is modulating? It is going (more or less) fluently from one key
to another key. This is very usual in jazz; in practically all standards
some form of modulation happens. Modulation is not something that
happens only in jazz; it happens in practically all styles. In nine
out of ten cases it sounds better if the modulation happens very
fluently, but this is not always so. Sometimes it may sound better
to go on in another key without any previous warning at all. There
are no rules for that, youre musicality is decisive here.
Music theory is meant to help you, not suffocate you. A musical
person can find a very convincing exception to every musical rule.
There always seems to be a way to play something in a way it sounds
good even when theory books scream that its not possible.
I dont mean to discourage you, its really good to study
theory. Youll get a lot of ideas you would not have had otherwise.
When you know enough about theory, youll deviate from it in
a responsible way, youll know exactly what youre
doing and have a good reason for it (and the good reason always
is: it just sounds better youre way).
The most popular way to modulate in jazz is by using a two-five-one.
By this I mean modulating by using chords built on the second, fifth
and first step of a scale (see the previous lesson). The seventh
chord is built on the fifth step of a scale and if you take the
time to play it on the piano, youll here that it almost forces
you to play the chord built on the first step of that scale afterward.
Its impossible to disregard the very clear character of the
seventh chord and because of this, it is an ideal chord to provide
(a new) harmonic direction. The chord that is built on the second
step of a scale and is played before the seventh chord can be seen
as the first step toward playing the seventh chord. The minor or
half diminished chord on the second step just makes the modulation
Lets take a look at Solar,
a jazz standard by Miles Davis.
you see, this song starts in C minor. The third bar is the start
of a two-five-one. The harmony modulates toward F major. In the
seventh bar we find another two-five-one. Now the harmony modulates
toward Eb major. In the tenth bar the harmony modulates toward Db
major. Ther last bar is the start of a two-five-one that takes the
harmony back to the C minor of the first bar. So now you can see
for yourself: there are really a lot of two-five-ones in jazz!
This is not the only way the harmony modulates in Solar. As you
can see, in the seventh bar the harmony modulates to F minor. Going
from major to minor is a very common way to modulate in jazz. As
you can see, it also happens in the tenth bar of this song. Somehow
this modulation doesnt sound too sudden either, is definitely
enriches Solar. It usually sounds very good, especially when the
chord is built on the same tone, as is done here.
Why is it a good idea to analyze the harmonies in this manner and
to understand what happens theoretically? Because it helps us to
be less fixated on the specific chord that is being played. It helps
us to stay more relaxed when a lot of chords are being played, because
now we can concentrate largely on something that supersedes the
specific chord: the scale. Im exaggerating just a little,
the chords are very important to, but still: when your about to
drown in a tidal wave of chords, analyze the harmony and find out
what scales youre supposed to play. In nine out of ten cases
this will save you.
Youre almost always playing something opportune when youre
playing the right scale. In Solar, most of the time we can play
in the same key for four bars. That may not seem like a lot of time,
but believe me, it is. You have ample time to prepare yourself for
the next scale coming up.