TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Key and Modulation


introduction major and minor the circle of fifths ways of modulating spotting modulations

abrupt modulation | pivot chords | chromatic pivots

When a piece of tonal music modulates, the transition between the two keys can be handled in various ways. The examples on these pages show three different ways of modulating from C major to its relative minor (A).

Abrupt modulation
The most obvious way to modulate is simply to follow a progression in one key with a progression in the new key. The reason the modulation sounds so abrupt is because the E major triad (the third chord) suddenly introduces a note that is not part of C major - G#.

This sort of modulation is more effective between keys that are reasonably closely related- chord V in A only has one note different from chord iii in C. The same sort of abrupt modulation would sound much more disjointed between keys a long way apart on the circle of fifths.



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