Modulation between keys

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I have gotten many requests to
post a lesson on how to modulate
between keys.
More and more churches are
starting to either package songs
together or change keys within a
song, so modulation is becoming
a necessity for church pianists.

Modulation can be done in
many ways, but today, I want to
talk about it a bit from a
theory standpoint and give you a
formula you can use in every

Last week, I talked about how
the V7 naturally resolves to the
tonic.  Because of that,
modulating can be as easy as
finding a way to the V7 chord in
the new key.  I cannot
emphasize how much that is true. 
If you do not know the V7 chords
in every key, you need to learn
them.  Practice going from
V7 to I in every key for a few
days and you will know this
progression in no time.

Remember also from last week
that we talked about setting up
the V7 chord with a IV/V chord? 
The IV/V chord is also a great
chord to use in a modulation
progression, and it is usually
proceeded by the
minor ii chord.

So, here is the progression
so far:

ii – IV/V – V7 – I  (All
of these chords should be played
in the new key.)

Take some time to practice
these progressions at least in
the keys that most church hymns
are played in (C, Db, D, Eb, F,
G, Ab, Bb).  Here is the
progression in the key of F.

Now that you know this
progression, we need to know how
to set it up within a
modulation.  In other
words, how do you actually get
to the minor ii chord in the new
key?  That is where things
get a bit tricky, but one
solution is to play the vi chord
in the old key.  Playing a vi chord moves the
harmony enough away from the
tonal center that you can easily
move on to the minor ii chord in
the new key.  That being
said, the vi chord is certainly
not the only chord you can use
to do this.

If you do use this entire
progression, it looks like this:

New Key
I – vi ii – IV/V – V7 – I

If you are going from F to G,
the chords would be:

F – Dmin – Amin – C/D – D7 –

Now that you know the
formula, there is only one more
thing to learn–how to make the
transition sound beautiful and
natural.  Unfortunately,
this is the hardest part and
something that is very hard to
really teach.  However,
here are some thoughts.

  1. Feel free to eliminate
    chords from the formula if
    you want.  Often, they
    are not all necessary. 
  2. Try to incorporate
    either the melody of the
    song or perhaps another
    melody line into the
    progression (see example
  3. Change the inversions of
    the chords to smooth out the
    bass line.

Now, I want to give a quick
example of changing keys between
verses of “At the Cross.”  While this
modulation follows the
progression perfectly, it is not what
you want to do because it just
does not sound good:

Here is the same chord
progression played in a way that
makes more sense.

Let me emphasize a few
things.  First, I want to
repeat that while this is a universal modulation
formula, I do not mean to
imply that it is the only way to
do it.  Next week, I will
start giving you other modulation formulas for specific

Secondly, understand that you
have to practice to really get
good at this.  Practice the
progression itself, but more
importantly, practice keeping an
interesting melody line
throughout the progression.

Practice Strategy:
Pick two keys at random and
practice the progression to
modulate from one to another. 
Then try it with a few songs,
incorporating the melody line
from either song into the
modulation progression. 
Work with other keys and songs
as you have time.

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Latest Comments

  • Have you published any books or discs with modulations between all the keys? I currently use Modulation Plus, but am tired of the same modulations. Would make a lot of people happy.

  • Mayowa israel

    Thank you very much,GOD bless you

  • Richard

    Hi, thanks for your description about modulating from one chord to another. To me it, you’ve stated it in it’s simplest form trhat no one can claim that they didn’t understand it but my main challenge is the fact that i’m self teaching myself the piano and i slightly didn’t grasp this part where for instance if you are moving from F to G, =F-D min- A min- C/D-D7-G. Is it possible to break it down further for my level, thanks.

  • Ginger

    Is there a way to transition from the key of Bb to the key of C ??

  • ruth stephenson

    What is modulation?

  • John Emerson

    It’s always good to get information to sharpen our gifts from God. May God continually bless you Greg, your family and the ministry He has intrusted you with.

  • please help me with sounding modulation.Iam blessed with the imformation so far

  • dottie cook

    Thanks for posting this info about modulating. I haven’t had time yet to work through it, but appreciate so much the help.

  • thank you for posting this. it was very informativie.

  • olugbemi damilola

    it’s a lovely tips for instrumentalist to know. ‘It’s more blessed to give knowledge than to receive it.

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