There are songs that change key midway. The most common one I've heard is they change the key when going for the chorus. After that, when the song goes back to the verse, they change the key back.

Some people might say that it's modulation, but I don't think it is, it's different from modulation. I'm sorry I'm not an expert in music so I can't explain it well.

Here is an example:

The key change happens around 1:11. To my understanding that's not modulation.
Does someone know that is it called? Besides key change, of course.

(if it's actually called modulation, then mod can just delete this question)

  • It’s actually called modulation, which is another word for key change. Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 10:06
  • A lot of songs actually go to IV at the start of a chorus, which is not a key change, and not really a modulation. The key sig. stays the same, and at the end of the chorus, there's often a V chord to come back to the verse, in the original key, which is where the song was anyway.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 11:02

2 Answers 2


If a different pitch from the original becomes the new tonal center for a length of time, you have modulated keys (changed key). In the case of the video you've shared, the tonal center moves from E (in the verses) to F# (in the choruses).

However, there are many instances-both in "classical" (art) music and pop music-where a different pitch becomes the new tonal center for only one beat/count or one bar/measure; in these instances, it is not considered a full modulation, but rather a tonicization. The reason for this term "tonicization" is the new tonic (also called home note, "do", tonal center, 1, etc.) that is represented.

Because each entire verse centers around E, and each entire chorus centers around F#, I would personally say that this particular song modulates multiple times, rather than saying F# is temporarily tonicized. The tonicization of F# occurs for many measures, too many to not be considered a complete modulation.

In summation, moving to a different tonal center briefly is tonicization; changing the tonal center/key for a longer length of time is a modulation.

  • I need your view on another answer below
    – Albert
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 2:15

I would call this key exchange and not a modulation (based on Czech book „Základy harmonizace“ (The basic of harmonization)).

The modulation uses pivot chords to change tonal centre, whereas key exchange does not. It changes the tonal centre directly, without any warning. There is jump from E to F#, but no preparation using pivot chords. It jumps directly from one key to another.

  • Modulations don't have to use pivot chords, and an abrupt change to a new key is often called a direct modulation, though this would seem to imply that the key will return home eventually.
    – user39614
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 15:34
  • @DavidBowling So we've got different views of modulation here. I still can't find an answer that satisfies me
    – Albert
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 2:13
  • @Albert -- it isn't just my view of modulation. See the Wikipedia page on modulation, which lists no less than eight different types of modulations. Modulation by pivot chord (which they call common-chord modulation) is only one; direct modulation (which they also call phrase, abrupt, or static modulation) is another.
    – user39614
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 5:31

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