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I wanted to change keys from A minor to B minor. Tried ii-V-i progression (through F# major chord on the way up) but the transition did not sound smooth. Tried Em-F#m- Bm which sounds slightly better but still a bit off.

Could you tell me a better/more smooth chord progression for this modulation? If I want to go back to A minor, what chord progression would you suggest?

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    F# major is a good choice. In Am you can try a Dm (or F) - E7 - Am - F# major in the last line. Another approach is moving away from Am and returning to A7 (the bVII of Bm). One example for this would be F - Dm - E7 - A7. Both approach resolves to Bm. – András Hummer Jan 26 '15 at 8:26
  • Apparently A7-Bm looks like a deceptive cadence (V7-vi), is that right? – mey Jan 26 '15 at 12:57
  • Yes, it would be a deceptive cadence in the key of D major, I don't know whether the same naming can be applied for the corresponding minor key. – András Hummer Jan 26 '15 at 13:15
  • Not sure either, but apparently in the key of B minor this would be VII7-i where A is a minor seventh note - so i think your second suggestion is interesting. – mey Jan 26 '15 at 13:54
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    In Bm the deceptive cadence would be F#7 -> G, which many people consider more convincing than the deceptive cadence in major (e.g. in D: A7 -> Bm). Anyway, it's always V(7) -> VI. – Matt L. Jan 26 '15 at 13:57
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You can try to use chords that are common to both keys, and re-interpret their function. For your example (A minor and B minor), the common triads are D, Em, E, and G (note that in minor both the 6th and the 7th scale degree can be either minor or major). Also note that a ii-V progression always leads nicely to the I chord.

Examples:

|| Am | Dm | Em Em/D | C#m7(b5) F#7 | Bm ||

Note here that that C#m7(b5) is the same as Em/C# so you have a nice decending bass line starting on E that naturally leads to the ii chord of B minor.

|| Am | D | G | F#7 | Bm ||

Here, the D and G chords are common to both keys and are therefore ambiguous, which can be used to modulate to B minor.

One simple example of how to switch back to A minor is to use the common chord E7:

|| Bm | E7 | Bm | E7 | Am ||

or

|| Bm | G | D | E7 | Am ||

where all 3 chords between Bm and Am belong to both keys.

Of course there are many other possibilities, and often you just switch by using the appropriate dominant chord of the new key.

Also have a look at this answer to a related question.

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    The application of C#m75b is genius, I should have thought of it as well. – András Hummer Jan 26 '15 at 13:16
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    @AndrásHummer: Thanks! It is actually a cliché that I've come across quite a few times when playing jazz standards, but of course I can't name a single example right now ... – Matt L. Jan 26 '15 at 13:31
  • These look like good ideas but I am noticing a few things that don't seem right the way they are described. D maj is not common to both keys, nor is E7. These would be common if both minor tonal centers were based on Dorian. PS: @MattL., I know I've been criticizing a few of your answers lately but I don't mean to target you, I'm just a little OCD about theory. – Basstickler Jan 26 '15 at 14:17
  • @Basstickler: First of all, of course I don't take it personal (as long as it doesn't get personal :). Second, in my opinion you're wrong, because minor is not aeolian, but minor is minor, including everything from natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. So you don't even need dorian to explain those chords. I've had a similar discussion before. Please refer to this answer. – Matt L. Jan 26 '15 at 14:48
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    Glad to hear nothing is being taken personally. I think a lot of this will depend on what setting it takes place in. I reviewed the answer you linked and I can certainly see differences between what I learned in school and what takes place in the example. I'm inclined to believe that it would be more of an outlier though. I tend not to find a major IV in a minor key unless, as mey suggests, it is a secondary dominant. I think you are more likely to find examples including all combinations of minor in counterpoint, where the execution tends to have more to do with a linear thought process. – Basstickler Jan 26 '15 at 18:14
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A good way to a modulation is via a diminished chord. Thus Am - Ao - F#7 - Bm. As the dim contains A and F# (Gb for purists, maybe?), it bridges nicely.

Or going bluntly, Am - Bbm - Bm. Or a staccato stop on Am, Then a rest, then straight into Bm. It shouldn't be difficult to re-pitch if that bit's sung.

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