Fret Farm

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

Basic (Diatonic) Modulation

This tutorial shows you how to use the smoothest form of modulation: diatonic modulation.

Modulation means to change key, it occurs sometimes within a song, and often when you want to play two songs together without stopping. You could simply stop playing in one key and start playing in a different key. This works between songs, but you can hear the 'jump'. Often you want to move smoothly between two keys with a less noticeable dividing line.

The modulation chart on the key pages, gives a list of chords to take you between any pair of keys. The diagram above shows the sequence to take you smoothly from A to D. You can simply play this sequence when you need to change key to D.

Understanding the colors

The chords are color coded to give you an idea of what you're doing as you modulate.

Why this works

Remember in the chord voicing tutorials we talked about pivoting? To keep a smooth progression, you keep as many notes the same between chords.

The same principle is at work here. To move between two keys you use a chord that is in both keys: called a pivot chord. So there is no join, no moment when you change key. This is called a diatonic modulation: the 'change over' chord is valid in both keys, it is marked in green on the modulation chart.

You can't always modulate diatonically. There are no shared chords that can be used to pivot between the keys of A major and C major. The principle is still the same, we keep as many notes as possible during the handover: we use a major / minor modulation.