Some great songs have this "uplift" moment where they fill you with strength as they shift from minor to major key. The examples I'm thinking of are:

I Will Survive (Am - Dm - G - C - F - D - Em - E)
True Faith by New Order (Am - F - G | Em - G | Am - F - G | Em - G - D | Am - G | F - Em | G - F - E - Em)

These are both transposed to key of C which I do not believe is original key of either. I note both have this modulation on the subdominant in the key of C (iii to III) which for all I know is a necessary part of using it in this way.

I've been playing around with chord progressions trying to find a place where this sort of modulation feels right and empowering like it does in the above two songs (and probably others). And I feel I'm just failing at it.

I'm thinking sequencing of chords is part of the recipe for success. Like in "I Will Survive" the move from F to D that precedes the Em - E modulation is, itself, kind of like a faux modulation since Dm is the relative minor of F and (in my way of thinking) somewhat interchangeable with F. So there is a parallel in the move from F to D with the subsequent modulation from Em to E. Like the F to D takes you up a notch, then the Em makes you feel like your falling back down but then the modulation to E major saves the day lifting you back up.

I note "True Faith" also throws in the D major chord though it is technically out of key in the key of C, but it does not precede the Em - E modulation is closely and I do not see an obvious parallel working. But maybe throwing in the D at the end of the fourth bar subconsciously stretches the ear of the listener in terms of what will sound in key, and has them ready for a later Em - E modulation.

I know I'm trying to analyze this largely in terms of chord progression theory, and maybe the reason this works is more dependent on the substance of the lyrics and/or the melodic line or even other instrumental things going on. But, honestly, it would be simpler for my to harness this kind of modulation if it can be analyzed / understood in that way, since it lot more complicated when you are juggling lyrics, melody, etc.

I'm self-taught, so I know I may be mis-using terminology like "modulation", not sure if that's how to describe it, so sorry if that's confusion.

Last edited by krm27 at Jun 25, 2013,
A modulation is a key change that has a specific set of rules; what you are talking about above is not a modulation as a modulation requires a perfect cadence in the new key after the introduction of a pivot chord (a chord common to both keys), and accidental characteristic of the new key.
What you are describing looks more like a tierce de picardie (sorry about any spelling errors), which is the changing of a minor chord to major chord, though I am unfamiliar with the songs and it could be (and probably is being popular music theory) just an unconventional key change (not a modulation though).
Secondly chord III is the mediant rather than the subdominant (IV), which means it would be used probably to a lesser but more effective extent than chords I, IV and V. It would be used only in certain places and can't really just be thrown in, that might be part of this effect your after, finding the correct moment
This may sound strange but my advice is to learn some 4 part Baroque Harmony, and its rules; it should help you with chord choice and how to craft a progression that intrinsically carries its own melody. This should also help you appreciate phrasing and which moments in your music can actually benefit from the use of a key change to the major.
You are absolutely right that it is all about what comes before, and hopefully some basic harmony can help you find the right voicings to use a iii-III progression; as music is subjective there is no right and wrong answer to this question, but generally accepted rules and theory could probably help you use it more effectively.
Also the falling chord progression in True Faith (G, F, Em, E > V, IV, iii, III) could be the reason it is uplifting. To help with that one.
Something I didn't mention in my last post was inversions. Listen to what the bass is doing; what position are the chords in, are they all in root position (a), or are they in first (b), or even second inversion (c)? That could also be the key to the answer your looking for.. And Baroque harmony would help with that too; how to use inversions.
Thanks for the detailed replies. Some of it went over my head. Don't really understand the concept of cadence or pivot chords or other formal "rules" yet. I experiment with chords till I find what sounds right to me. I've been trying to learn music theory from reading boards like this or Wikipedia entries when an issue arises that I don't understand. Was just reading articles on Wikipedia to figure out why suspended chords are called "suspended," which led to reading an article on quartal harmony (which I concede is really too advanced for me to get much out of).

Any advice on where to look for comprehensive music theory understanding, short of taking lessons (like if there is a "bible" on music theory I can buy used somewhere cheap)?


Also, the songs are in the key of A minor, not C.
This is not a modulation, it is simply going from the v to the V in order to create the strong V - i cadence.
The D (IV, instead of iv) is also common in minor keys does not imply any modulations or nothing. In I Will Survive it could be construed as a IV/VII - v - V - i. It leads to the Em.
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