Imagine one plays a chorus in, say, A major, then repeats it later for the second chorus, but this time in G major. What would that do? I know that moving upwards by a whole or half step usually seems to "raise the energy" (Truck Driver's Gear Shift), but would going downward reduce the perceived energy/intensity? Or would it sound darker?

If that's too subjective, then I guess my question should be "What can I use a modulation downwards to achieve when composing?"

4 Answers 4


I've heard that this should provide a release of energy (though I'd think this isn't where such a release should be in a short song.) I think it sounds unusual.

Conway Twitty: "I'd Love to Lay You Down."


A lot of modulations are perceived only by musicians as modulations. I believe that a lot of modulations go un-noticed by listeners, even as far as a mood change goes. Some are subtle, and those in particu;ar are the ones that are likely to slip by.

Going, as an example, from key C to key B♭. Using F as the change over harmony, it can be subtle. F is diatonic to both keys, so the transition is smooth, and possibly the listener won't realise the key has gone down, or maybe not even changed. As a truck-driver's gear change, it's going to be somewhat different though.

Rather like minor = sad (to some!) the change of mood will vary between listeners. I feel a related question coming on...


If we could describe musical effect in words, we wouldn't need music! We can show you some examples.

Here's a classic one. First chorus in Db then (at 0'55") a shift down to C for the vocals. Can you label how it 'feels'? No, neither can I. But it certainly isn't the obvious 'downer' that you might expect. As so often, the modulation to what theory classes as a pretty remote key is achieved with basically a simple ii, V, I in the new key.

Why did the arranger do this? To give the band a nice 'easy' key for their featured section, but Db lay a little high for the vocals? Or just because a key change seemed a good idea and he thought he'd be a bit clever?

Anyway, put 'going down a semitone' in your bag of tricks.


I guess it depends on your way of looking at it.

What's your definition of down? What's your definition of small amount...?

I can just give you some examples from Ragtime, because there I transcribed some songs lately. Almost 90% of all rags have a modulation one step down / counterclockwise on the circle of fifths, but often go up in pitch with the note itself:

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In this one it goes from Bb to Eb. Which would be 7 semitones down, but also 5 semitones up. This is the regular type of modulation you get in rags and sounds like this (at ~0:20). Bb to Eb

Now let's do your example from A to G which would be 2 steps on the circle of fifths. So this one is down from Bb to Ab

And just to give you a comparison, this is the same moldulation but going from Bb up to Ab. So let's put Ab up an octave: Bb to Ab +1 octave

Does one sound better to you than the other? I think it's just personal preferences... You can basically modulate up or down to any key you want. Some might sound more pleasant than others. But if that's the sound you're going for, just do it ;)

  • Yes, Ragtime, like the classic March, typically has a central section in the subdominant key. But that's not what this question's about.
    – Laurence
    May 25, 2019 at 22:09
  • Fair point about "what is down". I meant comparing the root motion, not steps around the circle of fifths. As an example, E major going to E♭ major.
    – user45266
    May 27, 2019 at 21:28

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