Every other Monday night, we hold a live “Question & Answer” session in our Gospel Music Training Center and last night we got a great question from Miriam Tierno in NY: “What is the difference between Transposition and Modulation?”
So I’m going to repeat my answer concerning transposition and modulation here on the blog for everyone to see.
The Difference Between Transposition and Modulation
When it comes to transposition and modulation, they are very similar… yet different.
Transposition (or the commonly known verb, “transposing“) is the act of learning a song or chord progression in a new key. For example, if a song is in the key of C but you want to play it in the key of Eb, you’d have to “transpose” it to the key of Eb using one of the strategies below.
It’s useful in church when a singer wants you to take the original key of a song down a few half steps… or if you’re playing an instrument that is tuned differently so you may have to adjust by transposing up or down. Or perhaps, you’re a 12′er (my own term) and find pride in learning everything you know in all 12 keys — transposition is helpful for you too.
Here are a few links to past posts that’ll show you how to transpose:
Transposition and Modulation Continued
Modulating, on the other hands, is the process of moving to another key while playing. While transposition is literally taking what you know in one key to another, modulation is like the actual act of going there.
So if you’re in the key of C and you want to take the song up to the key of Db, you can get to the new key by modulating there, on the spot.
There are many ways to modulate to a new key. The most common is to simply play the “5-chord” of the new key.
So you’d act like you’re about to end your progression in the current key (by typically using a 2-5-1 progression) but instead of coming back to the 1, you’d go from the 5-chord of the current key to the 5-chord of the new key, which provides resolution to the new 1-chord.
Let me give you an example:
Say, we’re at the end of a verse in the key of C. A typical 2-5-1 progression would be:
Dminor9 – D on left /// F A C E
G9sus – G on left /// F A C
Cmaj – C on left /// E G C
When we’re ready to modulate, instead of coming home to the C chord displayed above, you’d take the G9sus (which is the 5-chord in the key of C) and simply take it up a half step, giving you Ab9sus. This is now the 5-chord in Db major and will bring you beautifully home to Db major just like the G9sus brought you home to the C major.
G9sus – G on left /// F A C
Absus – Ab on left /// Gb Bb Db
Dbmaj – Db on left /// F Ab Db
The process we just took to move from C to Db is called a modulation.
Transposition and Modulation Review
So again, transposition is basically saying: “I live in California and now I want to live in Florida” (thus studying where you want to live in Florida, where everything is, how to get around, etc.) Modulation is the actual road trip you take to get from California to Florida.
I hope this helps to clarify transposition and modulation.