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I can't figure out what chords to use to get from Am to F#m. My modulation skills are awful, and I literally have no clue where to start. I can modulate to relative major/minor keys, but can't seem to modulate to anything else. I would need a four chord transition, if that makes sense. So eg/ bar 1-4 are Am, then two new chords in bar 5, two new in bar 6, and boom, bar 7 starts in F#m. It's in 6/8 if that helps you see the vision! Please help! Thanks

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  • I would go straight to the point like: Am11 - F#m11. Nothing needed in between. If you want an intermediate chord, Am9 - B/C# - F#m9. Nice? To go further, continue with Ab/Bb - Ebm9 and then F/G - Cm9, then D/E - Am9 and you're back where you started. Maybe not nice in someone else's opinion, it's a matter of taste. Commented Jan 16 at 16:12
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica - why as a comment? Why not as an answer?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 16 at 16:49
  • @Tim I thought it's so much a matter of opinion. But then again, for the OP it may not be so clear that there are so many ways to do it. I'll try to write an answer. Commented Jan 16 at 17:34
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - this all smacks of opinion, which never goes down well on this site - but what else could one proffer.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 16 at 17:56
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    Does this answer your question? How many types of modulation are there?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 17 at 1:36

5 Answers 5

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Let's assume this is an exercise to modulate to distant keys, otherwise if the modulation is not working, you might ask why force it?

I would first list out the diatonic triads in both keys...

Am:          Am Bo C   Dm Em  F   G
F♯m: F♯m G♯o A  Bm C♯m D  E   F♯m G♯o

...just to confirm you do not have any common, diatonic triads between the two keys.

One strategy is to make a mode change from A minor to A major, at which point you will be in the relative major of F sharp minor, and the modulation should be straight forward from that point.

Another thing to try is exploiting diminished seventh chords as having four potential resolutions, as well as enharmonic respelling potential. In A minor the diatonic diminished triad is B diminished and the full diminished seventh chord on the leading tone is G sharp diminished seventh. If the F natural in either chord is enharmonically respelled as E sharp, you get the leading tone for F sharp minor.

So, in A minor G♯ B D F is the leading tone diminished seventh chord, and with enharmonically respelling the F to E♯, E♯ G♯ B D is the leading tone diminished seventh chord in F sharp minor. Enharmonically it's the same diminished seventh chord, but with a respelling you can have it resolve to either of two distant keys.

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I'll try to list my views and habits, how I see key and mode changes. A few basic tactics that are not mutually exclusive, you can use several at the same time.

  • (a) Something stays the same: utilize common tones between source and target modes. Common tones soothe chromatic alterations happening in other tones.
  • (b) Something moves: utilize strong motion of particularly melody or bass. When a tone moves in a way that the ear can track, it feels logical and natural. The ear accepts its new position, even if it means a chromatic alteration.
  • (c) Dominant sevenths: when you have something that resembles a dominant seventh chord (or a substitute of a dominant seventh chord), treat it as being the V in a circle-of-fifths V-I jump.
  • (d) Thick chords. Overwhelm the ear.

I'll try to give some examples.


Example 1. Let's try to modulate from Am to F#m with just a dominant seventh chord, C#7 before F#m.

trying to modulate with just a dominant seventh

This sounds very clunky. Can we make it any better? Let's add a melody to add some motion that draws attention.

dominant-seventh example with melody added

The ascending melody line ties the source and target together. Maybe in a Frankenstein stitching sort of way, but IMO better than with just the chords.


Example 2. Motion in the melody and chords

melody and chords moving towards target

I like that, the Dm7 - Em7 - F#m7 motion feels powerful and convincing, not awkward. YMMV, of course.


Example 3. Common tones between source and target, and thicker chords.

common tones and thicker chords

Relative minor and major keys can be thought of as a single bi-polar key, and moving from A minor to F# minor can be seen as a change from A minor to A major. Three chromatic alterations, and the melody in this example emphasizes the A note being common.


Other types of modulations can be constructed as combinations of the basic tricks. Move something, keep something, use dominant sevenths, play more notes from the target key.

There must be entire books on how to modulate, and there are so many trick combinations, once you get the basic ideas going, you can kind of invent your own modulations.

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  • Your example 1 doesn't sound too convincing, in fact it doesn't sound anything! Chord symbols have no sound until they're realized as actual notes. What voicing had you in mind?
    – Laurence
    Commented Jan 18 at 12:39
  • @Laurence The point with example 1 was to show that there's more to it than just chord symbols, and voice-leading lines should be considered. With the added melody stitching it together it got a bit of sense. Maybe you didn't get the point. Better luck next time. Commented Jan 18 at 12:58
  • @piperi Nice wriggle! But "Doesn't sound too convincing" does pretty strongly imply that it SOUNDS! Better luck in writing clearly next time. :-) I fully agree that the tendency to describe music primarily as a chord sequence, with melody as an optional extra, must be challenged!
    – Laurence
    Commented Jan 18 at 14:41
  • @Laurence Oh, I see. I actually meant to say that I wasn't convinced. The Am - C#7 jump, when played with just chords, is very clunky, but with a melody line it gets better. The abrupt weirdness is still there, but at least the Frankenstein is stitched together. Commented Jan 18 at 17:57
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As a sort of edge case, bear in mind that the Neapolitan chord (major triad with its root as a lowered second scale degree in first inversion) of F# minor is actually present within the A minor scale. So you could find some way to bring yourself to a G major chord within A minor, and then reinterpret this as if it were the Neapolitan in F# minor. Play around with something like this:

Am ... C ... G/B in bass ... F#minor/C# in bass ... C#7 ... F#minor.

It's a little "out there," but it is a neat trick. Here is an example from wikipedia showing the voice leading in the key of C.

enter image description here

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Well, let's work backwards. The chord that leads best into F♯ (maj or min) is its V, so C♯(7). That leaves three. Down to G♯, then F°.

Any one of those would last a whole bar, probably the G♯. The idea behind those changes, which to my ear sound o.k., is that each change keeps a note from the previous chord, so the transitions sound cohesive. Maybe no real need for four chords, but, hear what you think of these changes.

Another option would be to use the parallel key trick. A minor and A major are those here. And it just happens that A major is the relative major of the new key. So instead of using all those hoped-for changes, go Am> A maj> C♯>F♯m.

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ii - V - I (or one of its variations) into the new key is always reliable. Melodic imitation helps it all hang together. Here's an idea. (Though I don't know what the previous melody was.)

enter image description here

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