As you may remember, I have talked in the past about modulations sometimes becoming a crutch for arrangers. Sometimes, we overuse modulations as a way to bring variety to a piece. (How many times have you heard a modulation used to take up the energy/dynamics a notch?) And sometimes, we overuse modulations simply because we feel that modulations are expected.
Remember this: 95% of the people listening do not identify a modulation when it happens and they are not impressed that you can play the same song in multiple keys. So be careful about going to modulations just out of habit.
I have been practicing what I preach on this by the way. Modulations have become the exception rather than the rule for me. On my new project, there will be more songs without modulations than songs with modulations. Maybe I have swung too far to the other side.
Anyway, Steve Mauldin was working on one of my songs and he decided it needed a modulation and he actually wrote one in for me. Here it is (the notes are just suggestions; focus on the chords):
This is pretty clever; far more clever than what I usually come up with. The mod starts at bar 53 and ends at 60. Steve is setting up something with that Bbm7 which is the ii/IV moving to the V/IV (Eb7) and then to IV (Ab) which he caught that I was doing in other places in the song.
Note that he uses Bbm7 twice as a ii/IV and resolves it to IV. Then he uses it again in bar 59 but this time he surprises the listener by moving up by step to the V of the new key.
Don’t let bars 55-56 distract you. Steve might tell you differently, but in my opinion, they are there to embellish the mod but are not critical to it. The key to this is what is being set up by that Bbm7 chord.
When you hear this mod in real time, it is subtle. Most people will never pick on the fact that the key even changed. But the nice thing about it is that it introduces a bit more harmonic interest into the piece.
You might wonder if it annoys me that Steve changed my song a bit. The answer is no. I welcome that kind of thing for a few reasons. First, the suggestions that I get are usually better than what I come up with on my own. And second, taking those kinds of suggestions helps to get more diversity and complexity into the music. In other words, it keeps me from falling into the trap of always sounding the same.