Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Modulating to different keys

I was recently playing some short, meditative Taize pieces on the mandolin with a guitar player friend for a contemplative worship at our church. We were playing about 4 or 5 of these together, with variations, and a few were in different keys. Instead of stopping and restarting, we wanted to string them all together – which meant figuring out chord bridges that would take us to the new keys. I managed to do this with some rudimentary theory and trial and error, but I’m sure I was doing it the hard way and I’m not sure it sounded as good as it could have. I’m wondering if there a formula of some kind that would make this easier? I have a vague memory of using the circle of fifths for this? Thanks. Tim

Yeah, you’re right on! This is one way to do it. You’ll play the seventh chord of the 5th tone of the scale you’re going to.

That sounds confusing. So, take the key you’re going to. What’s the V chord? Play that chord with a dominant 7th tone .

For example, let’s say we’re modulating to G. The V chord in the key of G is the D chord, so I’m going to play the D7 chord to take me to the key of G.

Let’s say you’re modding to E. The V (5) chord in the key of E is B, so play a B7 chord to take you to E. I hope that helps!

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Perfect. That sure makes it easy. Now I’ve got to sit down and learn all my dominant chords! Thanks.

I seem to recall watching a Ukulele Lesson where the teacher played through a whole bunch of 7th Chords changing keys as he played before revolving at the root, sounded pretty neat.

It’s interesting playing around with this and trying to understand why it works from a ear and theory standpoint. The first move to the dominant can, in some cases, create a feeling of “what the heck is going on here” (like modding from B to G using a D7 as the pivot; there aren’t a lot of common chord tones between B major and D7) – but the dissonance only makes you want the the resolution the V7 chord even more. It doesn’t really matter where you came from to get to the V7 – once you’re there it just wants so badly to get to the new home, the new I chord.

Let me make sure I’m understanding this right: so no matter what key you’re going from, you just play the V7 of the chord you’re going to?

if I’m going from A to G, I’d play D7 and then a G
if I’m going from Bb to G, I’d play D7 and then a G

That right?

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That is correct…it always works. However, as @Timmy says, some sound better than others. There might be times where I choose a different modulation method, maybe even what’s called a surprise modulation where you immediately go to the new key. Sometimes I yell at people to aid in the surprise.


This Just led me to re listen to Ben’s Are You Washed in the Blood (guitar). Sure enough, he starts in C and changes to G. Just before the key changed, he walked it to D7.

Not as difficult as one might think, and it sounded great. :+1:


Just to pile on here (because this was one of those AHA moments for me) the principle behind using a 5th to modulate to another key is the same reason why the A chord sounds so good in the key of G. It’s almost always played right before the D chord, so you’re literally playing the 5th of the 5th. Same for D in the Key of C, E in the key of D, etc.

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It’s the quality of the dominant chord that makes the resolution to the new key work so well. I think that we’re so used to hearing 7th chords in our playing that we can forget how dissonant and unstable they are. The key chord tones in a D7 are the third (F#) and the b7 (C ). Just play those two notes together. Yuck. They cry to be resolved to G and B, the root and third of G major – the new key.

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In Cat Steven’s “Morning has broken”, I loved the way the piano player (Rick Wakeman!!!) handled key changes. It sounded like a little adventure. Starting in the key of C, he gets to D by going C F G E Am F# Bm G D A7 D. He gets to D a few measures early (Bm) and then cements the change with the G D A7 D. In another case to resolve back down from D to C, it is D G A F# Bm G7 C F C. A slightly different approach, but I liked it as well.


I’d like to hear that. Do you know if that song is available anywhere online?

Checking pandora! That song is awesome. I’m surprised Rick Wakeman played keyboards. I’m a huge Yes fan from way back.

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FYI, Cat Stevens is a devout Muslim, and denounded all his music 30 years ago or so. Completely disappeared from the scene. However, he did make an appearance on an awards show 7 or 8 years ago.

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