Fret Farm

Complete Reference Books for Guitar, Bass and Mandolin
Including Chords, Keys, Scales, Capos, Modulation and Songwriting

Composing in More than One Key

This tutorial shows you how to write songs using the chord map that move between different keys for added interest.

This tutorial builds on the basic chord map tutorial, which shows how to use the chord map to write basic chord sequences.

This is the same diagram of the chord map for A. Notice under each chord are other note names. These are keys in which the chord can also be found, and into which you can change. This changing keys is called modulation. It can be used to permanently change the key of the music (although you'd probably use the modulation charts on the same page to accomplish that: they will be explained in a different set of tutorials) or it can be used to dip into another key and briefly play some of its chords.

Modulating is very similar to using the chord map in one key. You follow the arrows on the map. To modulate you can look up the chord you're on in one of the keys underneath it on the map; continue in the new chord map for a while; then work your way back to the starting key.

If you don't want to sound like you're staying, then its better not to use the dominant seveth chord of the key you pass through (although its non-seventh form is often okay).

Lets create an 8 chord sequence as an example. We start on A, then wander around to Bm to E and to F#m. Now we notice that F#m is also in the key of D, so we look up the chord map for D.

Because we'd like to end up back in the key of A, we note that we can return using either F#m or Bm. We came via F#m, so we'll go back through Bm. So we get there by going via G to D to Bm. And we move back to the A chord map. Now we can simply follow the mainline home (a bit of mainline following after doing odd chord changes helps settle the listener) so we go from Bm to E7 to finish.

Our overall chord sequence is:

A | Bm | E | F#m | G | D | Bm | E7

The chord of G major is not in the key of A, so it sounds exotic, but the overall chord sequence still flows.

You use major/minor modulations to get more unusual chord sequences still, with a distinct change of feel in the middle. Used sparingly they can produce great effects.