I'm looking for complete freedom when I'm playing. I hate constantly being stuck in one key. One of the best sounding ways I've found to modulate from key to key is by playing a predominant diatonic chord to a dominant chord of the target tonic to the target tonic. Is there any way to memorize which chords are the predominant, or even dominant, for other keys? Before I just sit down, write out all the chords for each major/minor scale, label each a tonic, predominant, dominate, and then try to find all the correlations. I'd like to see if there is a better way to do it. If not, I'll probably to try write a little program that'd list all the information. I feel it'd be about the same amount of work.

  • 1
    You should not need to memorize anything beyond key signatures -- the intervals are exactly the same in each case. If you know the chord in one major key, then you already know it every other major key (assuming you know those keys), for example. Just shift the notes up and down by the same interval between the two keys (like a perfect fifth, or 7 semitones, between C Major and G Major).
    – user28
    May 5, 2017 at 7:53
  • I know how to construct the 12 church modes, and a few auxiliary scales. The problem with just pitch-shifting like that is that it doesn't have the nice voice-leading sound I'm looking for. I want the progression to be as smooth as possible with a good resolution when I reach the target tonic. I'm not saying that sounds doesn't have it's place, however it's just not what I'm looking for. May 5, 2017 at 8:09
  • I'm not suggesting pitch shifting as a method of decision making (selecting which chords to play), but as an alternative to memorizing all of these chords in each key. Let's say you're going from C to D; your method of C predominant (say IV) -> D Dominant -> D tonic would yield F -> A -> D. If you were going from D to E instead, two semitones up, the result would also be two semitones up -- G -> B -> E. If you were going from C to E, you still go up to C's IV and D's V down to D's I, giving F -> B -> E. All just intervals, no chord memorization.
    – user28
    May 5, 2017 at 8:22
  • If you're actually looking instead for how to find progressions that sound good to you, that's going to end up being brute force. But you can still select chords from the keys based on intervals rather than memorization. The circle of fifths as Tim mentions is a useful tool for this.
    – user28
    May 5, 2017 at 8:23

3 Answers 3


By learning the cycle of fourths/fifths, you'll have all the notes/chords in order. Draw a clock face, and by putting C at 12 o'clock, count round in fourths, so the next few are :- F, Bb, Eb, Ab. At the 6 o'clock point, the Gb can become F#, and eventually you'll complete full circle/cycle back at C. Any dominant is one step anti-clockwise; any pre-dominant is two steps.

  • Thank you, I was taught the circle of fifths as a way to memorize key signatures, but no one ever told be that little tick. You wouldn't happen to be from England/Australia would you? May 5, 2017 at 8:41
  • - England - why?
    – Tim
    May 5, 2017 at 10:28
  • Like water going down the plughole! It'll depend whether the diagram is 4ths or 5ths, as however it's portrayed, one way is 4ths, the other 5ths. Doesn't really matter where you live!! But eventually, with use in playing, it all sticks, and you'll instinctively know that after an E, the most probable chord following will be an A. Haven't done research, but would be surprised if it's not so in 50+% of changes. Certainly more than any other following chord - I hope!
    – Tim
    May 5, 2017 at 15:39
  • I was wondering because you used the term "anti-clockwise". Here in 'murica it's counter-clockwise. May 6, 2017 at 7:39
  • Gets tricky, 'cos clocks go backwards in the Southern hemisphere - don't they??
    – Tim
    May 6, 2017 at 7:59

Yes, that's a standard method of moving to a new tonal centre. Other good ways include using a pivot note - go directly from C to Eb by considering each as a good harmony for the note G. Or the Nike modulation - 'just do it'. An unprepared jump into a new key can be very effective. The 'dominant of the dominant' technique is, as @Tim says, described by the cycle of 5ths. If you're going to learn anything by rote, make it F,C,G,D,A,E,B (the order that sharps appear in a key signature) and B,E,A,D,G,C,F (the order flats appear). You'll notice it's the same list, backwards. There are mnemonics. Father Christmas Goes Down All Escalators Backwards. BEADs Give Catholics Faith. Also note that the pre-dominant will be one tone up from the new tonic. D7. G7, C, D is one tone above C. (I wonder if you could take the short path from D to C, rather than the long way round vis G? D, Db, C. Hint: the answer's yes. You've just discovered the b5 substitution! Enjoy!)

  • b5 - aka 'tritone'.
    – Tim
    May 5, 2017 at 15:41

Modulation is defined as easing into a new key by various harmonic and contrpunctal means.

There is, of course, the tonal jump, which is not a modulation.

Then you have many ways of modulating into another key.

By definition, or nature, a new key segment has to establish a tonal center, which is what the purpose of the tritone (augmented 4th/diminished 5th) is all about.

You can in basic terms, divide the modulations into three categories: diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic.

The key concept is the leading note, which always creates some tritone relationship with other notes. Depending on the circumestances, you could stretch the modulating progression, or keep it short and sweet.

  • Sidenote: the concept of "dominant" came about with classicism, where the newly established equal-tempered tuning system allowed for juxtaposition of tonic and dominant chords, and underlining contrast between the two. Before, that, the system of tuning was different, you couldn't just go to any key without going out of tune. It was a kind of mediant system, but not the same as in romanticism; there, composers started to play with changing the mode of the key, to using "borrowed" chords. Later on, modulation progs were much more free, such as the ending of Alborada del Gracioso, by Ravel May 5, 2017 at 16:49

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