Ok, well, i had thought about this for a couple of days, and read a few threads on here, and it seems like you can chang keys, but how do you do it? do you start working in the notes from the different key into the song? or do you all of a sudden change from key to key during a certain part of a song or what? ok thanks, if i get this then i'm going to try and incorporate this into my sonwriting. ;]
you just sort of do it... for an easy example that sounds very fluid, see Nirvana's Lithium

EDIT: The Beatles did a lot of that too, although I can't remember any specific songs off the top of my head. If you do it right, the untrained ear won't notice at all
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Um, yeah totally, that's what makes songs sound cool.

It's called modulation. Basically you find keys that share notes. You use the shared notes to transition to the next key. Don't look at the individual notes. Look at the chord progression for the clues.
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hm, ok, i'll try this modulation stuff, hah. :] it sounds interesting, i want to see how my song will sound when done like that. But what if i try to change from like a cmajor key to an fsharp major key, would that be possible? hah and what do you mean look from clues in the chords? :] k thanks.
Well, yeah, it's possible, it just won't sound cohesive (the F# major part won't fit with the C major part) because they don't share any of the same notes.
Well, yeah, that's modulation. It can make things very interesting, let me tell you!

An inetresting song (especially for me to try and figure out, geez!) was 15 Minutes by the Strokes...not the msot popular thing but has some interesting examples.

Let's say, the chorus chord progression goes like:
D - Bm - A - A7 - C - G - D - D

Now, the first four chords are obviously in D Major. But, when you reach the C chord, it goes into a different key - G Major (or rather, since it resolves to D, D Mixolydian). And yet it all fits because they're all related.

Another example, the Verse goes E to A - stressing the key of A Major (V-I, where the IV would be the absent D chord). The Verse then bridges the gap into the next Chorus with a final A7 - noteably from the D Major scale.

Then at the second half the song goes into double-time and changes to the key of G instead of D - because the D is the fifth of the G Major. That's just another form of modulation, and really helps push the upbeat (and change from Pogues-ey to Clash-ey) change in the song.

Then there's the outro, but that's just for fun - the song repeats the same V7-I progression over and over, except it cycles through the Circle of Fourths each second measure - creating a lot of constant tension and resolution, giving it a really interesting effect. I guess that sort of modulation is almost something you would find in jazz ("Giant Steps" by Coltrane, maybe? IIRC that consecutively moves up in major thirds).

Then there's modulations where the entire song moves up(or down) in key only a half-step - this usually happens in the final chorus to give it a big 'finale' effect, like in "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" by Monty Python.

...Yeah, sorry if that was confusing as hell, I'm just writing whatever.
Last edited by wasp2020 at Sep 27, 2006,
Not all modulations share common notes in both keys.

For example, one of the most common (in popular music in general, maybe not so much in rock) is just shifting a half or whole step up towards the end of a song. Example: "Woman" by John Lennon, song is in key of E, modulates up to F for last verse and chorus.

Another example is Led Zep: Over the Hills. Most of song is in key of D, but goes to F#, which is a pretty unrelated key, for solo.
Yeah you can shift up a semitone or tone for that 'going up a gear' effect for a final chorus (personally I find this sounds horrificly tacky, but it can work I guess).

And if you want to move into any key, you can lead into it with the dominant (V) chord of the new key, eg lead into C major with a G.

This is because the dominant chord contains the leading note of the new key.
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There's about a million ways to do it. If you're modulating to a closely related key (One that has, at most, one additional or one less sharp or flat in it), you can use a common chord (a chord that is found in both keys) to transition into the new one. For example:

If you're currently in the key of C (which has no sharps or flats), the closely related keys are a (C's relative minor), F (the subdominant of C, which only has one flat), d (F's relative minor), G (the dominant of C, with only one sharp), and e (G's relative minor). You can easily modulate to any of these keys using a common chord. If you want to modulate to G, you find the chords in G that are also in C (G, a, C, e) and then continue on in the new key. So to get from C to G, you can play C (the I chord in C), a (the vi chord in C, and also the ii chord in G), D (the V chord in the new key, but not in the old one), G (the I in the new key).

You can modulate to any key using accidentals, but I won't get into that, unless you want me to.
as all these people have stated theres many different ways to modualte, i have a few that i prefer, one of which is chromatically modulating, i'll use chromatic movement over a scale that contains the "from" and "to" notes that is relative to the key i'm currently playing in
i think i'm understanding pretty well, but hey ironflippy, get into the accidentals, i want to hear more. :] lol
The studio version of "My Generation" has 3 modulations, so you can really go to town with that. (G-A-B-D I think)
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To best way to change keys within a song is to use a Secondary Dominant.

A secondary dominant is the V7 chord of the key you want to go to, related to the original key. Say if your in the key of G and want to go to A. Play a simple progression in G (G C D)... but then the chord before you want to go to A, play an E7>A. The chord is not diatonic, it's an Emin7 in the key of G but if you make it major, it gives a leading tone towards A and sounds really good. Try it. And to go back to G, play a D7>G.

And for the accidentals, yeah. A secondary dominant is always a Dominant Seven chord (hence the name?), and there is only 1 dominant chord in the key, so unless you're going to the same key your already in, there will be an accidental, sometimes 2, or 3, or 4 if you find a way (I don't wanna think)

Modulation is used to simply spark a new feel or interest in a song.
Alright, let's see how I can explain chromatic modulation (modulation involving accidentals). This style of modulation isn't as fluid as the one I mentioned in my previous post. The basic idea behind a chromatic modulation is to deceive the listener into thinking they know where the next chord is going to go, and then surprise them with something entirely different. Let's say we want to modulate from a to G. We'll start by making sure the listener is convinced we're in 'a' by playing i-V-V7-VI-VI and then we'll throw them into G right away by playing (in the key of G) V-V7-I-IV-V-V7-I. Note how G was emphasized by the extra V-I cadence at the end. Also note that G does have chords in common with a, but we didn't use them. Remember when I talked about accidentals? The VI in a is spelt F-A-C. We moved from this chord into the V of G, which is spelt D-F#-A. This then resolves to G-B-D. There's chromatic movement from the F in the VI of C to the F# in V of G to the G in I of G. Hence the name, chromatic modulation. There's no real right way to do it, but a general guideline is when moving into the new key, use a dominant function and resolve it. This generates a greater sense of key change.

Hope this wasn't too confusing!