6.13.1 Group 3: List of Great Songs with Modulation, without
6.13.2 “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”: Two Kinds of
“Three Bells (The Jimmy Brown Song)": Pivoting to a Closely Related Key
Using the Same Chord (Root) to Pivot Both Ways
6.13.5 “Dear Landlord”: A Tour through Four Keys in
6.13.6 “One Fine Day”: Pivot-Shift-Pivot
6.13.7 “Free Man in Paris": Taking Advantage of
6.13.8 “Kaw-liga”: Parallel Key Modulation
6.13.9 “Lovesick Blues”: Relative Key Modulation
“Gimme Shelter": Simultaneous Parallel Keys, Forceful Second Progressions—and
Only Three Chords
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Here are some songs
from the Gold Standard Song
List that modulate without employing the Truck
Driver’s Gear Change. All of theses songs return to the original key, and none
borrow chords from outside the prevailing tonality.
Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”
Bells (Jimmy Brown Song)”
Man In Paris”
The Chase chart below (Figure 105) reveals that this song starts
with a series of strong second progressions.
Then Gershwin uses the B7 chord common to the keys of G
major (actually its relative minor, E minor) and E major to pivot to the
key of E major.
to get back to the key of G major, he employs a transitory shift, from the
variant chord C♯ major (in place of the default chord, C♯ minor) in the key of E
major up to D major, the dominant chord of the key of G.
Chase Chart of “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” (Words by Du Bose Heyward and Ira
Gershwin, Music by George Gershwin, 1935)
E – A – C♯ – D – G progression sounds perfectly palatable to the ear because
Gershwin uses chords of the same type—all major triads.
Related keys are
keys that have many scale notes and chords in common. As mentioned earlier, you
can run into trouble modulating to a closely related key if you don’t know what
you’re doing. Your audience could start to wonder what key you’re in.
French beauty, “The Three Bells,” makes it all sound so natural.
Two of the chords that the keys of C major and F major have in
common are their namesake chords, C major and F major.
Beginning in the key of C major, this song uses the chord F major to
pivot to the key of F, and the chord C to pivot back to the key of C
(Figure 106 below).
Chase Chart of “The Three Bells (The Jimmy Brown Song)” (Original French Words
by Bert Reisfeld, English Words by Dick Manning, Music by Jean Villard, 1945)
For the sake of maintaining tonality, the progression makes
emphatic use of the dominant seventh chord in each key.
another reason this song so smoothly shifts tonality between the keys of C and
F. There is a pronounced tempo change between the verse and the chorus. This
sharp delineation makes it even easier for the ear to accept that the verse and
chorus inhabit separate tonal worlds.
Paul Simon uses the variant chord E7 in place of Em in the key of G to pivot to
the closely-related key of C, its harmonic scale neighbour.
In the new key, he uses a lot of consecutive descending fifths to
keep the progression moving forward powerfully, and to maintain
tonality in the new key.
Then he uses E minor to pivot out of C and back to G, again
using descending fifths to re-establish the original key (Figure 107).
FIGURE 107 Chase Chart of “Kodachrome” (Words and Music by Paul Simon, 1973)
The song returns to the original key for the second verse, then modulates to the
“chorus key” and stays there. The song ends without returning to the original
What Makes “Orange Blossom Special” So Dang Special?
Every time there's a hoedown on the main street of
Dodge, Ellie Sue picks up her fiddle and plays "Orange Blossom Special" for 60
to 90 minutes straight, with Sadie on washboard, Doc Yada-Yadams on jug, Marshal
McDillon on musical saw, Deputy Fester on guitar, and two mules from the Dodge
City Horse Store on kazoo and gut-bucket bass. The citizenry dances up a storm
and Ellie Sue's nostrils and eyes get wilder and wilder and eventually she
starts frothing at the mouth. At that point, Doc Yada-Yadams calls a halt to the
song and performs a quick bit of neurosurgery on Ellie Sue to bring her back to
normal. That's the way it always plays out. So now everybody considers
"Ellie Sue's Orange Blossom Special" a bona fide Dodge City tradition.
What is it about that song that causes some
otherwise perfectly respectable folks to go plum loco?
Special” makes use of two musical
devices not often found together in a country song:
• A long vamp on a single chord over which a fiddler
• Modulation to a closely related key.
The instrumental and vocal versions are somewhat different.
The tune typically starts out in the key of E with a fiddle solo over
a vamping tonic chord. This goes on for as many bars as the
improvising fiddler wishes. (A vamp is a simple accompanying chord
progression that can continue indefinitely, over which a soloist improvises. In
“Orange Blossom Special,” the vamp consists of nothing but the E major chord,
played fast for many bars.)
When the fiddler
finishes improvising, the progression goes from E to E7, then quickly moves to
A, establishing a new tonality. With the chord A now the tonic chord, the tune
goes into its characteristic breakneck-speed melody. The progression goes like
this (where A = I):
I – IV – V7 – I
I – IV – V7 – I
I – V7
V7 – I
I – IV
IV – I – V7 – I
Then the tune immediately ducks back to the E
chord, where it vamps again for a long time while the fiddle improvises. This is
the secret of the power of “Orange Blossom Special.” Going to the E chord seems
like a return to the original tonal centre but at the same time, it feels like
the dominant chord (the V7 chord) of the key of A. The fact that it stays on
that V7 chord for a long time builds up a powerful expectation of chord
resolution in the brain of the listener, who must wait and wait in delicious
anticipation for that V7 chord to finally resolve to the I chord of the new
tonality (A), and the return of the breakneck tune.
In effect, the listener doesn’t realize it at
the outset, but the tune effectively begins on the dominant chord, E
major, of the main melody’s tonality, the key of A major. Because there’s no
other referencing harmony at the beginning of the song, the listener accepts the
E chord as the tonic. Then comes the first surprise: E moves to A, revealing a
different tonality for the main melody of the song. Then another surprise: The
chord A moves back to E and vamps for a long time, building up anticipation for
the return to A major and the main melody.
In the vocal version, the song starts in the key of E and
establishes tonality unambiguously with a 12-bar blues verse,
using the three principal chords, E, A, and B7:
Look a-yonder comin’, comin’ down the railroad track
Hey, look a-yonder comin’, comin’ down the railroad track
It’s the Orange Blossom Special, bringin’ my baby back
It then moves to the key of A major and establishes tonality for the
main (instrumental) melody. Then it returns to E for another long
vamp and repeats the cycle.
In both versions, it’s those long
excitement-building vamps on the V7 chord of the key of A that make “Orange
Blossom Special” one of the all-time great fiddle tunes.
“Dear Landlord,” one
of Dylan’s most musically intriguing tunes, begins innocently enough in the key
of C Major.
• Within a few bars, the progression modulates to the key of A
minor, its relative minor.
• The progression then uses the chord F major to pivot to the
key of D minor.
• Then the tonal centre moves on to the key of F major, the
relative major of D minor.
it moves back to the key of C major via a nifty turnaround: Dm – F – G – C
Chase Chart of “Dear Landlord” (Words and Music by Bob Dylan)
Dylan accomplishes this tour of four keys in just 60 seconds, the
time it takes to get through one 20-bar stanza. The cycle then
repeats two more times.
you’re unfamiliar with “Dear Landlord,” it would be worth your while to listen
to this track a few dozen times. Get a sense of how a gifted songwriter at the
height of his powers brilliantly uses modulation. It’s on the album John Wesley Harding, or you can
download the song from iTunes and other online vendors.
The Chase chart
below (Figure 109) shows how “One Fine Day” uses the chord F major to pivot from
the key of F major to the key of B♭ major, its harmonic scale neighbour.
The progression then shifts into the key of C major, which
happens to be the harmonic neighbour of the original key, F major.
you could call this a sequential modulation: the chord sequence Cm7 – F7 – B♭
moves to the sequence Dm7 – G7 – C (all chord roots move up one whole tone).
sequence is a melodic phrase or a chord progression (or both)
that repeats at a different pitch. (Sometimes sequences occur with
modulation, sometimes without.)
Chase Chart of “One Fine Day” (Words and Music by Carole King and Gerry Goffin,
get back to the key of F major, the C major chord becomes C7, the dominant
seventh of F major—a natural pivot.
Although this song uses the dreaded shift method, it does so in
the service of expediting a return to the original key, thereby cleverly
absolving itself of sin.
You can get away
with a lot if you use a handful of triads. Triads have internal stability. In “I
Got Plenty O’ Nuttin,” Gershwin uses a progression of simple triads to modulate
back to the song’s original key.
“Free Man in Paris,” Joni Mitchell, empress of open-chord tuning, uses five
major triads to shift between the key of A major and the key of C major.
Chase chart below (Figure 110) shows the variant chords A major and D major in
place of the default chords A minor and D minor in the key of A minor—which
effectively becomes the parallel key of A major.
All five of the chords for this song can be accommodated in one
Chase Chart of “Free Man In Paris” (Words and Music by Joni Mitchell, 1973)
Chase chart above shows that the last four chords in the verse, C – G – F – A,
get reversed in the chorus, A – F – G – C. It’s a mirror image, a novel way to
create verse-chorus contrast. Did Mitchell plan this, or did it just “happen”?
She’ll never tell, we’ll never know. Alas.
The Chase chart
below (Figure 111) reveals that the chord progression for “Kaw-liga” begins much
like the one for “Jambalaya”: just two chords, the tonic and the dominant
seventh. The only difference is that “Kaw-liga” is in a minor key.
However, in the chorus, the tonic chord switches from minor to
major with the same root note. The song modulates from the key of
D minor to the key of D major, a parallel key modulation.
Chase Chart of “Kaw-liga” (Words and Music by Hank Williams, Sr. and Fred Rose,
Parallel key modulations can sound remarkably smooth (as in
example of "Kaw-liga") because the tonic chords of two keys share
two out of three notes:
D minor = D, F, A
D major = D, F♯, A
Also, both keys share the same dominant seventh chord, the
natural chord to use to pivot between the two keys. In the above
example, the dominant seventh chord for both keys is A7. This is the
chord Hank uses to get back to the key of D minor at the end of the
Hank Williams, Sr.,
did not write “Lovesick Blues,” which became one of his greatest hits. It was
written a full generation before Hank recorded it.
“Lovesick Blues” has 11 chords—probably the most chords Hank ever played in one
song. But none are fancy. They’re just major triads, minor triads, and dominant
sevenths (Figure 112).
Blues” has several instances of well-placed secondary dominants (B7 – E7 – A7).
Chase Chart of “Lovesick Blues” (Words and Music by Irving Mills and Cliff
the bridge, “Lovesick Blues” modulates to the relative minor key, the key of B
minor. This provides a welcome contrast, as the verse has no minor chords.
“Gimme Shelter,” one
of the musical wonders of the rock genre, has but one chord in the verse (Figure
113 below). It’s a major chord (C♯ major), although the melody clearly uses the
parallel minor scale (C♯ minor).
Over and over, the melody emphasizes the minor
third note (E), characteristic of the key of C♯ minor, while the harmony plays
major third chord of the parallel key, C♯ major—as though the key
is C♯ major. This sets up an incredibly powerful major-harmony, minor-melody
clash that seizes the attention of the listener.
can hear this same sound—a melody that emphasizes the minor third against a
major triad—in a lot of blues (not surprising, as the Stones always were a
blues-rock band) and old-time country music. It’s also the same dissonant
harmony you get when you play a major tonic triad and use the Dorian scale for
melody. Scale degree 3 is in a minor third relationship with the tonic note in
the Dorian mode.
In the Chase chart below, melody trumps harmony
(see Chapter 9). That is, the
tonic chord is on the left side—the minor key side—because melodically,
the song is clearly minor. Yet the tonic chord shown is the variant C♯ major
instead of C♯ minor because that’s the chord they’re actually playing. In fact,
this is a minor-key song that has no minor chords at all!
As the song moves into the chorus, the chords descend slowly
by second progressions. At the end of each four-bar phrase, the
slowly descending seconds repeat.
Chase Chart of “Gimme Shelter” (Words and Music by Mick Jagger and Keith
The only third progression appears at the end of each phrase to
begin the next slowly descending second progression.
“All Along the Watchtower,” with which it shares a certain chord-progression
similarity, “Gimme Shelter” has no fifth progressions, up or down. No
conventional cadences, either.
“All Along the Watchtower” and “Gimme Shelter” demonstrate the raw harmonic
forcefulness that a songwriter can generate using second progressions and only three well-chosen
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