Today I will help you understand how to modulate to trigger the desired emotions in your audience.

This is the last article of the series How to project emotions through music, and honestly this is my favorite topic we have discussed so far. In previous articles, I shared some information and tips on how to choose the different elements of a song while composing to trigger a desired emotion in our audience. But what if the story we want to tell is complex? What if we want to generate a whole experience made up of different emotions? Modulating.

What is modulation?

In a nutshell, modulation is changing from one key to another, which has a huge power on emotional response while listening to a song.

There are a lot of ways and techniques to modulate, there is not just one formula. The most important thing is to do it in a subtle and eloquent way. We must be very careful because if we don't do it right, the modulation can create noise, distraction, or even make it seem like the sections of the song are not part of the same song.

Three questions that you need to ask yourself to modulate are:

  1. What emotion do I want to trigger?
  2. Where do I come from and where am I going?
  3. How I am going to do it?

To answer these questions, first you need to decide on the desired emotion and choose the right key to project it.

Learn more about choosing the key in our dedicated article How to project emotions through music: choosing the key

You must consider on one hand, the key where the modulation starts, and on the other hand, the key you want to change it for. Then, you have to decide how to connect both keys.

How to connect the keys?

As I said before, there is not just one way to do it. There are many techniques to do so, but there are four that I LOVE because of how simple and effective they are.

  1. Pivot-chord

A pivot-chord refers to a chord that is native in both keys. This type of modulation requires for you to find that shared chord.

Let's say I want to modulate from G to F. The first thing to consider is the chords of each key.

  • G

Chords: G Am Bm C D Em F#dim

  • F

Chords: F Gm Am Bb C Dm Edim

To refresh your memory about how to build the chords of a scale check out our dedicated article How to project emotions through music: chord progression

From the list above you can see that the common chords are: Am and C, so these are the chords you want to use in the modulation.

2. Melody driven

For this technique you are basically using the melody as the bridge to modulate. Observe the notes of the melody, recognize the common notes on both keys and make an assertive choice.

Let's say this time I want to modulate from A to Db. The notes and chords of each key are:

  • A:

A B C# D E F# G#

A Bm C#m D E F#m Gdim

  • Db

Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C

Db Ebm Fm Gb Ab Bbm Cdim

The common notes are: Gb or F# and Db or C# and apparently there are no chords in common. So, what I would do is to ch0ose one of the common notes (Gb) and use one of the Db key chords including that note to modulate (Ebm, Gb or Cdim).

3. Using the IV chord

This one is really simple, fun and beautiful. What you need to do is to modulate as many times as needed with the IV chord until reaching the desired key.

Let's say I want to modulate from D to F. The IV of D is G, the IV of G is C and the IV of C is F, and that's it.

4. Using the V7 chord

This one is about using the V7 chords of each key. So, you need to play the V7 of the first key and then the V7 of the second key. That's all.

Let's say I want to modulate from Ab to C. I would need to play the chord Eb7 and then G7 to modulate.

A neat modulation is the one that the audience does not notice while it generates a strong emotional effect.

For modulation, there are no impossibles. It's all about finding what connects one key to the other.

Tip: you can boost the effect of the modulation with a good use of the tempo. Learn more about this in our dedicated article How to project emotions through music: setting the tempo

Also, we need to find the right moment for the modulation in our song, "each modulation should be tailored to a particular musical situation". A very common practice is using a modulation at the chorus or in a bridge.

I hope this series of articles will help you create amazing songs.

Thank you for being part of our community.

See you next time!

If you liked this article, check out the other articles in this series:

  1. Music: A catalyst for emotions
  2. Choosing the key
  3. Setting the tempo
  4. Melody
  5. Harmony
  6. Chord progression
  7. Modulation