A modulation is the shift from one tonal or modal center to another. Its most striking effect is the melodic and harmonic contrast or tension that is created when the shift occurs.
This device may be used for a variety of purposes like emphasizing the contrast between different themes or sections of a musical piece and introducing novelty in the piece of music. The contrast can be bigger or smaller depending on the chosen keys that you modulate to or from. More common tones between tonalities mean smoother modulations and the contrary for stronger modulations.
The way that a modulation is perceived, if it is uplifting or the contrary, or more or less vibrant, will depend on several factors such as:
- how close or distant the target tonality or modal center is; (see circle of fifths and key signatures)
- using ascending or descending melodic passages to highlight the direction of the modulation;
- how the chord voices move to the target chord from the modulated section and thus contribution to the uplifting or downward perception of the overall musical direction;
- if texture and/or dynamics is increasing or decreasing;
- if rhythmic elements become more or less busy; among other.
Keep in mind that using a chain of modulations that bring about an uplifting sensation can sound exciting but too many modulations may sound chaotic and energetic while contributing to the dilution of tonality.
On the other hand, the contrary may be used for a soothing sensation. And because we are introducing contrasts through modulation, it means that harmonic and melodic repetition can be used without becoming monotonous. See the types of modulation that you can use in your music and with practical examples – Types of Modulation.
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