Fret Farm

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

Major / Minor Modulation

This tutorial shows you how to use modulate between keys that don't share a useful pivot chord.

In the previous tutorial we looked at using a pivot chord to move between two keys. The pivot chord belongs to both keys, so there is no dividing line when we change key.

Not every pair of keys share a pivot chord. We often need to go a different route.

The diagram shows the chord sequence for moving from A to C. In this case there is no sensible pivot chord (there are chords that are shared, but they aren't the basic 6 chords that are easy to use as pivots).

Here there is a dividing line. We play the chord of D major in A and then Dm in C. And if you play the sequence, you can here the divide in a way that was more difficult in the diatonic modulation.

Just as for the diatonic modulation, we then follow the chord map to the root, so we firmly establish the new key in the ear of the listener.

Minor-major modulation always uses a chord that is minor in one key, but major in the other. It is less smooth than diatonic modulations, but smoother than other kinds of modulation.

Why it works

Minor major modulation also relies on pivoting. Because there is no chord that is in both keys, we use a chord that has two out of three of its notes in both keys. A minor and major chord share the same root note, and fifth note, only the third note changes. So A major (A, C#, E) shares the A and E with A minor (A, C, E).

This 'semi-pivoting' idea keeps the transition fairly smooth. The change of mood between a minor and major chord is very noticable, however, and adds interest to the progression.

It would be possible to use other chords that share their root and third notes, but change their fifth. The chord Bm in the key of A has the notes (B, D, F#), corresponding to Bdim in C major which has (B, D, F). Although these share two notes, the Bdim chord doesn't suit all styles of music, so we've only used pairs where the third changes.

Multi-step diatonic

If major-minor modulation isn't smooth enough, you can always stick to diatonic modulation. If you can't go directly between two keys, you can use an intermediate. Under the modulations in the chart is a suggested route to get to your end key using only diatonic modulations.

From A to C, for example, it recommends you go via A-G-C or A-D-C. So first you'd modulate from A to G (a diatonic modulation), and then from G to your target of C. Alternatively you can use D as the intermediate key.

In the case of some modulations (A to B♭ for example), you may have to go through 2 intermediate keys. Two is the most: you can get anywhere in two steps.

Direct Jumping

The next tutorial looks at a faster way to get between keys: jumping directly to the dominant of the new key. We use it in the one case where there is no diatonic or major-minor modulation to use.