I have recently heard of the concept of a "key cell" as a short modulation (number of bars) that contains a tonal model progression, which can be analyzed in the context of two closely related keys. Can anybody elaborate? Thank you!

  • Do you mean model or modal?
    – Tim
    Sep 20 '17 at 8:43
  • 1
    Can you tell is where you heard the term, and in what musical context?
    – Richard
    Sep 20 '17 at 8:52
  • A Google search will confirm that this isn't a generally used musical term. So you must refer to the teacher or book which coined it. Sep 20 '17 at 16:01
  • The term was used for harmonic analysis of Chopin's Prelude op. 28 no. 20.
    – user44209
    Sep 20 '17 at 18:07
  • I meant "model", not "modal". Specifically the progression iii-vi-IV/ii etc.
    – user44209
    Sep 20 '17 at 18:10

Alright, so I did some Googling and could find a grand total of 1 resource that specifically mentioned a "Key Cell" and, sure enough, it was referring to short, temporary, modulations.

That paper is here: A Musical Discussion and Analysis of Romance sans Paroles by Three French Composers

However, he never makes any mention of any "models", but does refer to short "modal" modulations within the context of those "key cells".

So, in short, a "key cell" is, as you mentioned, simply a short modulation; And, that it is possible for a short modulation to be one where, instead of modulating to Am by resolving E7 to Am, we see the piece moving from Em to Am as the sign that the piece has 'modulated', temporarily, to Am (and the progression of Em to Am is considered modal within this "key cell" context).

However, like a previous person had noted, this is not common terminology and would likely only serve to confuse if attempted to be used with someone who was not specifically aware of that "key cell" concept.

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