Modulation (music)

In music theory, the word refers to the modulation -prepared transition from one key to another. Modulations can be seen on the technically notation for a certain key typical accidentals ( accidentals ) occurrence in the course of the song.

If the target key attached by a cadence, then one speaks of a real modulation, they will leave after their reaching again immediately from a vagrant modulation. A number of immediate succession taking place modulations - with or without consolidation temporary tonal centers - called a modulation chain.

Serves the key change without preparatory or via conductive steps, it is called non- modulation, but skidding. A modulation to occur without the final cadence and not led out of the original key is referred to as divergence.

Modulations in melodies

Many folk songs or hymns modulation is already determined by the melody.


The modulation description here is only an example which modulation can be expected. In polyphonic set a composer has many ways to interpret the harmonies. For example, one finds in the chorales of JS Bach lot - and unexpected - modulations.

Scheme of modulation

First, the original key is strengthened. This can be done by a simple dominant-tonic cadence or connections. Here comes the actual modulation step, the transition to the target key. Finally, the target key is confirmed if it is a real modulation.

Modulation techniques

The following modulation techniques can be distinguished:

Diatonic modulation

In the diatonic modulation, one makes use of the fact that different keys have common triads. These triads are used as intermediaries between the keys.

Example: from F major to A minor

So, for example, is the d- minor triad present in the F major scale, but also in the A minor scale. In the F major scale, he is on the 6th level and is Tonikaparallele (Tp ), in which a minor scale it is on the 4th level and is subdominant ( s ):

The d- minor triad can therefore be used as a modulator between F major and A minor, by reinterpreting its function in the course of a piece of music: from the Tonikaparallele (in terms of F major ), the subdominant is (in terms of a minor). Changing the function of the triad is plausible for the listener after the fact, namely, when the d- minor triad follows a cadence in the target key of A minor, but at least a dominant-tonic connection in A Minor.

The individual steps:

  • Cycles 1 and 2: Two cadenzas in the original key of F major (blue color ) represent the original key safe.
  • Cycle 3: The d- minor triad - Tonikaparallele in the original key, subdominant in the target key - follow the E- major triad, the dominant feature of the new tonic A minor. With the appearance of a- minor triad in bar 4 of the actual modulation step is completed, the modulation is not yet complete, since the target key is not yet firmly established! In fact, the piece of music for the first occurrence of a- minor triad could be continued in bar 4 in F major; the E- major triad would be to interpret in this case as a secondary dominant.
  • Bars 4-6: Two cadences solidify the target key of A minor.

Voice-leading Many other types of modulation is also the voice leading - at least in rudimentary form - part of the modulation technique; this applies above all to the enharmonic modulation. The diatonic modulation, however, principally works without sophisticated compositional technique, as it arrives with her on the pure triad material and its functional interpretation within different keys. Nevertheless, a well-thought -writing significantly help to make a diatonic modulation smoother, softer and more convincing.

Our example, a diatonic modulation from F major to A minor, works harmoniously with triads already in home position? / I ( or in any reversals ), which you can then play the piano or other suitable instrument. A simple Three -Part sentence? / I, however, based on basic voice-leading rules ( the smallest possible movements per voice, avoidance of parallel movements in the fifth and octave, leadership of the leading tone to the tonic ) makes the chord progression, and hence the transfer to the target key supple. • A Polyphonic set / i can make considerably more: motifs act as binding agents in that they are taken up by different voices again and again.

Enharmonic modulation

The pivotal point of the enharmonic modulation is a shortened dominant ( = shortened without chord root ) with minor ninth, the D7 9 - ( the crossed- D is to indicate that the root note is missing). Unlike the diatonic modulation of this chord is reinterpreted not functional, quite the opposite: he always remains dominant. However, getting his tones reinterpreted so that it becomes the dominant features a different key. Here, the enharmonic change plays a key role.

The starting point is an ordinary T- D7 -T connection ( in steps: IVI, and specifically in our example key of C major chords C- G7 -C :):

The dominant seventh chord (D7 ) in the key of C major consists of:

  • G - g chord root
  • H - third
  • D - Quinte
  • F - Septime

Here, the D7, for reasons of vocal guide is arranged as Terzquartakkord; the clay material of the dominant sound so nothing changes, it remains at g, h, d, f - and thus also in the non umdeutbaren function: dominant to C. A small change in tone makes but from the D7 D7 a 9 -, which is also the designations Dv (v of " reduced ") and quite diminished seventh chord is known and has the ability to act as a dominant of four different keys. The small change is that a minor ninth ( here: as) the place of the root ( here: g) occurs. After this action you have it - regardless of whether you actually want to use this sound to modulate or not - first of all to do with a dominant, somewhat sharper, compelling and " dramatic " sound than the ordinary D7:

  • Quinte d
  • Septime f
  • Minor ninth as ( instead of the chord root g)
  • Third hour

A dominant seventh chord D7 wants known to be resolved to the tonic down, a fact which is due, above all, the seventh and the third of the chord. During the seventh of D7 resolution efforts by a half step down, on the third of the tonic triad ( here: from f to e) shows, seeks the third of the D7 as a leading note one semitone above the tonic of the key ( here: h according to c). The question of why the D7 9 - still tense sounds than the ordinary D7, can be answered very easily: With the minor ninth of Tritonusgehalt has risen to 2, and this tone desired in a particular direction, namely by a semitone down on the fifth of the tonic triad ( here: of as to g ).

But have left open the question why the D7 9 - can be interpreted as dominant to four different Tonikadreiklängen. The answer lies in a special feature of this sound: The distance between any chord and its neighbors is always the same, a minor third.

Therefore, the chord tones can switch roles without depriving the chord of its dominant matic character. Each chord can be minor ninth, third, fifth or seventh. However, a role reversal then causes a change in the target key - that is exactly what will make a modulation.

In this example, the dominant of C major, is represented by D7 9 -, reinterpreted as dominant of A major. Firstly, it consists of the notes

  • Quinte d
  • Septime f
  • Minor ninth as ( instead of the chord root g)
  • Third hour

Which is not altered and remain lying on a keyboard like that. You play according to their reinterpretation, however, other roles and hot partly different:

  • Seventh d
  • Minor ninth f ( instead of the chord root s)
  • Third gis (the former as)
  • Quinte h

Deserves special attention here so the sound as / gis. As as, as minor ninth on g, he showed resolution efforts down to g out for fifth of the tonic ( C major triad ). As gis, as third above e, however, it acts as a leading tone, the tone for the new tonic ( A- major triad ) wants to be led. Therefore, the enharmonic reinterpretation of sound, hence the name of this type of modulation: Enharmonic modulation.

The enharmonic modulation is a very elegant method, the key to change quickly, even over several steps beyond Quint. In the following example, the key of the Christmas song goes " O Holy Night " by D7 9 - from E flat major to D major. At a stroke, the distance of at least 5 steps Quint is bridged:

Here the reinterpreted chord is not used as a direct dominant to the desired target key of D major, but as a double dominant ( ie as a dominant of the dominant to the real target key of D major).

Chromatic modulation

In the chromatic modulation naturals be altered to achieve gradual naturals of the target key. Often it is in the altered tones to leading tones. So also here:

This example shows a chromatic modulation from C major to A minor. At the beginning is a common cadence in C major ( but only to make clear that we first find ourselves in C major ). After the tonic is reached, it will appear a second time, but now no longer with Quinte g, but with Quinte gis. This is just a small change, but with a big impact: the gis acts as a leading tone and strives for a One immediate cadence toward a minor, therefore, nothing stands in the way. A second cadence (blue color) strengthens and confirms the new key of A minor.

Another example is to show that the chromatic modulation also works without Leittonwirkung. Original key is A minor, target key is G minor:

Here too, is a cadence the original key safe. Then the tonic appears twice, once normally and then with tiefalterierter Quinte: from e it is. This sound could be several times suggest, but we take it as a subdominant with added sixth ( c- it -ga, the g is missing) and lead him (to be published from voting implementing technical reasons with third in the bass ) to the tonic of the target key. The subsequent final cadenza leads back to G minor, an additional cadence ( in blue) consolidates the new key of G minor.

Modulation by sequence

Especially in baroque pieces one finds modulations that can be reached by descending fifths tonal sequences. After the order of the keys in the circle of fifths characterizing the sign of a key can be changed during the sequence. Starting from the key of C major ( without sign) is on the way to A major ( three crosses ) is first added to the F sharp, then the cis, then gis. Likewise, this is done with the key of E major, which uses three flat accidental: First, the b added, after which it then you modulate the AS. Will of a cross key in a b- key, the crosses are first gradually mined, then adds the bs in the usual order. From G major to E flat major from the fis would be first to make to f, then the h to b, then the e to it, after which a to AS.

In the modulation by the sequence is to be noted that especially in the minor keys a cadence before and after the modulation process for acoustic illustration of the source and target key is required. Moreover, modulation may take more time than is good for the composition in more distant tonalities quite. Theoretically, you can modulate in this way through the whole circle of fifths, always, is a key after another practically like this possibility by keyboard limited.

Tonzentrale introduction

As another very simple means of switching between two keys applies tonzentrale the introduction of a new key. Here, a sound from the chord of the original key is held or constantly repeated thereafter to appear as a sound within a new chord. Here, the new chord can also have a very far distance to the chord of the original key, because by the absence of any other reference tones the previous key is temporarily suspended. Musically, one finds such places sometimes a ritardando to make the entry of new key all the more evident.

The target key needs to be consolidated by a cadenza with characteristic Kon and dissonance after modulation.

In this example, the sound of g determines what happens: In the soprano he is in a regular rhythm ( always eighth notes ) repeated continuously, also appears in the bass only g, but here with a constantly repeating rhythmic motif ( dotted quarter - eighth - quarter). The g in the outer voices is like a canvas on which the harmonious action is applied. G is the " common thread " in a disjointed sequence of chords (distance in G minor - E minor: 3 Quint steps; Distance E minor - E flat major: 4 Quint steps, distance in E flat major - C major: 3 Quint steps ).


The modulation is one of the most important tools in the composition and as an important element of musicology. However, all the above steps serve only as material and means for the composition process, which need not necessarily be guided by these rules. It prepares the listener before the next part of the piece. Often the key and dynamics are already placed in the next shape to ensure a better transition. The clearly distinct combination of several types of modulation is possible as well as a gradual transition. In-depth knowledge of the modulation process provides a music, studying music theory and harmony.