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I was listening to Green Light by Lorde, during which there is a modulation from A major to the mixolydian mode. DOes that count as a 'key change' per se?

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People have different viewpoints on this, but one prevailing view is that a modulation must change tonal center. In other words, a move from A major to A Mixolydian is not a modulation, because the tonic (=tonal center) is still A.

As such, we just call this a "change of mode."

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A key change occurs whenever the key signature changes. This is pretty objective and quite different from a modulation, which can occur with or without a key change (often with accidentals). If you are switching modes but not tonal center, I would not call that a modulation; I would call it "borrowing (from a parallel scale)."

  • But a key change doesn't only occur when the key signature changes, does it? For instance, a modulation from D major to B minor wouldn't have a key signature change. – Richard Jun 14 '17 at 17:15
  • They're just words, honestly. I only call it a key change if the key signature changes. – John Wu Jun 14 '17 at 18:16
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In the event of a modulation, the music is still with the same key signature, as modulations are generally a temporary move. With a key change, the term says it all - the key has changed, it's not temporary, there needs to be a sign displaying the new key.

'Borrowing', from parallel key and other modes with the same root - as in A major using A Dorian, A minor, A Mixolydian etc., is going to be a modulation, and there will be the necessary accidentals in place, with the feeling that the piece will eventually return to the original key. Other common modulations are moving to a related key, a fourth or fifth away, and relative major/minor changes.

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Is this all about the use of a bVII chord in the final choruses? Just let it BE the bVII in the key of A. A chromatic chord doesn't necessarily imply a key change.

Think of a simple blues progression - A7, D7, A7, E7, D7, A7. You have no problem with that being in the key of A, despite the Cnat and Gnat notes do you?

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This is another example of terminology trying to put hard and fast lines where none exist. If the "tonal center" changes for just one chord, it's not a modulation; if an entire movement is around a new tonal center, it's modulation. But everything in between exists as well, and there's no convention (nor could there be reasonably) to say exactly when "modulation" occurs.

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