What is modulation?

Modulation means a change in tonality. So looking back, we already know how to discover the tonality of a song. Just look at your chords, since they tell you what the tonality in question is and therefore inform you which scale we can use to improvise or make arrangements.

However, many songs have more than one tonality, that is, they change from one key to another.

Example of modulation

For example, let’s say a song has the C, Em, F, G, Am chords. We can quickly conclude that the tonality of this song is C major. Now let’s say that, in the chorus, the chords Bb, Gm and Dm appeared. These chords belong to the key of F major, not C major. So, in the chorus, the tonality of this song changed, so we say that there was a “modulation” in that part.

From the point of view of improvisation, we would use the F major scale in the chorus, since the tonality there is F major.

The modulations can be short, that is, they last for a short time and soon return to their original tone; or they can go on for a long time, definitely changing the tonality of the song.

Transposition vs Modulation

When the song modulates and does not return to its original tonality, we say that there was a transposition. This definition, however, is not universal; many musicians call any modulation a transposition and vice versa. The important thing is to understand that, in essence, modulating and transposing are the same thing: changing the tonality.

There are many ways to make modulations, and we will study this in more advanced topics. Our goal here is just to introduce the concept, as we will mention this word many times from now on.

As you have seen, there is no mystery. Throughout our studies, you will learn many different resources and ways to explore this topic. To master more complex styles like jazz or bossa nova, this knowledge will be essential. Even for those who just want to play popular songs (which don’t usually have modulations) this study is interesting.

Additional knowledge never hurts, and when it comes easily, it’s even better! Einstein once said: “The mind that opens up to a new idea never returns to its original size“. After some time studying our book, you will probably be listening and noticing things that you didn’t notice before. This will increase your perception and your musical enjoyment, without a doubt.

Go to: Target notes

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