For example, in this song: Letter to the lord by Irma, a melody can be heard around 0:50

Then, at the end of the song, it is played something like a half tone higher around 2:33

Did I hear correctly? I'm not sure about if the Youtube version is strictly the same as the one I have on my computer, but I'm pretty sure I hear the melody a half tone higher at the end of the song. Could it just be a production artifact, or does this construction have a name ? Personally I feel like it's simulating a Doppler effect, somehow suggesting an increase of speed.


4 Answers 4


This type of modulation is sometimes jokingly called "truck driver's gear change". It's supposed to add excitement due to the rising pitch but it's been done to death so now it became just a bad cliche.

  • 6
    ... especially if the singers start on stools and all stand up as the key-change kicks in.
    – slim
    Jul 10, 2014 at 14:50

This is quite a common modulation, to a tone, or semitone highter. It's a pretty severe one, too, unlike modulations round the cycle of fifths, which can pass unnoticed and lead you smoothly into new keys, this is a 'kick' and it's noticed by anyone listening, even if they're listening passively.

It's used a lot in popular music, and it's referred to in various ways, a gear change, the disney key change, the boyzone keychange.

Consider the last two choruses of "Living on a Prayer", a pattern has been established (the chorus is heard a few times before this), then the key is raised by a major second, the notes are hit a little harder. It's a known formula for producing excitement in music.

Your Irma example is much the same, leading up to a big finish.

  • I wouldn't even dignify it with the term "modulation". Very common pop-song trick to give a lift in the last chorus,
    – Laurence
    Mar 3, 2016 at 13:48
  • Dignified or not, it's a key change, so it's a modulation. I suppose you could argue that it's transposition, instead.
    – AJFaraday
    Mar 3, 2016 at 13:49

There's a simple key change. It starts in F, with parts in Dm, which is the relative, and as such, sounds like it's hardly gone anywhere. Then at 2:34 there is an abrupt key change to F#/Gb. The tempo, however, is static.It happens in quite a few songs, to give a lift or break the tedium.Often it's preceded by the dominant chord of the new key, to sort of prepare the listener for the inevitable sonic wrench that follows.


Also, consider this:

When the composer wants to play the melody line 4 times, it would be more tiring than to play the melody 3 times and the last to change the pitch; meaning if the last time the melody was a bit higher, it would give a different effect and it would be less tiring to the ear of the listener.

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