While listening to a playlist of music from the 1980s / 1990s / early 2000s, I noticed that many of the songs have a pattern where the last chorus is sung in a much higher key than the previous choruses. Here are some examples:

  • Bon Jovi: Livin' On A Prayer
  • Celine Dion: That's The Way It Is
  • Genesis: Invisible Touch
  • Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

There are many more examples I'm sure, but those are the ones I could remember off the top of my head.

Is there a name for this musical style / pattern?


3 Answers 3


Actually none of these are examples of singing in a higher octave, they are examples of “modulation”, a changing of key, usually to a key that is a semitone to a few semitones higher than the original. It gives the feeling of a lift in the music because the singers are now singing at a slightly higher pitch than they were before. However it is far less than an octave higher.

Livin’ on a Prayer modulates from G to Bb, 3 semitones.

That’s the way it is modulates from E to A, 5 semitones.

Invisible Touch modulates from F to G, 2 semitones.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody modulates from Gb to Ab, 2 semitones.

A modulation at the end of song is an artist’s and/or arrangers choice to make. It is not done all the time but it does occur with some regularity. One to two semitone modulations are most common but as you can see by the examples sometimes bigger ones occur. Stevie Wonder in particular is an artist that has made use of modulation many times on his recordings over the years. “You are the Sunshine of my Life” and “My Cherie Amor” are two examples of a semitone modulation in his music.

  • 3
    @ScottCrooks The textbook example of upping the intensity by modulating is “Mack the Knife,” which modulates after every verse. Jan 27, 2023 at 22:11
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    @AndyBonner Peggy Lee’s “Fever” is a similar example. Jan 28, 2023 at 0:13
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    Thank you everyone for the answers. I used the term "octave" because I really don't know much about musical theory! I was struggling even struggling on how to word the question, so thank you also for the clarification. Jan 28, 2023 at 10:42
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    Funny, played last night with a big band - Fever. Started in Am, modulated to Bbm, then to Cm. Sort of 'accelerated' modulation.
    – Tim
    Jan 28, 2023 at 10:49
  • @ScottCrooks Glad to help. One thing to be aware of is that modulating up towards the end of a song like this is just one way that a song can modulate and has no specific name. Any song or piece of music can modulate up or down to any other key multiple times at any point and even back to the original key. Jan 28, 2023 at 11:31

Actually, this type of modulation to a higher key before repeating the chorus at the end of a song does have a name, although a slightly derogatory one: the "truck driver's gear change".

See Wiktionary for a basic definition:

truck driver's gear change (music, slang, derogatory) The practice of extending a composition by repeating an earlier section but transposed to a higher pitch.

or TV Tropes for a list of several hundred examples.

  • 1
    I thought truck driver's gearchange signified a key change with no preparation at all, not even V of the new key.
    – Tim
    Jan 29, 2023 at 15:55
  • I didn’t find this in the music dictionary after “tenuto” and “trill” but I did get a chuckle out of it. Jan 30, 2023 at 17:32

In German there is the technical term wikipedia: Rückung, but neither wikipedia nor my dictionaries seem to offer an English translation.

The mentioned article states, that in contrast to a modulation an immediate change of key takes place.

(The term does make no statement concerning the use as emphasis in the last section.)

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