Electronic Composition
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How do composers transition between keys?

Moving from one key to another is know as either tonicization or modulation depending on context and length.

Tonicization happens only for a brief period of time before returning to the home key or another closely related key.

Modulation happens for the length of a formal section such as a phrase or period.

By and large the easiest way to move to a different key is through the circle of 4ths (also called the circle of 5ths depending on who you ask).

This is a powerful tool for modulations. An easy way to tonicize any key is by approaching the root with two consecutive fourths.

Let’s try this in practice: Suppose you are in the key of F major and would like to tonicize G major with only two chords to set up the G major chord, what chords should you use?

By approaching the new key with its ii chord and V chord we ensure that it is properly tonicized. This works with virtually any key. Let’s try a tonicization that’s a little harder, up a half step.

In the above video our root motion is: F – A – D – G

Here you’ll notice that three chords are used instead of two to “smooth” this tonicization out some. As long as you’re following the circle of fourths you can add as many chords as needed to establish a new key!

In the above video our root motion is: F – Eb – Ab- Db – Gb

We can even combine circle of fourths motion with chordal inversions to get really creative!

This is an example of tonicizing a key a tritone away. Notice how the inversions allow for smother voice leading in the bass voice and prevents it from sounding like a repeated pattern or sequence.