If I'm modulating between keys, say between major and its relative minor. Is the main way I establish a new tonal center is if I create a progression longer than two chords that lead to a cadence? So I'm not sure about this, but I think secondary dominants are not considered modulations because they only have two chords in the new key (V7/V to I). But to establish a new tonal center then maybe I need three or more chords in the new key (ii/V -> V7/V -> I).

Does that sound right? not sure if I write it like that or ii -> V --> I. I just meant it's the ii and V of the new key (I).

  • 1
    What does it feel like to you? Do you feel that the tonal center changed? If you just keep playing any chord for five minutes straight, I'm pretty sure that's where the tonal center gets established, without adding any other chords at all. :) Not all chords are created equal. Use a thicker chord with more notes from the new key to get a stronger effect, particularly notes that are not in the original key. Use e.g. a maj9 or m9. Add quick ornament/passage notes. Place the chords on stronger beats. Chords are not such discrete monolithic atoms as harmony theory might make you believe. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 4 '19 at 22:04

Tonicization using a secondary dominant versus modulation defined by a cadence is pretty much how I understand the distinction.

For all practical purposes tonicization with a secondary dominant would involve at minimum two chords and a modulation would use more than that. But I wouldn't get caught up in counting chords and ideas like: more than two chords are necessary to effect a modulation.

I think the important thing is to differentiate the structural difference between the two. A tonicization would not be concluding a phrase, but the cadence to set off a modulation will conclude a phrase. A cadence should be the end of something.

I think it is easy to see the difference in music like the piano sonatas of Mozart. Various secondary chords will color the interior of phrases in little two chord units while phrases or various lengths like 4, 8 or 16 bars are concluded with some kind of strong cadence in the various tonal centers giving the sonata its structure.

It's typical to see lengths about about 8 to 16 bars for the phrases in the expository material and the shorter lengths in the 'development' after the double bar repeat. Of course there can be a great variety of phrases lengths. I'm just trying to give a sense of what seems common. Perhaps instead of thinking about how many chords are needed to create these structural elements think rather about the number of bars and the conventional phrase lengths and positioning for the form in which you are writing.

  • so tonicization is when I change into a batman costume from the comforts of my own home, and modulation when I change into a batman costume but now I'm in the batcave. I think establishing a home (the scenery) is the key. – user34288 Feb 4 '19 at 23:01
  • Whe the Joker leaves behind a Jack-in-theBox at the scene of the crime and Batman say 'this looks like the work of the Joker' it's a tonicization, but later when the Joker hijacks the television signals of the whole city to announce his wicked plot and demand a ransom - ending the chapter in a graphic novel - that's a modulation – Michael Curtis Feb 5 '19 at 13:32
  • right. this is where I first heard about Tonicization. I got confused in my new question due to chord-scales. – user34288 Apr 12 '19 at 20:57

Even 2 chords may be sufficient.




will be already enough to establish the parallel tonic in a side section.

I'd say it is depending of the length of a phrase to fulfill the impression of a modulation, only a short motive in another key is not a modulation.

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