C to A makes perfect sense on paper, with the G-Major chord serving both V and flat-VII in each respective key. What catches you off guard and sounds "abrupt" is the appearance of Eb and A-Major chords (a root separation of a tritone!) in such close proximity to each other."

Verse



D7/F# / / / G / Am7 G7/B Am / Am(M7) / Am7 / D9/F# /


Turnaround (to Bridge)

Bridge



A / Amaj7 / F#m / F#m/E / D / G / C / / /


Parallel Minor/Major Switch

The parallel minor/major switch refers to the movement from the parallel minor key to the parallel major key. In the key of Am that means that you would travel to the key of A (i-I). Two examples of this type of modulation are presented below.

bullet.gifBesame Mucho (key of Am to A)

The A and B section chord progressions to Carlos Velazquez's 1941 standard Besame Mucho are shown below. Paul McCartney said "with Besame Mucho by The Coasters, it's a minor song...and where it changes to major is such a big moment musically." Here the "Am chord is substituted by the "A7" chord (chord quality change) to facilitate the modulation.

A section

Am / / / / / / / Dm / / / / / / /
Dm / / / Dm / E7 / Am / / / / / / /


B section

A7 / / / / / / / Dm / / / / / / /
Am / / / B7 / E7 / Am / / / / / / /


bullet.gifWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps (key of Am to A)

The A and B section chord progressions to George Harrison's 1968 While My Guitar Gently Weeps are shown below. The "E" chord is the dominant chord in both the key of Am and key of A making it an ideal pivot chord for this type of modulation. Other Beatles' examples of Im to I modulation include Things We Said Today (1964) and I'll Be Back (1964). Earlier, Del Shannon used this type of modulation in his 1961 hit Runaway. Notice that the "E" chord is dominant chord in both keys and as such makes a logical pivot chord when changing between these two keys.

A section

Am / / / Am/G / / / D9/F# / / / Fmaj7 / / /
Am / / / G / / / D / / / E / / /
Am / / / Am/G / / / D9/F# / / / Fmaj7 / / /
Am / / / G / / / C / / / E / / /


B section

A / / / C#m / / / F#m / / / C#m / / /
Bm / / / / / / / E / / / / / / /
A / / / C#m / / / F#m / / / C#m / / /
Bm / / / / / / / E / / / / / / /


The parallel major/minor switch refers to the movement from the parallel major key to the parallel minor key. In the key of A that means that you would travel to the key of Am (I-i). Two examples of this type of modulation are presented below.

bullet.gifApril In Portugal (key of C to Cm)

The A and B section chord progressions to Raul Ferrao's 1947 standard April In Portugal are shown below. Here the "C chord is substituted by the "Cm" chord (chord quality change) to facilitate the modulation.

A section

C / / / / / / / G7 / / / / / / /
G7 / / / / / / / C / / / / / / /
C / / / / / / / G7 / / / / / / /
G7 / / / / / / / C / / / / / / /


B section

Cm / / / Cm(M7) / / / Cm7 / / / Cm6 / / /
Ab/C / / / Cm / / / G7 / / / / / / /
G7 / / / G7b9 / / / G7 / / / / / / /
G7 / / / G7#5 / G7 G7#5 C / / / / / / /


bullet.gifNorwegian Wood (key of C to Cm)

The A and B section chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1965 Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) are shown below. Here the "C" chord is substituted by the "Cm" chord (chord quality change) to facilitate the modulation.

A section

C / / / / / / / / / / /
/ / / Bbadd9 / F/A C / / / / /
C / / / / / / / / / / /
/ / / Bbadd9 / F/A C / / / / /


B section

Cm / / / / / / / / / / /
F / / / / / / / / / / /
Cm / / / / / / / / / / /
Dm7 / / / / / G / / / / /


Truck Driver's Modulation

Shifting up a half-step in key from I to #I (C to C#) is referred to as truck driver's modulation because the song seems to change gears. It has been a pop music cliche since the 1950s.

bullet.gifGlad All Over (key of C to C#)

The bridge 2 and verse 4 section chord progressions to Dave Clark Five's 1964 hit Glad All Over are shown below. Here the modulation is accomplished by simply moving the "G" (V) chord up a half step creating the "V-I" in the new key.

Bridge 2

Ab / / / / / / / C / F / C / / /
F / / / / / / / G / / / G# / / /


Verse 3

C# / F# / C# / F# / C# / F# / C# / F# /
C# / F# / C# / F# / C# / F# / C# / / /


bullet.gifWoman (key of C to C#)

The chorus 2 and verse 3 section chord progressions to John Lennon's 1981 hit Woman are shown below. Here direct modulation is accomplished by simply moving from the "G" to the "C#" chord.

Chorus 2

Cmaj9 / / / Am7 / / / Dm7 / / / G6 / / /
Cmaj9 / / / Am7 / / / Dm7 / / / G6 / / /


Verse 3

C# / D#m7 / C#/F / D#m7 / C# / A#m / D#m / G#sus4 G#
F# / D#m7 / Fm / / / G#sus4 / / / G# / / /


Whole Step Shift

bullet.gifMy Girl (key of C to D)

The interlude and verse 3 chord progressions to William "Smokey" Robinson and Ronald White's 1965 hit My Girl are shown below. In this song a musical interlude is used to modulate from the key of C to the key of D in the bridge by creating a "ii-V-I" of the new key.

Interlude

C / / / F6 / / / C / / / F6 / / /
Dm / / / G / / / Em / / / A / / /


Verse 3

D / / / G6 / / / D / / / G6 / / /
D / / / G6 / / / D / / / G6 / / /


bullet.gifTune Up (key of C to Bb to Ab)

The chord progression to Miles Davis's 1953 jazz stadard Tune Up is shown below. In this progression, the tonic chord of one "IIm-V-I" sequences becomes the "IIm" chord for the subsequent "Im-V-I" progression descending by whole steps, using parallel major/minor substitutions that eventually return the song to the original key.

Dm7 / / / G7 / / / Cmaj7 / / / / / / /
Cm7 / / / F7 / / / Bbmaj7 / / / / / / /
Bbm7 / / / Eb7 / / / Abmaj7 / / / / / / /
Dm7 / / / G7 / / / Cmaj7 / / / / / / /


bullet.gifBaby, I Need Your Loving (key of C to Bb)

The verse and chorus chord progressions to Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland's 1964 Baby, I Need Your Loving are shown below. In this song the verse is in the key of C while the chorus modulates to the key of Bb using the "F" as the pivot chord.

Verse

C / / / Fmaj7 / / / C / / / Fmaj7 / / /
C / / / Fmaj7 / / / C / / / Fmaj7 / / /
C / / / Fmaj7 / / /


Chorus

Bb / / / Gm / / / F / / / Dm7 / / /
Bb / / / Gm7 / / / F / / / Dm7 / / F


bullet.gifPenny Lane (key of C to Bb)

The verse and chorus chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1967 hit Penny Lane are shown below. In this song the verse is in the key of C while the chorus modulates to the key of Bb using the "F" as the pivot chord. Paul McCartney used this modulation in his 1974 solo hit Band On The Run and John Lennon used it on his 1980 solo hit (Just Like) Starting Over.

Verse 2

C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 / C / Am7 / Cm7 / / /
Cm6/A / / / Abmaj7 / / / G7sus4 / G7 / F / / /


Chorus

Bb / / / Bb/D / / / Eb / / / / / / /
Bb / / / Bb/D / / / Eb / / / G7 / / /


Foreign-Key Modulation

Another way to create contrast is to shift to a totally new tonal center that is not part of the the original key. One of the more popular foreign key changes is from the I to bIII. This shift of a minor third was a favorite of The Beatles.

bullet.gifBlue Moon (key of C to Eb to G)

The A2 section and B section chord progressions to Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's 1934 standard Blue Moon are shown below. Here the "Fm7" chord is substituted for the "F" chord to create a "ii-V-I" sequence in the new key.

A2 section

C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 / C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 /
C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 / C / F6 / C / / /


B section

Dm7 / G7 / C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 / C / / /
Fm7 / Bb7 / Eb / / / G / D7 / Dm7 / G7 /


bullet.gifGet Ready (key of C to Eb)

The verse and chorus chord progressions to William "Smokey" Robinson's 1966 Get Ready are shown below. David Hodge, Columnist and Lead Editor for GuitarNoise.com, says "Sometimes a pivot chord does not have to be a part of the actual key of the song as long as it has been used and it has become "familiar" to the listener. The old Motown tune Get Ready uses a chord progression of C-F-Bb in its verses, firmly establishing itself in the key of C to our ears (part of this is owing to the repetition of F to Bb in the intro!)."

Verse

C / / / / / F Eb C / / / / / F Eb
C / / / / / F Eb C / / / / / F Eb
C / / / / / F Eb C / / / / / F Eb


Chorus

Eb / / / Ab / / / Fm / / / Bb / / /
Eb / / / Ab / / / Fm / / / Bb / / /


bullet.gifLady Madonna (key of C to Eb)

The verse and bridge section chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1968 hit Lady Madonna are shown below. Other Beatles' examples of I to bIII modulation include Another Girl (1965), Here, There And Everywhere (1966), Birthday (1968), and Free Bird (1995). Dominic Pedler, author of The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles, suggests that that The Beatles' were inspired by Cole Porter's 1955 standard True Love and Roy Orbison's 1964 hit Oh, Pretty Woman. Paul McCartney said "I remember Roy Orbison playing Pretty Woman to us on the tour bus. We thought: Phew! Great song. We've got to write one as good as that." Neil Sedeka also used I-bIII modulation to create his 1975 hit Laughter In The Rain. To move from the key of G to the key of C all you need to do is change the chord quality of the "G" chord (I) in the key of G to the "G7" chord (V) in the key of C to create a pivot chord.

Verse

C / F / C / F / C / F / Ab Bb C /
C / F / C / F / C / F / Ab Bb C /


Bridge

Fm7 / / / Bb7 / / / Eb / / / Cm7 / / /
Fm7 / / / Bb7 / / / Eb / Dm7 / G7sus4 / G7 /


Near-Key Modulation

The easiest keys to modulate to are the near-related keys. The scales of near-related keys contain all but one of the same notes meaning that such keys share several chords in common that can be used as pivot chords. For example, the near-related keys to the key of C are F and G as shown below.

Key of C: C D E F G A B   
Key of F:       F G A Bb C D E 

Key of C: C D E F G A B Key of G: G A B C D E F#
On the circle of fifths the near-related keys are those on either side of a specific key.

fifths2.JPG

bullet.gifI Want To Hold Your Hand (key of C to F)

The verse and bridge chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1963 hit I Want To Hold Your Hand are shown below. The key change in the bridge section is a textbook example of pivot modulation from the key of C to the key of F. Other Beatles' examples of I to IV modulation include From Me To You (1963) and Octopus's Garden (1969). Earlier, Buddy Holly's cover of Boudleau and Felice Bryant's 1959 Raining In My Heart used this type of modulation in his .

This shift up a fourth is frequently used to create country music bridges.

Verse

C / / / G7 / / / Am / / / / E7 / / /
C / / / G7 / / / Am / / / E7 / / /
F / G7 / C / Am / F / G7 / C / / /


Bridge

Gm7 / / / C7 / / / F / / / Dm / / /
Gm7 / / / C7 / / / F / FFG / / FFG
G / FFG / / / / / / / / /


bullet.gifI'll Cry Instead (key of C to G)

The verse and bridge chord progressions to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1964 I'll Cry Instead are shown below. Alan W. Pollack in his Notes on ... Series describes the key change in the bridge section as follows: "The pivot modulation from C to G is somewhat ingenuously awkward.

The move to the "Em" chord does not by itself signal the start of a key change, and although the move from there down to "D" tells you something is afoot, it is a move which is more ambiguous than sure-footed. In truth, one does not regain a clear sense of key again in this section until near the end when the new key of G Major is firmly established by its own ii-V-I progression. And yet, just as this happens, we just as quickly scamper right back to the home key in the final measure of the section."

Verse

C / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /
C / / / / / / / G / / / / / / /
F / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /
C / / / G / / / C/ / / / / / / /


Bridge

Em / / / / / / / D / / / / / / /
G / / / / / / / Am / / / D / G /


Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about Modulation, take a look at the following lessons:

bullet.gifCh-Ch-Ch-Ch- Changes... (GuitarNoise)

bullet.gifLowering The Ladder (The Muse's Muse)

bullet.gifModulation (ilovemusic.com)

bullet.gifModulation (Theory on the Web)

bullet.gifModulation (The Tone Center)

bullet.gifModulation (Olav Torvund)

bullet.gifModulation (WholeNote)

bullet.gifSongs With Modulation (Olav Torvund)

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CPFScover6.gif Rich Scott is the author of Chord Progressions For Songwriters available on-line from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Please check out the book for more great lessons like this.