How to Change Keys While Playing the Piano

As we grow in our piano playing we begin to play more advanced music that has more challenging rhythms and notes and even key signatures.

Have you ever noticed more than one key signature in one piece? It's actually a common occurrence once you start playing harder music. We hear key changes in music all the time; especially popular music such as jazz or rock. We just might not realize that that is what we're hearing.

This lesson is going to teach you what we call these key changes in music, how to recognize them and how we can play them.

If you look at Image 2 you'll see what we call these key changes and that's what we'll talk about in the next step.

Step 1: What Is Modulation?

The first time I ever heard the term modulation, I thought it was something that you did in Jazz music! Little did I know at the time, modulations happen all the time.

Modulations are what we call these key changes in music that we talked about in Step 1.

When we move from one key - C to another key - D, we say that we modulate from C to D. (just for an example)

What this does is change how many sharps or flats we will play for the notes in the section with the new key signature. We don't follow the previous key signature once we come into the new one.

Anytime you see and start playing a new key signature in your piece, you will know that you have just modulated into a new key.

The Tonal Center will change as well. All this means is that all of the chords and progressions will be centered around the new key and usually the dominant of that key. You can really hear this when you go from a major key to a minor one. Not only does the tonal center change but so do the actual chords and chord progressions.

Primary chords are built upon the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale. Once you change keys you'll change the note that you start these chords on. Make sure to watch me do examples of this in the video at the end of this lesson to help reinforce all of this.

Now let's find out how you can spot modulations in your music before you even start playing.

Step 2: How to Recognize a Modulation in Your Music

The first way to find modulations in your music is pretty simple. Just look for any written changes in the number of sharps or flats that you are supposed to be playing.

Next, look at the chords that are written down. Chords and chord patterns are specific to each individual key so you can generally tell when a key change when the chord notes change; especially the Primary Chords that remember, start on the 1st, 4th & 5th tones/notes of the scale.

Another signal in your music that will indicate a modulation is - an accidental that adds a raised 7th tone to a chord. (This makes it a harmonic minor chord, which I'll discuss further in the video) This just means that the key has changed from the Major Key over to the Relative Minor Key.

For the most part, you only need to concentrate on looking for changes what sharps and/or flats you are supposed to play and if the notes of your chords suddenly change to be centered around a different tonal center than you had before.

Next, let's take a quick look at some of the different types of modulations (key changes) you can have in piano music.

Step 3: Different Types of Modulations

As you can see - there are at least nine different types of modulations in piano music.

Today, we're just going to go over the main one that you will be using and encountering the most in your own playing. This is the Diatonic Common Chord Modulation.

Common Chord is the most common and the most easily understood.

Remember, we're changing keys when we modulate...and the trick here is to find a chord that is a part of the original key and the new key! You have to investigate a bit to find this chords. Let's look at an example that will help it make sense.

We want to start in C Major and modulate to A Minor. What we need to do is find a "pivot chord" that can transition us from one key to the other smoothly. The pivot chord must contain notes that are found in both of the keys. So where is that chord in the key of C Major?

It's the 5th chord that starts with G...G, B & D. These notes are found both in C Major and A Minor; so you can play this chord and then transition wonderfully into A Minor after playing the G Chord.

There are many options that you can choose from to form your pivot chord. Just remember that the greater the difference in the number of sharps or flats there is between keys, the fewer options you'll have in finding a chord with common notes.

While this is all fresh in your mind, head to the final step and watch me go through all of this on the piano.

Step 4: Come Practice With Me!

In this video, we'll go back to Step 1 and cover every step on the piano. Make sure you have a pencil and some manuscript paper with you as well because we're going to write out a series of chord progressions to help you understand them even more!

Modulations can seem intimidating at first but once you go through this video with me at your piano, you'll understand a lot more.

We talked about Minor Keys in this lesson and other things that you may have some questions about. Take a look at the end of the video for specific playlists to help you further your knowledge about several of these topics.

Enjoy learning about modulations and the new chords, keys, and ideas that you'll be incorporating into your own piano playing!

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