I would like to modulate from G major to c minor in such a way that it would be almost unnoticeable to the listener. I'm composing a piece in a style that's very Arvo-Pärtesque minimalist-sounding, so that does limit the chromatic/enharmonic options. The main difficulty seems to be that it's very hard to introduce the E flat without it sounding ever so slightly jarring. The other way round (going stealthily from minor to major) is much easier, for some reason.

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    I'd be intrigued to find out why this question has attracted 1000 views. It's a great question, but so prolific! – Tim Nov 12 at 18:16
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    @Tim it may be the somewhat misleading title. I thought it was about a mode change major I to minor i - of course not a modulation - but it's really about modulating to minor iv. – Michael Curtis Nov 12 at 20:51
  • @Tim I've been wondering about that as well. It's not like there's a shortage of "How to modulate from X to Y?" questions on this stack. – Kim Fierens Nov 12 at 22:23
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    @dalearn - what does that mean, please? – Tim Nov 13 at 13:47
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    @Tim My impression is that this question—and it's a good question!—involves a few buzzwords that attract the everyday musician. I know I've heard several self-learned guitarists and composers talk about making modulations that are "smooth" and "stealth" without disrupting the musical surface too much; perhaps this is why the question is so popular? (Again, I'm not denigrating the question at all; it's a good quesiton, and I'm glad it's here!) – Richard Nov 13 at 17:10
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Within a minimalist sort of setting, one approach I might take would be to boil things down to just the root or root and fifth. If you have a long enough period of time where you don't have a third in the mix, your ear won't be glued to a given tonality and introducing the minor flavor into the mix shouldn't sound as abrupt. You can also start adding in the b7 of the original key before hitting the Eb. Since there is a major mode that has a b7 (Mixolydian), that is the only note that is present in the minor modes that is common with any major modes.

I'm not familiar with Arvo-Pärtesque to be able to say whether or not this approach would be great in that context or not.

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    That sounds like the most convincing way (stylistically speaking) I've read here so far. Just fade out the thirds for a while (or treat them like dissonances as it were) and then gradually bring them back in. Definitely going to try that. Thanks! – Kim Fierens Nov 12 at 22:31
  • No problem! I definitely don’t write minimalist music or have a lot of experience there but that makes the most sense to me – Basstickler Nov 12 at 23:17
  • If you're still interested, I've posted a (partial) answer to my own question. It will probably end up at the bottom, and possibly attract its share of criticism, my "modulation" being more a juxtaposition of keys. Whatever. It fits my style, and I'm happy with it. – Kim Fierens Nov 14 at 0:34

Eb is certainly a foreigner in G major. To help the ear not to be surprised by it, you could use D# a couple of times as a chromatic passing note from D to E (D > D# > E) in preceding melody. This could be part of an innocuous harmonic progression like I-IV. You could then write a melodic fragment D -> Eb -> G, introducing C minor around G. You could tonicise it then and there, or later.

Mozart was a master of musical puns like this. See how crafty he was in the 24th Piano Concerto:

enter image description here

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    Thanks for this excellent answer. I think I could jiggle it in as a chromatic passing note. Mozart rocks! – Kim Fierens Nov 12 at 8:07
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    Listen to the image: youtu.be/2XlLpZ4erlw?t=447 – bjb568 Nov 12 at 17:25

I would recommend, as a general approach, looking at Max Reger's Modulation. C min is relative to Eb Maj, a cadence from GMaj to Eb Maj could be modified to move to C min in a fairly straight forward manner.

Using the notes that make up Bo works well. Diminished harmonies are often used to move out of one diatonic place to another.

G major is the dominant chord of C harmonic minor, so I don't think you actually need to do anything special to go from one to the other. G already moves in to Cm easily. Try a progression like G, Am, D7, G, Cm, Fm, G, Cm, for example. (You could of course drop the harmonic minor after the switch, so the 2nd half of that example could as well be e.g. Cm, Fm, Gm, Cm.)

Other, shorter examples, with 3-note voicings:

  • D7, G, Cm

    D7, G, Cm

  • Am7, G, Cm

    Am7, G, Cm

  • G, G7, Cm (also G, Bdim, Cm)

    G, Bdim, Cm

  • G, C, Cm (a little different)

    G, C, Cm

Some of those work fine, even with just 2-note voicings.

Emphasizing the leading tone resolution (B in to C) somehow can also help make the G, Cm change sound more deliberate.

  • I think the issue here is that the OP is trying to accomplish this in a minimalist setting, so a whole bunch of chord changes isn't likely to help. – Basstickler Nov 13 at 16:57
  • @Basstickler There's no reason they can't use fewer chords than my example. G, Cm is the only necessary part, or something like D, G, Cm if they want to spend more time setting it up. – Radiodef Nov 13 at 17:12
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    I think it just depends on how minimalist they are going for. Extreme minimalism may not even really have chord progressions. Ultimately, I'd argue that the answer you've supplied makes sense for a modulation but doesn't seem to satisfy what the OP is asking for, particularly that they are stating that the inclusion of the Eb in the C minor chord feels abrupt. It's true that G is the dominant in C minor and that it acts as a good pivot chord but ultimately that doesn't help the fact that the modulation to minor is jarring. – Basstickler Nov 13 at 17:49
  • @Basstickler I don't think there's any reason these progressions can't be used in a minimalist composition. Here's G, G7, Cm with two-note voicings, for example. I'm honestly not really understanding your criticism here. Do you think I should try to explain how I would go about voicing these chords? – Radiodef Nov 13 at 18:09
  • I don't think that your answer is wrong in general or that it's impossible to accomplish in a minimalist setting, just that it doesn't seem to address what the OP is talking about with the addition of the Eb sounding abrupt. – Basstickler Nov 13 at 18:16

A modulation from G major to C minor would be a modulation to the subdominant.

The most straight forward way to to the subdominant is the lower the leading tone and apply it to the tonic chord. In G major, change the F sharp to F natural and add it to the tonic G chord. So the tonic I chord in G major will become the dominant V7 in C (major or minor.)

The interesting part is your concern about the tone E flat and the possibility it could be jarring.

The vii°7 in G major is F#,A,C,Eb so you could use that to move into G and introduce the E flat. Something like G: vii°7 I Cm: V4/2 i6/3.

Another possibility is to go to the major IV first then just lower the third to make it minor iv. If that is combined with the G7 you will get a nice chromatic descent F,E,Eb plus both work with the notion of altering tones by lowering them.


EDIT

Forgot to load an image yesterday. I added a third example trying out two converging chromatic lines.

enter image description here

Modulations should make use of pivot chords to make the modulation smooth.

A pivot chord(s) put simply is chords that fit in both the key you are modulating towards and the key you are coming from.

so for instance, if you have a 4 bar phrase in C Major. Let say your phrase ends on an interrupted cadence. Now that six-chord of C major is an a minor chord, this is conveniently also the tonic chord of a minor. Both these chords are a suitable resolution to your cadence.

Now we are in the second chord of your second four bar phrase now you can go to the d minor chord that is again both C:ii and a:iv this is the second pivot chord you can use.

Then finally we would just have an E Major chord with a raised g# tha resolves correctly to now make it clear that we are in a minor. There is nothing that makes modulations as clear as Leading Tones resolving towards a Tonic.

Some modulations lend themselves more towards the use of pivot chords than others but the modulation to the relative minor is an especially easy one to use them with.

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    All very well and fancy. But OP wants to get to C MINOR. – Tim Nov 12 at 21:05

The progression I I7 IV iv is quite common. If you were to establish that as a pattern in G major, but gradually shift the rythmic emphasis away from the I and IV and toward the I7 and iv, then those two chords could come to be perceived as the V7 and i of C minor, without there necessarily having been any clear point where the piece switched key.

In case anyone's interested: I've solved, to my own satisfaction, the change of mode part of my question, in a rather unexpected way, by transitioning first to F sharp Aeolian. Of course, I'm still way off C minor, but modulating through minor-like modes and keys makes it easier (I hope). I think the main lesson here is that key transition doesn't necessarily involve advanced "chord magic" (although it can). Stylistically speaking, it's more about setting up proper expectations and then refuting those in a convincing way than anything else.

The repeat bars all involve two repetitions instead of the usual one, by the way. The key of G major had been very firmly established beforehand. I want to end with a modulation from C minor back to D minor (hence the key signature), followed of course by a protracted cadence in that key.

enter image description here

Follow-up question (to all you harpists out there): is the stuff I wrote for the harp at all playable, assuming a reasonably competent harpist? (The tempo is very slow, like 45 BPM.)

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    Have you looked at my answer? The repeating sequence G G7 C Cm, with rhythmic emphasis on the G and C, will suggest a G major tone center, but if the rhythmic emphasis is shifted to G7 and Cm, it will suggest a C minor tone center. If the shift in emphasis is gradual, there may not be any point the listener can identify as a key change. – supercat Nov 19 at 16:51

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