Brenda’s Blog – February 3, 2018
“What key, what key?”
In the sixties one of Stevie Wonder’s recordings has a moment when he is heard calling out, “What key, what key?” I always enjoyed his musical dexterity….the ability to fall in with the group, no matter what the key.
My parents graciously provided me with music lesson throughout my school years. The piano is still a highly favored part of my environment. In all the study I learned to sight read, to play with expression, and to use it for ministry.
Two things I did not master were transposition and modulation. Both are parts of musical theory, but different in application. Often vocalists prefer a key which is different from the one published on the music. Accomplished accompanists simply play it in the new key by seeing the patterns. They will begin in a new key.
Modulation varies in its use. Regularly, musicians will start a number in one key, then either by verse, or phrase raise a half step at a time, enhancing the dramatic impact of the music. One of the finest examples is the tradition of changing keys for the fourth verse of a hymn. It is a natural progression for many southern gospel performers.
Okay, if you have read this far with me, let me tell you why I started thinking about these two operations.
In life there are times when the key is changed from the outset. Clearly, the direction you are going is not a fit. So, before you commit to a job, a relationship, a location etc. you realize this is the wrong key. So, you still follow your path, but in a different key, with different people, places, or things. You transpose in order to perform with great impact.
Modulation, on the other hand, happens in the midst of the journey. It is the idea of making a subtle change which will raise the intensity and the outcome. It can “amp up” the energy. Most times it will feel natural and even expected. Other times it is a surprise bringing excitement and a sense of building to a flourish.
Look back on your life, noting the transpositions and the modulations. Recognize the difference and the important use of both. Then play your life music well with enthusiasm and confidence.