Skip to main content

Section 22.7 Modulations Without Pivot Chords

This section contains the following subsections below:

Subsection 22.7.1 Direct Modulation

Direct modulation (also known as phrase modulation) is a type of modulation where a composer decides to move suddenly to a new key without using pivot chords or preparing the new tonic with its dominant.
Figure 22.7.1. Schubert, Schwanegesang, D. 957, “Liebesbotschaft” (1828)
In the example below from the second song of the same song cycle as the example above, Schubert does not attempt to change gradually from C minor to A♭ major, but instead stops on a half cadence in C minor and begins on the tonic in A♭ major in the next bar.
Figure 22.7.2. Schubert, Schwanegesang, D. 957, “Kriegers Ahnung” (1828)
Direct modulation is the most common type of “modulation” found in popular music. At the beginning of this chapter we defined this type of modulation in popular music as “key change.”
Figure 22.7.3. James Horner and Will Jennings, “My Heart Will Go On” (1997)
With direct modulation, composers do not make any attempt to connect two different keys through any pivot chords or common tones. In the next section, we examine how composers connect two keys through a common tone.

Subsection 22.7.2 Common-Tone Modulation

In common-tone modulation, two chords are connected through a single note to bridge the distance between two keys.
In the following example, the note C♯ acts as a hinge between a C♯ major chord (\(\left.\text{V}\right.\) in F♯ minor) and an A dominant seventh chord (\(\left.\text{V}^{7}\right.\) in D major).
Figure 22.7.4. Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, I. (1801–1802)
In the next example, the note A acts as a hinge between an A major chord (\(\left.\text{V}\right.\) in D minor) and an F major chord (\(\left.\text{I}\right.\) in F major).
Figure 22.7.5. Schubert, Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat major, D. 898, I. (1828)

Subsubsection Chromatic Mediants

In a common-tone modulation, the two chords connecting the two keys are typically in a chromatic mediant relationship. Chromatic mediants are chords with roots a third apart that share only one common tone and have the same quality (both are major or both are minor).
Figure 22.7.6. Chromatic mediant relationship in Figure 22.7.5
Any major or minor triad will have four chromatic mediants, as shown in the example below.
Figure 22.7.7. Chromatic mediants of the C major and C minor triads
Below are examples chromatic mediants that do not involve modulation. In fact, the progression in the following three examples are found in the last bar of Figure 22.7.7, the progression from \(\left.\text{i}\right.\) to ♭\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\) (shown as Cm to A♭m in the example above).
Figure 22.7.8. Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold, Scene 3 (1854)
Figure 22.7.9. John Williams, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, “Main Title (The Story Continues)” (1983)
Figure 22.7.10. John Williams, The Phantom Menace, “Duel of the Fates” (1999)

Subsection 22.7.3 Sequential Modulation

Modulation can also be accomplished by sequence. In a sequential modulation, a melody and its accompanying harmonies are repeated at a new pitch level to establish or lead to a new key. In the following example, the sequence of the original idea occurs in the new key.
Figure 22.7.11. Beethoven, Piano Sonata Op. 2, No. 1, III. (1795)
In the following example, an idea in C major is repeated up a step in D major, then up another step in E minor before reaching an F♯\(\left.\text{}^{\circ}{}\right.\) chord, a chord with dominant function in G major.
Figure 22.7.12. Mozart, Oboe Concerto in C major, K. 314, III. (1777)
In the next example, after a cadence in G minor, an idea in F minor is repeated down a whole step in E♭ minor to achieve the change of key to E♭ major, which is the starting key of this aria, as can be seen in the key signature.
Figure 22.7.13. Mozart, Don Giovanni, K. 527, “Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata” (1787)
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of modulatory techniques, it should give you a sense of some of the different means composers use to change keys.