In a lot of (usually electronic) music, I notice a section of music that seems to shift up a number of notes and continue with a similar melody in a way that greatly emphasizes the melody. Does this kind of transition have a name?

This is a good example of what I mean. There is a melody at around the 40 second mark (Which I linked to directly.), and the shift is at around the 52 second mark.

4 Answers 4


This is called Modulation (which basically just means a planned key change), specifically "Sequential Modulation" (meaning that it changes to the next key in a sequence, and not randomly), and even more specifically a "Diatonic Sequential Modulation" (meaning that the sequence of key changes is diatonic, in your example it's a major scale).

This is not just common in electronic music, but common in most forms of pop music, and at this point has become a trope known by some as the "Truck Driver's Gear Change", although it's mostly called that when it comes at the end of a song, just repeating the chorus over and over, modulating it each time.

I, for one, actually like this technique, and you have to wonder if it's use (or overuse) is so frequent because people actually like it.

Edit: After listening to the above song with an actual instrument in front of me instead of just playing it by ear, this song goes from Gminor to Bminor, which mean it shifts keys up 2 whole steps, which makes this technically not a "gear shift," which almost always goes up 1 whole step.

  • 1
    Some searching around shows yes, this is exactly what I'm looking for. And thus, my downward spiral into the depths of modulation research and sleepless nights may commence.
    – Archenoth
    Dec 5, 2013 at 0:06
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    Modulation is excellent if used correctly, and there are many types of modulation. My favorite is pivot modulation, but here's a link to many types of modulation: smu.edu/totw/modulate.htm Dec 5, 2013 at 2:10

It sounds like the “truck driver’s gear change”, although the added component of emphasizing the melody might be specific to electronic music.

  • Searching that up revealed this with a large list of examples of this shift... And damn, they really sound bad. I wonder if it's the same thing though? Since this seems to entail only single-note shifts with no added variation?
    – Archenoth
    Dec 4, 2013 at 23:29

This is called a "key change". I agree with this page http://www.ars-nova.com/Theory%20Q&A/Q8.html , which argues that the OP's example should by called a "key change" because it is abrupt and unprepared, whereas the term "modulation" is better reserved for changes of key that are transitioned or prepared by the harmony leading up to it.

Also, the OP's question regarding emphasizing the melody by playing it higher. In Baroque music this is called a "sequence."


All you need to do is transpose your notes up 7 half steps and instant variation.

It's awfully easy.

  • Enlightening... Out of curiosity, is this shift always seven notes..? (I can't actually tell, though I am working on it) And aye, a lot of bad music does indeed use it; I wouldn't exactly consider the second example (now redacted because it was redundant, and kind of embarrassing to post.) to be an example of good music using it, but rather just a ridiculously obvious instance of it to illustrate what I was talking about.
    – Archenoth
    Dec 5, 2013 at 0:28
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    Transposing up 7 half-steps is just modulating to the relative 5th. Doing this multiple times results in going through the Circle of Fifths: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths Dec 5, 2013 at 2:11
  • The OP did not ask for your opinion on how much you like or dislike the music. Jan 27, 2016 at 17:41

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