• Ask Jermaine: “Transposition and Modulation”

    in Piano,Theory,Transposing Keys

    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:

    How to Transpose Stuff

    How to Effectively Master Every Key

    How to Transpose Songs

    4 Tips For Getting to the Next Level

    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.

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 31 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Neal | Sax Station

    Hey Jermaine,
    Cool post, that’s a good distinction to know. I get asked more about transposition than modulation since saxophones have to transpose any piano or ‘concert pitch’ music.

    Another analogy might be that transposition would be having an Italian movie overdubbed in English (for the entire movie) and modulation would be a movie in English that has a scene where all the actors speak Italian since they’re on a short trip and then in the next scene they go back to speaking English.



    2 Jermaine Griggs

    Great analogy Neal. Always good to hear from you.

    To add, sometimes a song will modulate to a new key and end there so it’s not always a matter of going there and coming back (especially in gospel, you’ll find songs start in, for example, C major and modulate to Db… then D… then Eb… and even higher if it’s a dynamic song, finally ending in the last key).

    All the best,


    3 Miriam Tierno

    Greetings Rev. Jermaine,

    I want to thank you for sharing the question I posted at the “GMTC question and answerser” last night. I cannot thank you enough for all the wonderful and informative materials and training you give to all your students and future students. I can never get enoug. I listen to your videos and read your newsletters and blogs repeatedly. I hope everyone out there takes advantage of what you have to offer. I believe you offer the most and the best!

    Thank you again,

    Miriam Tierno
    Seaford, NY



    I know right.


    5 Rhod

    thanks a lot Mr Jermaine for your lessons, they ‘re really helpful… lots of stuff that i didn’t know or maybe i knew but never realise what they were like( major and minor second/third and so on) and now i know them cause of your time and effort… so how do you become a member?? cause i want more of those good stuff lol


    6 Delroy H.

    Hey Jermaine !
    You are doing such a wonderful job with music, you remind me of a supermarket in Canada where you were allowed to eat any thing FREE (but don’t take it out) if we stay focus we can reach pretty far musically, great idea ! !
    I was looking at the transposing and naming of the new notes, not that crucial, but since the sharp ( # ) raises a note and the flat ( b ) lowers, so when we are transposing (raising) the G9sus, couldn’t we use the sharp (#) so instead of
    Absus – Gb + Ab + Db it would read G#sus – F# + A# + C#
    In order to keep a principle, as I said its not a “biggy” just the flow.


    7 Jermaine Griggs

    Delroy, thanks for your kind words. In the case of sus, you aren’t really “sharping” the 3. You’re replacing it.

    It’s correct to say Absus – Ab Db Eb or Absus7 – Ab Db Eb Gb

    You don’t want to be in the major scale of G#. It has 8 sharps, including double sharps. You want to be in Ab, lol, trust me.


    8 Sean

    Ok I’ve been in the shed a while but seen this stuff about transposition and modulation. , nice article Jermaine, simple straightforward no nonsense stuff, the way i like to see stuff presented;-) btw progress is good here on all fronts..( finding myself more and more drawn towards blues and jazz styles)


    9 ossie

    thanks jamine, I have a problem with but now its solved. thanks for sharing yr talent.


    10 Kingsley

    Your great lessons has so far enhanced my learning skills.Keep up wit ur good work.BRAVO


    11 Pius Agiake

    Thanks, Rev. Jermaine Briggs. Well understood.


    12 Kelly Osariemen

    I enjoy the simplicity of your delivery a lot. You are a gifted teacher. You are a blessing to this generation of musicians.


    13 godson

    you are too wonderful,a teacher,an instructor,a helper and more a guide to green musicians. my musical life has abruptly changed since i came cross this site…you are too much sir!!! my hats off


    14 Bernice Gaymon

    Thank you so much for all the help you give. These lessons are so helpful to
    me and I have gained a great deal of knowledge from them. They always seem
    to come at the right time when I am dealing with that particular lesson.
    Thank you again for the help you give.


    15 Chrischords

    great one boss


    16 prince

    Works so nicely. For the first ever time in my piano playinapg, can i modulate. Smoothly from key to key.

    You are my hero Jermain


    17 Jackie Nulle

    Keep up the superb piece of work, I read few posts on this website and I think that your site is very interesting and holds bands of excellent info.


    18 Jires

    Hey, thnx Jermaine i’ve learned a lot from u…be blessed!!!


    19 king solomon

    the magic music teacher, god bless u


    20 Umerie Ugochukwu

    How do i get (i.e buy) some of your materials here in Nigeria?


    21 sunday

    Thanks Rev Jermaine.
    Dat was a very a good one indeed. it has saved me from confusion.


    22 zino

    boss . that was am EYE OPENING men


    23 Bernard

    This is really an eye opener. Thanks soo much Uncle Jermaine.


    24 Grace

    Good .I have been looking for the difference btn Transposition and Modulation.This was very Important..God bless you


    25 kay

    Its really a good answer but ………….


    26 tosin lanre

    thanks a lot. This is an eye opener to the confusion cause by the two words.
    Pls if i understand what this article means, then i can say modulation is the process of moving from one key to another, while transposition is playing the same chord progression on the new key!


    27 Joycelyn Adams

    Beautiful explanation i am going to put it into practice thank you so much God bless you .


    28 Hosanna Gundiri

    Woaw, tanx very much sir for the clearification.This will help alot


    29 Titus

    am so thankful servant of God.Infact i almost spent an hour trying to find the difference btn modulation and transosition,but am now answered.


    30 Titus

    i know the circle of fifth but i have heared the circle of fourth,what is it?please send an email


    31 Dennis Joyner

    Great lesson Jermaine, I get so blessed by every lesson, now I understand transposition and modulation. You really help me out so much, thanks again Jermaine.


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