Creating more energy or excitement in your music is important for making your songs more interesting to listen to. You can add more complex drum patterns, add more instruments or introduce more counter melodies.
Another method is to change key (modulate) and there are a couple of ways to achieve this.
1) Shift upwards by a half-step/whole-step.
This is by far the most common method and can be effective if used correctly. The problem with this approach is that has become a bit of a cliché, especially in pop ballads so use it wisely. At times the listener almost expects it to occur, especially if there is a long pause in the music!
Here is an example
Chord sequence = C – Am – F –G
Up a half-step = Db – Bbm – Gb – Ab
Up a whole-step = D – Bm – G – A
There are really 2 ways of using this type of modulation. You can either…
- Suddenly go into the new key – this can surprise the listener.
- Use a dominant 7th chord of the new key just before the modulation e.g. Ab7 for Db, or A7 for D – this can also surprise the listener but it sets up the new key a little smoother.
2) Use a pivot chord
This method comes from classical music but it is also used in popular music.
A pivot chord is a chord common to both keys. It helps to smooth out the modulation between 2 keys.
Chord Sequence = C – G - Am – D7 – G
Am = Pivot chord (common to C major and G major)
D7 = Dominant of G
Other points to consider…
1) Modulate towards the end of the song – save it for the climax.
2) Try changing from minor to major(or vice versa) from a verse to a chorus, especially if this is reflected in the lyrics I.e. Darker lyrics = minor key, brighter lyrics = major key. You could also try using a different key for the middle 8.
3) Avoid using too many modulations – Usually one is enough and it can be irritating if there are loads back to back!
4) Don’t feel you have to modulate in every song – Plenty of good songs don’t do it, so only use it if it is necessary
5) You should always go upwards in a modulation as this increases energy. You can also increase the volume, add some more layers or intensify the lyrics to help with this. You generally want to avoid going downwards, as this can sap the energy from your song!
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