Now I'm having some more trouble with my fugue. But this time it has to do with key modulation. I feel my fugue is becoming too jazzy thanks to the modulation.

There are the primary modulations(from 1 subject entry to another) and secondary modulations(modulating to another key for a short amount of time to transition into the next key.

Here are the primary modulations: Cm -> Gm -> Eb -> Fm -> Bb -> Cm

Having the Bb section last before I go back and end in C minor kind of gives away that the Bb is leading to Cm. Eb is the relative major and the Gm and Fm kind of reinforces the Cm because they both have Cm as a chord in the natural minor scale.

And here is my first secondary modulation(the others I haven't figured out yet):

Cm -> Dm -> Gm

As you can see, that is a II -> V progression but all in minor keys. In the D minor section with subject fragments, I have both E and A naturals. In the Gm section with a full subject entry, I have just A naturals(you could view it as C dorian but I'm sticking with G minor).

But I feel as though I have lost my grounding in C minor when I get to the D minor section and that this makes the fugue feel like it does not have any 1 specific key it is in despite it both beginning and ending in C minor. It feels too jazzy to me despite there being no swing to the rhythm. Not saying fugues can't be written in jazz but I was not aiming for it to sound like jazz in any context, harmonic or otherwise. I was just trying to smoothly go from C minor to G minor in 9 measures and the II -> V was an option.

Now I'm thinking "Should I change the Dm to another mode, say Locrian, to give back that Cm feel or should I just stick with it and hope the fugue doesn't end up being a jazz fugue(because I was really aiming towards Bach, not jazz) because of me using a II -> V?"

But my real question is, how do I not lose sight of the tonic when I am doing something like a II -> V? Will having Cm be in the harmony of the Gm section be enough?

  • 2
    I'm not sure I understand your question. If you are modulating, you don't want to make the old tonic seem like the tonic. That's the point of modulation. A fugue is supposed to go through several modulations and if you do it right, it will be seamless and propel the feel of the fugue.
    – Dom
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 4:39
  • But the modulation to me seems seamless and not like a sudden change only when it is obvious that the 2 keys are closely related. So that is why a Bb to Cm modulation feels seemless to me even though with the circle of 5ths, I would need 2 transformations to go from Bb major to C minor. With the supertonic scale degree, that obvious relation is lost in the modulation and so a II -> V feels jazzy, even if rhythmically the music is nothing like jazz, simply because there is a sudden key change. That is what I mean, harmonically it sounds jazzy when I was not trying to create that jazzy feel,
    – Caters
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 5:53
  • 1
    If the thing's modulated to ii, then it's now in Cm. The V of that could be G or Gm, and using G will give a more positive feel it's moved on. But, does it really matter. Musos will perceive the whole thing in a very different way from non musos. I doubt whether the latter would be too aware of some modulations in some pieces.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 8:30

2 Answers 2


Answer to your real question: go ahead and lose sight of the tonic. J.S. Bach did that all the time in his fugues, wandering apparently haphazardly from key to key, and nobody's complained. Purposeful modulation, tonic-dominant opposition, happened only later. And then the Romantics felt that that kept the tonic in sight too much!

  • 1
    I'm wondering whether Bach ever used a VII-i key change to the home key or a i-ii key change as the first modulation of a piece, though. I've heard he used risky stuff like a V-bII cadence, but both of those key changes I saw in the OP look uncharacteristic of Bach to me (e.g. I'd say Bach's primary modulation scheme in the extensive Prelude to his English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808 is Gm-Bb-Dm-Cm-Eb-Gm, with the Cm section being the shortest one mentioned and the Dm-Cm modulation being based on a sequence.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 12:15
  • 2
    Fair enough, Bach's first modulations are conservative. Nothing like what might be called the inverted Truck Driver's Gear Change that opens Mozart's Fantasia K 475. Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 3:18

Some analysis of your primary modulation, with the intention to stimulate alternative ideas.

If I read your progression correctly, they summarize the keys of 6 parts, perhaps with varying number of measures, each, like this:


The upper staff references the next key to its previous, to better understand your progression (of keys). The lower staff is just a rewriting. It may be useful if you want to slightly adapt keys.

Now, what's missing in my sketch is the concept of modulation. I find the explanation given in "Riemann Musiklexikon, Sachteil" not very instructive. So let's have a look at Terefenko in "jazz theory", ch. 13, which seems to state it more practically:

  • in the starting key clearly establish the tonic, first
  • destabilize this tonic next, move towards a predominant key area
  • finally prolong the new key and confirm it by a cadence.

The example he gives as a kind of generic pattern reads like this, where X is the new key; note the change in harmonic rhythm; note how these 4 measures satisfy above's requirement:

- meas 1: Imaj7          old
- meas 2: ii7 - V7       old
- meas 3: [ii7 - V7]/X   new
- meas 4: Xmaj7          new

If you want to escape from Jazz, have a look at other commonly used cadences/progressions e.g. here on Wikipedia. Also the definition of tonic (T), dominant (D) and predomionant (PD) seems to have changed a bit over the centuries. So why not trying an other dominant instead of (ii) etc. ?

It may turn out that changing the mode can be interesting, but perhaps isn't necessary.

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