I have noticed that sometimes the music plays a tone, goes up a few semitones with it and then that last tone in the walk is treated like the fifth in the new key it modulates to. Sometimes the tone was the fifth in the old key before it started walking, so to speak, so it is kind of like the key was transposed up a few semitones. This kind of thing seem to happen in (some versions of) Bränd-Pers vals for example.

Other times the last note in the walk is the old key's leading tone, but in the new key it would be the third or something like that. This kind of thing seems to happen in Carmen by Sarasate Op. 25 for example, although it might be numbered differently because I guess it might not be the usual major key and that seems to affect what number or name you give the notes.

I am wondering if there is some established nomenclature about these kind of things. I can imagine the number of possibilities growing quite chaotically so I don't expect every possibility to have a name.

  • Are you asking about a name for the key change, or a name for the process or getting there? A concrete example would help.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:00
  • I guess I am asking if I can say a 7-to-3 key change or if noone will understand me then because the usual name is ???. And I thought the buildup might affect the name. Not sure what you mean with concrete. Do you mean song and bar or what.
    – Emil
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:04
  • Your comment provides helpful clarification. By concrete, I mean a specific example in a piece of music where the kind of modulation you're asking about happens.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:10
  • That edit is very helpful. If you could say where in Sarasate's "Carmen" such a modulation occurs, that would save everyone the time of searching through the score or a recording to try to find an example of what you're describing.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:23
  • Usually some of them happens in songs I don't have sheet music in so I don't know for sure what happens. I just notice the seven notes I am playing sound like crap suddenly :-)
    – Emil
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:31

1 Answer 1


There isn't a special name for this type of modulation, but there are some terms relevant to it.

  1. mediant relationship: A mediant relationship is a relationship by thirds. So a modulation from I to III or I to VI is either a diatonic mediant modulation (if it's the III or VI of the originating key/mode) or a chromatic mediant modulation (if the III or VI comes a different key/mode).
  2. secondary dominant: When the arrival in the new key is preceding by a dominant chord from that key, that preceding chord is called a secondary dominant. For example, if a modulation to III is preceded by a dominant seventh chord built on ^7 (i.e., VII[#,7]), then a secondary dominant (labeled V7/III [read: "five-seven of three"]) is in use.
  3. pivot chord: When the dominant chord of the new key is also a diatonic chord in the old key, it's known as a pivot chord. An example here would be the VII7 chord in minor. One might have a walk-up progression like V - VI - VII in a minor key, which then resolves to III of that key. The VII chord is simultaneously operating in both the originating key (as VII) and the new key (as V). Note that pivot chords are not uniquely dominant chords relative to the new key. Any chord that functions simultaneously in both the originating key and in the target key can be a pivot chord.
  • When you say from I to III, which key are they respectively in?
    – Emil
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:38
  • 1
    @Emil I is the key before the modulation, III is the key after modulation, relative to the original key. In other words, in a modulation from C major to E minor, C would be I and E minor would be III.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 6:43
  • I understand you correct that with III you are talking about the tonic of the new key relative to the original key? So it could be the tonic of some kind of mode?
    – Emil
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 7:33
  • @Emil Yes, though typically it will either be major or minor.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 7:36
  • Just one more thing, the default is to talk about where the tonic is moved or...? So one can think of it as two steps, move tonic,(optionally) change mode...
    – Emil
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 10:33

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