So, in the same piece for which I asked about how to notate my 2 layered staccato, I'm halfway through writing the piece and I feel like I want to modulate again. Here are my modulations so far:

E minor -> G major -> A minor -> E minor

The G major modulation was hinted at in the lament bass progression I used in the B section where the harmony moved from B major to G major(third moving to fourth via contrary motion) on every repeat of the lament bass. I used this lament bass to keep an E minor feel for a while longer while also hinting at the G major to come. The A minor and E minor modulations were both done via a chord progression that involved some mediant relations.

Now, all of those keys are closely related. I'm thinking of moving to a more distantly related key for some added drama. Most common key for me to modulate to for dramatic purposes is C minor. I don't know why, maybe I just like the sound of C minor more. Let's say that I do want to modulate to C minor. I have modulated to this key in oh, so many ways, with these just being a few:

  • Secondary dominant
  • Circle of Fifths Progression
  • Out of the blue diminished seventh
  • Modulation chain

I could just do one of these, but I'm feeling a bit adventurous with this piece. I'm thinking of using an augmented chord. I have literally never used an augmented chord in my compositions. I know that the most common usage of augmented chords is as a passing chord. But no reason that it can't be used to modulate. I'm thinking of perhaps doing this:

Em -> B7 -> B+ -> Cm -> B°7 -> Cm

Where the B+ moves to Cm and the B°7 confirms the modulation.

Would this work, using an augmented triad as a chromatically altered dominant chord that then resolves to the minor chord a half step up from it to modulate to a distant key(Em -> Cm is 4 steps distance on the circle of fifths)?

  • The 'added drama' is o.k., but , having considered key changes (and used them) for a very long time, I'm sceptical about 'drama'. For me, at least, a key change, whether subtle or blatant, lasts for about two bars maximum. After which one is immersed in the new key, while the previous one is forgotten. All the fuss for perhaps a couple of seconds of 'drama'? Soon, I'll pose a question about key changes. Simply a comment! – Tim Mar 25 at 7:47
  • @Tim, in a sonata the key change of the exposition lasts for several phrases. That kind of structural key change is what this question is about. – Michael Curtis Mar 25 at 14:51
  • @MichaelCurtis - what I meant was the actual key change moment is just that, over very soon, then we're into a new key, onto the next part, which I feel could have stayed in the old key for all the fuss! My eventual question will be about that, as I believe once a new key is established, it's only a couple of bars at most before the listener thinks of it any differently than the old key - if indeed they're aware a key change happened anyway - they don't always! – Tim Mar 25 at 15:03
  • Ah. I think I understand now. If initial in Em and then switched to Cm except for the transition does the listener just hear a minor key with no awareness of the tonic changed? I think the term used in sonata theory, which says the different key is perceived, is structural dissonance. I think a topic worthy of a new question. – Michael Curtis Mar 25 at 15:36

Without knowing the voice leading, rhythm, or anything about phrasing it's hard to say what will "work."

Em -> B7 -> B+ -> Cm -> B°7 -> Cm

The whole point of this seems to be leaving off the cadence in E minor and then chromatically shifting around to C minor. Omitting the Cm in the middle seems to help make that clearer.

Em B7/D# B7#5/D# B°7/D Cm

That's what I tried. The bass descends E D# D# D C and the soprano ascends E F# Fx Ab G.

I think the reason I like omitting the middle Cm is because all the B chords are dominant harmony of some kind. The uninterrupted tension of dominants is nice, but the B gets reinterpreted as a root in E minor to the leading tone in C minor. Using a Cm in the middle of that breaks apart the building tension.

Another interesting possibility would be to reinterpret the B+ by adding a G to it to get G7#5 which could move to Cm B°7 Cm.

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    The soprano moving chromatically upwards while the bass moves chromatically downwards, lots of dominant function chords in the middle building tension, that reminds me of a certain chromatic progression, the Omnibus Progression – Caters Mar 25 at 16:53

Augmented chords are good for key changes, as one set of notes can represent more than one augmented chord. Take C+. C E G♯. That's the same harmony as E+, E G♯ B♯. That's the same harmony as A♭+, A♭ C E. Three for the price of one!

Diminished chords get used in the same sort of way, too. Co, C E♭ G♭ B♭♭ becomes E♭o, E♭ G♭ A, C. And so on. So both good harmonies to use to get from one key to another.

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This works well, to my ear. Using Em -> B7 -> B+ -> Cm as your modulation, and then resolving a cadence, whether it is G7 -> C or B°7 -> Cm, is a great way to do this modulation. An augmented chord has an unsettled feel to it that "wants" to resolve. A common way for it to resolve, as you have found is for the root to move by a half-step to create a minor chord.

In the end, though, the question of if it will work is up to you. Play the chords yourself, experimenting with different voicings of the chords: experiment with which notes to put in the bass, and which notes to highlight with the melody.

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