I've been messing around with simple 2-part rounds recently, and also with modulation. The question occurred to me, can a round modulate? Initially I though not, since it would involve having parts in different keys playing against each other. However, maybe this could work musically, or at least the same notes could serve different roles in different keys so that it might somehow work out.

Any thoughts on this? Any examples of simple two part rounds which contain modulation?

  • I could, presumably, write a round such that the modulations "line up" — that is, the two parts always modulate together. Does your question include those, or are you specifically asking about whether parts can be in two keys simultaneously?
    – Aaron
    Apr 14, 2022 at 19:40
  • I'm curious about all possibilities. I'm not sure how the parts can modulate together when they are out of phase. Do you know any examples? Apr 14, 2022 at 20:05
  • I don't know of examples, but I can vaguely imagine key changes one way or another around the circle of fifths that might sound alright. :) Apr 14, 2022 at 20:13
  • 3
    You might have to differentiate between "round" and "canon," since rounds usually repeat several times. But check out Telemann's canonic sonatas; the movements are purely imitative and decent sized, and they definitely move in and out of major/minor and dominants etc. Apr 14, 2022 at 20:24

3 Answers 3



It can be done, and in the hands of a good composer, it could be done well.

Trivially, Yes.

A Trivial Example: is it really modulation?

Trivial round in C and G major

Using the loosest definition of "modulation", this round moves between C major and G major (or, at least, between two pitch centers), but since the moves are "in sync" (each has two measures of C followed by two measures of G), there's no problem.

Of course, in addition to the questionable claim of modulation, there's also little semblance to staying within the rules of tonality (e.g., parallel fifths).

Another Trivial Example: Bi-tonality

Bitonal round in C and C# major

Here the modulation isn't debatable, but the aesthetics might be. For the sake of discussion, we all love bitonal music, so this round presents no problem for us.

Another Trivial Example: "Hocket"

It is assumed without proof that we could create a round in which one part is always resting while the other is singing.

A Final Trivial Example: Serialism

It is also assumed we could create a similarly trivial example via serialism.

Less Trivially, Yes.

A Less Trivial Example: Tonality with "real" modulation

A better definition of modulation is there there should be a cadence in the new key, so let's at least require a leading-tone-to-tonic motion. Also, let's stay with the spirit of the question, which seems to presume familiar tonality.

Tonality with modulation

This is by no means a "good" round, but it at least demonstrates the possibility of modulation — again, if only on the fairly trivial side of things. Here, as with the first example, the modulations are "in sync", so there's no concern about being in two different keys simultaneously.

Another Less Trivial Example: Bi-modality

Again, the spirit of the question seems to presume different tonal centers, but there are definitions of "modulation" that admit shifting between major and minor within the same key, as the below example does.

Bi-modal round

Another Less Trivial Example: Relative Keys

Let us assume without proof that we could create a round that alternates non-trivially between C major and A minor, for example.

But Non-trivially ...?

The above examples support a sort of proof-of-concept idea of rounds in two keys simultaneously. But, as stated, the spirit of the question seems to be

Can there be an "interesting" round that 1) follows the rules of tonality, 2) doesn't delve too deeply into chromaticism, and 3) has parts simultaneously and unambiguously in two different key signatures.

Yes. Here is an example of how this might work. I've chosen the keys of C major and A major, because they share (enharmonically) a leading-tone diminished chord. This allows for simultaneous modulation in both keys (and even opens the door to a four-key round).

disclaimer: I am no composer.

Non-trivial round in two keys


Yes, it can be done, but mostly in a pretty limited way. I have written a simple canon for you that is in C and modulates to A minor and back to C.

enter image description here

  • By the way, it could be done as a round if you omit the final empty bar in the 1st voice, and repeat from the beginning, following suit in the 2nd voice.
    – Jomiddnz
    Apr 16, 2022 at 1:25

Somewhat surprised that nobody has mentioned Bach's modulating canon (the "Canon a 2 per tonos", inscribed with the allegorical Ascendenteque Modulatione ascendat Gloria Regis [With ascending modulation ascends the King's glory]) from the Musikalisches Opfer (BWV 1079): not exactly a typical "round", but it does have the essential characteristics; in that it includes two voices (the third plays an independent line based on the theme on which the whole volume is based on top), which are playing the exact same thing (albeit a perfect fifth apart): [only beginning pictured]

First few bars of the modulating canon from BWV 1079

So that's an example. Of course, its fairly doable to compose an actual strict round (with both voices playing the exact same thing) which does this too. Here's one (starting in G minor and modulating, like Bach's, by whole tones):

A canon in G minor

  • I also thought of this while reading the post, but technically, each voice in a round executes the exact same part. The only way to consider your example and Bach's as a round is if we assume all the modulations constitute an instance of the round. What makes this sketchy is that each modulation is repeating the melodic content in the previous key. A 'better' example of a modulating round would employ different content for each key. I wonder if the OP actually cared about a round versus a canon.
    – user3235
    Jun 20, 2022 at 15:59

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