Writing Music 101: Changing Keys (Modulation) | Jason Rivera | Skillshare

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Writing Music 101: Changing Keys (Modulation)

teacher avatar Jason Rivera, Composer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (32m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Major and Minor Keys Review

    • 3. Chords Review

    • 4. Changing Keys

    • 5. Closing Thoughts

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About This Class

Learn the basics of changing keys, or modulating, from composer Jason Rivera. This 30-minute class covers the fundamentals of using modulation in your music—walking you through the process step-by-step. A special emphasis is given to the technique of Pivot Chord Modulation.

For your class project you will create your own chord progression in one key that modulates to a new key and then back to the original key, utilizing the fundamentals we cover in the class, and record it. Your recording doesn't have to be professional quality—a smartphone demo will work just fine.

Anyone interested in cultivating their skills as a songwriter and/or composer can benefit from this class. This class is designed for intermediate songwriters and composers. Basic knowledge of music notation, an understanding of the fundamentals of music theory, access to and the ability to play major, minor, diminished and dominant 7th chords on a chord-producing instrument, e.g., piano or guitar, is required.

For a deeper look at creating chord progressions using the technique described in the Chords Review lesson, check out my other class Writing Music 101: Create a Chord Progression in a Major Key.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jason Rivera




I'm Jason Rivera. I compose music and teach from my studio in Los Angeles, CA. You can check out my music on my website and you can join my email list for updates.

“Excellent class!!! He made concepts that have been difficult to understand previously so clear and concise. Really got a lot out of this class. This is foundational to becoming a good composer. Can't wait to try doing the assignments!!!”

- Mona Lisa P, Skillshare Student

“Things I have been confused about for years finally made sense to me through Jason's instructions. I can't thank you enough, Jason.”

- Ronja B, Skillshare Student

“Great work, with engaging visuals and great audio and video qua... See full profile

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1. Introduction: My name is Jason Rivera. I'm a composer and multi instrumentalist. I've written on and played on countless recordings over the years, have written for and conducted some of the best live musicians in the world here in Los Angeles and I've toward the United States as a performer, this class is a deep dive on the basics of changing keys in your music, what is commonly known as modulation. It's my goal with this class to provide you with the tools and techniques that you need to begin modulating in your own music. In this class, we will cover key signatures, major and minor keys, the circle of fifths cords and how to use them defining modulation. And it's practical. Use common modulations and techniques to modulate in your music. By the end of these video lessons, you'll be ready for your project, where you're gonna create your own court progression in one key that modulates to a new key and then back to the original key and make a demo recording of it. Modulation is a time honored technique that's been used throughout the history of music. I first learned how to modulate by studying the techniques of J. S. Bach. Great composers throughout history, like Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky and countless others look toe box for inspiration and drew from his musical language to create their own style. In this class, we're going to go to the source of these techniques, and Western music and grab will be came from Bach so that we could apply to our own songs and compositions. 2. Major and Minor Keys Review: we're going to start this class out with a quick review of key signatures. First off, Why even think in terms of a key thinking in terms of keys helps to organize your musical ideas and as a gateway to modulation in your music. In order to apply this to your music, you need to be aware of musical keys, which are connected to scales and chords. When a song or composition is based on a certain scale, we would say that that peace is in the key of that scale. So if a song is based on the C major scale, then we would say that pieces in the key of C major. When you assign a key to a piece or two, a section of a piece, most of the notes and the music will stay within that key, and it's corresponding scale. So if you're pieces in G major, your primary notes and the melodies and chords would come from the G major scale. One exception to this would be any accidental, such as passing tones and neighbor tones. Also, from a music notation standpoint, using a key and key signature allows you to designate consistent sharps and flats throughout an entire piece of music without using a lot of accidental zin. Your notation. It helps to keep your music notation more orderly. To designate a key, you decide on your key and then use a key signature at the beginning of your peace and your music notation. This key signature tells you if and how maney, sharps or flats are used in that key, and it will dictate what chords you could use in that key. For example, let's say you're writing a piece based on the G major scale. So at the beginning of your piece, you would designate that the song is in G major by putting a sharp on the offline, since the key of G major has one sharp half sharp. So every time there's an F in your music, you play an F sharp. Let's dive a little deeper into keys. There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys for a total of 24 keys. Three of the keys could be named two different ways with an harmonics, one spelling with sharp note names and the other spelling with flat known names. This results in 15 different major key spellings and 15 different minor key spellings. So there are 24 total keys and 30 ways to spell them. One of the most convenient ways of remembering all of the keys and to see the relationship between the major and the minor keys is to use the circle of Fifth. So starting at the top of this chart at the key of C, if you move clockwise up a perfect fifth, you had a sharp to the key. So the key of G major, a perfect fifth up from C has one sharp. The key of D major, a perfect fifth from G, has two sharps and so on. The circle of fifths also works in a counterclockwise direction for flat keys. So starting from C major, you move down a perfect fifth and you get to the key of F major, which has one flat. If you go down a perfect fifth from F, you get B flat major, which has two flats and so on. You'll see in this chart that there are major and minor keys that are related to each other and that they share the same key signature we call these relative Major and minor keys. The relative minor key is a minor third or 3/2 steps lowered than the major key with the same key signature. For example, a minor is the relative minor key to see Major. The note A is a minor third or 3/2 steps lower than see both keys have the key signature with no sharps and no flats. If you learn the major key signatures than this concept of relative major and minor keys is useful to help you find the minor key signatures without learning a whole new set of keys, you could just relate the minor key signatures to the major key signatures. There's a downloadable pdf of the Circle of Fifths diagram in the attached file section of this class. I highly recommend that you take some time to study this chart on your own. 3. Chords Review: Okay, so let's talk about cords. Earlier, I mentioned that cords are connected to scales into keys. If you're working with a major scale in a major key, then automatically you're gonna have certain basic chords immediately available to you. Looking at this chart, you can see that these air chords of the major scale this particular scale in key C major, so there are no sharps or flats. But you could apply this concept of any major key, and we apply these chord relationships to any major key by using a Roman numeral labelling system. We're using the lower case Roman numerals for minor chords and capital room and numerals for major courts. The little circle next to the seventh chord in the chart indicates that it's a diminished chord. So starting from the left hand side of the chart, we're building accord on each of the scale degrees of a major scale. You can see that the one chord is major. The two cord is minor. The 3/4 minor, the 4/4 major. The five chord is a 57 or dominant seventh chord. The six court is minor and the seven chord is diminished. You'll notice in this chart that the only four No cord as 1/7 chord on the fifth scale degree, a dominant seventh chord. This is the only four no core that I included in the chart, since this dominant seventh chord is so useful for establishing a key signature. And we'll learn more about this later in the class. Following along with this chart in the key of C Major, you'd have the one chord as C major, the two Chord as D minor. The three Chord is a minor. The four chord is F major 57 Chord is G dominant seven. The six court is a minor, and the seven diminished chord is be diminished. So I'm doing here Is building cords that grow out of the C major scale? Since I'm in the key of C major now, you could apply these court relationships toe any key. If we were in the key of G major, the one chord would be G major. The two cord would be a minor. The three core would be be minor. The four chord would be C major 57 or dominant seventh chord is de dominant seven. The six chord is e Minor and the seven diminished Chord have sharp diminished again. These particular chord and Roman numeral relationships work for all major keys. Naturally, you can also build chords on a minor scale in a minor scale, moving from left to right on the chart. The one chord is minor. The two court is diminished. The 3/4 major, the four chord is minor. The five chord is minor, the six court is major, and the seventh court is major again. We're using the lower case Roman numerals for minor chords and capital room and numerals for major courts. This chart is in a minor, which is the relative minor key to see Major. Now we're going to make a small but important alteration to this chart to help us with our class project. Where we're going to do is raise the seven scale degree up 1/2 step. This creates a leading tone and the one chord or tonic court. So on our chart and a minor, we're raising the note G two g sharp. This leading tone is a tone that occurs in the harmonic minor scale. However, it's important to note that for our purposes were only raising the seven scale degree on our five chord and are seven chord. So this changes are five chord from minor to major or dominant seven, as we'll be using in our project and our seven court from Major to diminished. Why do we make this change well by making our five chord major or dominant, and making our seven scale degree diminished? We use these new cords and are minor key to help us establish what key were in. When we're writing our court progressions, we'll get into this and further depth later on in the class. Let me play through these chords and a minor. The one chord is a minor to diminish. Court is be diminished. The three chord C major four Chord is D minor, 57 Chord is E dominant seven. The six Korda's F major in the seven Diminish court is G sharp diminished. All right, so now let's talk about classifying types of chords and music. We categorize cords to help us create core progressions. I have another class called writing music. Wanna one create a court progression in a major key and that class is dedicated to using this chart? We're looking at to create original core progressions, you might want to check back class out as well. What I'm doing in this lesson is just quickly showing you that by organizing our chords in this way, we can help to create powerful and effective chord progressions. And later we can use the same system to create our core progression and modulate toe other keys, the cords that we're dealing with in this chart or from our major scale. So going from left to right in the chart, we have tonic chords, the one in the six, which are stable sounding, then predominant cords. The four and the two, which are precursors toe, are dominant chords, and the dominant chords are are diminished seven and dominant seventh chords In between the tonic and predominant cords and pre dominant and dominant chords, we have our minor three chord. So with this chart, the idea is to move from left to right, cycling through stable cords, toe unstable chords and then back to the beginning toe are tonic chords. Now we're looking at a version of this chart for a minor key. Our tonic stable cords are the one, and the six are predominant cords are four and two diminished, and our dominant courts are diminished. Seven chord and are dominant seven court. And again we have are three Chord, which is a major court in this case. And it sits between our tonic and predominant cords or in between our pre dominant and dominant chords. And just like with our cords in a major key, when we create our core progression, we cycle from left to right or from stable cords toe unstable cords to demonstrate how I would use the court charts we've just been looking at. I'm gonna create a court progression in the key of G major. This same court progression is what we're gonna use later on in this class. When we start modulating, I'm gonna start with my one chord G major to my 57 chord D dominant seven and back to my G major chord. Now why do I start there? While the one to the 57 to the one is a great way to quickly establish what Kieran from there, I add in a pre dominant chord my to court a minor. Then I add in a dominant chord my D dominant seven again Now you're cords that fall into the dominant category. They want to resolve to a one chord. They pull that year towards the one. So then I'm gonna add in my one court G major. So let's hear the court progression that we have so far. So there we have our first chord phrase from this first phrase we're going to start modulating. 4. Changing Keys: a piece of music might start in one key and then movinto one or more other keys as it progresses when a piece of music changes keys in this way, it's called modulation. Music writers use modulation in their music to create variety and shifts. It's interesting to note that in modern music and style, such as pop and rock music modulations not commonly used, but it's an important technique toe have because it expands her musical palette and helps you to set your music apart from everyone else's. One technique that I want to bring to your attention at this point is using secondary dominant courts. Secondary dominance aren't a true form of modulation, but they're great way to add color and variety to your court progressions, and you can think of them as a sort of warm up to modulation. Secondary dominance are dominant chords of other courts and the key that you're working in . So, for example, using the core progression that I created in our last lesson, I would establish my key as G major using my 1571 cords them before I play my pre dominant chord. My two chord a minor. I would add in the 57 court of a minor. So before I play my a minor chord, I would add in in E seven, which is the 57 in the key of a minor, followed by my a minor chord so that E seven is the 57 of the two chord and in this context is a secondary dominant. Then I moved to my D dominant seven chord to my one chord on that closes the progression off. Let's hear the whole cord phrase. So my original court phrase had six chords in it, and now it has seven chords in it. You can hear how, adding in one chord that doesn't naturally occur in the key signature can start to add some flavor to your music when using secondary dominant chords. Just remember to immediately follow the secondary dominant with the cord that the secondary dominate originates from so my example. I played the E seven immediately followed by the A minor. So it's the 57 of to immediately followed by the two chord. Using secondary dominance is a great way to warm up to modulation in your music, and I would recommend trying it out in your own court progressions. Here is a chart of secondary dominance in the key of C major. I'm including this chart as well as the other charts that I make reference to as a downloadable. PdF in the attached file section of this class and again, I encourage you to take some time to study these handouts. Now, the main method of modulating that we're gonna cover in this class is what we call pivot cord modulation with pivot cord modulation. You use accord that's common to two keys as a way of leaving three Old Key and entering into the new key. The cord that the two keys have in common is called the Pivot Court because it allows you to pivot your court progression into a new key. There are other ways to modulate, but this pivot court modulation has a smooth and subtle sound to it, and it's a great foundation to start with. Since it dates back to the Baroque period, pivot cord modulation could be broken into four steps. Step one. You establish the first key that you're in, usually by using the one to the 57 to the one cords step two, you use a pivot court. The Pivot Court belongs to the original key and the new key. Step three. You enter into the new key and you establish the new key by using accord that's not in the original key. And then step for your resolve in the new key by moving to the tonic of the new key. So let's go back to our first court phrase that I created in Lesson three. We've already covered Step one. In the progression that I've started. I went from my G major chord to my D dominant seventh chord and back to my G major chord. So I've used the 1571 cords to firmly establish my original key. Now, for Step two, I'm going to create a second court phrase. But before I move ahead, I want to pause for a quick second to mention a couple of things first when you're modulating, if your original key is a major key, then the new key that you modulate to should be the dominant or five of your original key and my demo here I'm in the key of G major, so I'm gonna want to modulate to D major, because D is the five chord in G major. If I were in a minor key, then I would want to pivot to the three Chord or the relative major of the key that I'm in . So if my original key, for example was g minor, then I would want to pivot to B Flat Major, my three chord and the key of G minor since B Flat major is the relative major of G minor. Okay, so, back to our second court phrase, I'm gonna start this phrase with my one core G major. Then I'm gonna move to my minor six chord in G major E minor. Remember, from our classifications of chords chart that the six chord is also a tonic chord and can follow the one court. Now, E minor happens to also be the two chord and the key of D major are new key. So this e minor chord is our pivot cord because it's accord that shared between both my original key and my second key. Okay, on to step three. Now that you've pivoted and you're in your new key, you want to quickly establish that and again, the best way to establish your key is to use the 57 toe one. So I've modulated to the key of D Major. And now I'm gonna play my 57 in D Major, a dominant seven now on to step for where I resolve in the new key by moving to the tonic court. So I moved to my new one chord, which now is D major. From there, I'm going to my four Corgi Major and G majors, my pre dominant chord. Then I moved to my five Chord, a major followed by my six chord B minor. Let's hear phrase to now we move into our third court phrase and my third chord phrase, I'm gonna pivot back to the key of G Major. I start out in the key of D Major, which we established in phrase to, and I moved to a three chord af sharp liner. From there I moved to my pre dominant chord, and I'm gonna use e minor and a miner's my pivot court back to the key of G major. So now that I'm back in the key of G major and want to quickly establish that nooky So I moved to my 57 chord D seven on then to my one corgi major, and then I moved to my pre dominant chord C major on. Then I add in a three chord B minor before getting to my dominant type Court D seven. And finally I land on my one corgi major. Let's take a listen. The court frees three. Okay, so we've started in our home k g major. We modulated to our dominant five key in this case, the key of D Major. And then we made it back to our home key. G major. Let's take a listen to all three chord phrases together phrase one phrase to phrase three. 5. Closing Thoughts: Okay, so that completes our class on changing keys. I hope that it was able to provide you with some new ideas and useful techniques, and I hope that now you feel like you have the confidence to jump in and create a court progression modulates to a new key. Your project for this class is to write your own core progression that modulates. Using a pivot court, you'll pick your first key signature. It could be a major key or a minor key. Then pick a key to modulate to make sure that the key that you modulate Teoh is a Roman numeral cord of your original key and my demo. I was in the key of G major, and then I picked the five chord in G major, the D, to modulate to remember, there's no such thing as a diminished key. So if you're in a major key, don't modulate to the seven chord. And if you're in a minor key, don't modulate to the two diminished or the seven diminished. Also, remember that if you're in a major key, you want to modulate to the dominant five key, and if you're in a minor key, you'll want to modulate to a relative major key. The three. You're gonna write three quart phrases just like I did in my demo. Each chord phrase should have around 68 cords in them. Make sure at least one starting out that the cords and your cord phrases cycle from left to right, from tonic chord to predominant court to dominant court, just like I did in my demo. For this step, be sure to look over the classification of chords, chart and the attached file section of this class. You'll write your first chord phrase in your original key. Then in your second court frees, you use a pivot court to modulate to your new key. Remember a pivot Korda's accord that exists both in your original key and then the second key that you're modulating, too. Once you've pivoted, moved to your dominant seven chord in your new key. This helps to quickly establish the new key. Then, in your third chord phrase, you use a pivot court and modulate back to your original key. Remember that the best in the quickest way to establish the key that you're in is to use the 57 toe one cords 12 You might want to write your three chord phrases out on paper using Roman numerals and chord names before or while you're playing them on an instrument. Personally, I find this really helpful for organizing my ideas while I'm playing them on an instrument . Once you've written your 3/4 phrases that modulate you record a quick demo of it. It could be you playing your core progression on an instrument such as guitar, piano. Or if you're comfortable using a digital audio workstation or notation software. You could also program your core progression in an export an audio file. I want to stress that your demo doesn't need to be perfect in terms of the writing or the production quality. It could be a rough demo that you recording your smartphone. Then you're gonna upload your recordings to Soundcloud, Dropbox or YouTube and post your links in the Project gallery. I encourage you to post works in progress and sketches and to write record and post as many court progressions as you can. The more you practice this technique, the easier it gets and the more second nature it becomes. Be sure to read the project description on the class page where I've listed out the specific steps for your assignment and also be sure to download the supplemental materials and the attached file section. Remember, the goal of this project is to get you writing and trying a new concept and sharing your results with your classmates so that we can grow as songwriters and composers together. And remember that pivot cord modulation is just one method of changing keys. But it's a great foundation to build other techniques on top of and remember as you're writing to trust your years, feel free to reach out to me with any questions that you might have by posting them in the community section on the class page. I'll do my best to answer your questions as soon as I can. Thank you so much for watching this class, and I'm looking forward to hearing what you come up with