Tunes with unusual key changes

Tunes with unusual key changes

Bit of a vague question this, but I’ve heard a few tunes played at sessions/gigs which have unexpected key changes in them. A good example of what I mean is gravel walks when it goes into Cmajor in the third (?fourth) bit . I don’t know why this sounds more odd than in other tunes with a minor -> major shift, but it just does.

I’d really like to learn some more tunes with a similar feel but don’t know the names of any. So, what are they called?

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

a waste of time.

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Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

Music for a Found Harmonium strays from D into F if I remember correctly. Which I possibly don’t.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

There are the Reels Beatrice and Eugene; but they have more of a European feel, where such changes are more usual.

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Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

@wheresrhys

A temporary departure from the key in which a tune is set is known as modulation. And I would agree with you in that some of the best tunes do this.

Have a look at this polka (posted by me just recently)

https://thesession.org/tunes/10241

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

The jig Balls To Hall: E minor first part; E major second part, somehow tumbling down the scale to end up as E Minor again. Great tune.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

But to play the above, you have to be able to get the G# somehow.

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D and B minor are relative to each other. That’s not a modulation Jimi.

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Having had a go at playing most of the suggestions the one that jumps out at me as being most similar to the gravel walks effect is the Wise Maid https://thesession.org/tunes/7335, so maybe the effect isn’t just about the modulation, but also that the key stays the same for ages and then changes briefly for just one part.

Thanks for all the suggestions though - some nice tunes all the same.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

If a tune contains a shift between a major and minor 3rd, that is not modulation. Modulation is when the key completely chages as I thought music theory defines it. The key signature changes. Theory junkies please correct me if I’m wrong.

When a few notes that are thrown into the tune that are unnatural to the key, they are just unnaturals. Modulation has not happened.

Same goes for modes. When you switch modes within a given key, you haven’t modulated. You are playing a certain mode within the given key. Again, theory junkies, please correct me if I’m wrong. It’s been 25 years since college music theory.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

We like to play Da auld hill grind
https://thesession.org/tunes/7007
Moves between A-part in G and B-part in D
Listen to Jenna Reid playing it to get a nice feel for it

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domnull points out the first tune in this thread with true modulation as I’ve understood it. The rest have nice shifts between modes and unnaturals to the given key.

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Nice domnull,
Those seem like they should lay nicely on the pipes.
Time to go to the woodshed!

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FAR OUT MAN!!!! Thanks domhull domnull domnull a dozen times over!….. The Heilanman is some kinda diabolical version of Drowsy Maggie. That’s way cool on the pipes.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

I’m no music theorist, but I was curious. This is from Wikipedia: Modulation is "most commonly the act or process of changing from one key (tonic, or tonal center) to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. " and usually a closely related key is used. So, I don’t know if that’s the definitive answer or not. :-)

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

Modulation is not merely a change of key. Specifically, for a tune to modulate it has to have some clever turns in it that carefully move the melody from one key to the next. If it simply abruptly jumps from one key to the next it is not modulating. Also, the introduction of accidentals does not change the key either. However, the process of modulation often uses accidentals.

But this is theory from classical music as is largely redundant with regards to diddley tunes. There simply isn’t the time or space in little compacted 16/32 bar repetitive pieces to formulate interesting modulations.

But loads of diddley tunes do change key from one part to the next. It’s standard and common practice. I can think of tons. Typically it’s an E dorian to a G major kind of thing. It’s not interesting from a harmonic stand point, but that’s not what these tunes are about is it.


There is one modern tune though that I can think of that has a particularly beautiful key change. Charlie MacKerron’s "The 70th Year" is a cracker. Check out Eilidh Shaw’s Heepirumbo for a sublime interpretation.

https://thesession.org/recordings/display/1884

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Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

My working knowledge of theory is a bit dusty. Point well taken Patrick. Thanks for pointing that out. "may or may not be acompanied by change in key signature." I seem to recall modulation as being more than just a shift in modes or an unnatural note appearing. Any other theory junkies out there? C’mon Will, where are you?

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

Michael to the Rescue!!

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

Repeating the melody with an abrupt key change (usually one step up) is known in the trade as a "gear-change" and is usually to be found in pop music and theater/tv/radio shows as an easy way of increasing the tension and excitement. Of course, there’s no place for it in most other music, and certainly not in folk, but musicians who have to do "gear-changes" on a regular basis in the course of earning their daily bread usually have an enviable facility in playing in all sorts of strange keys.

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It increases my tension. I feel I want to kill the arranger when a pop tune gear-jumps like that. The better the tune, the more mindless and infuriating I find it. Not that there *are* any pop tunes any more, of course…;-)

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Useless changes of key in boring pop songs, just to make them more "interesting," are called truck drivers’ gear-changes. The tune coming in at the end of Mull Of Kintyre on the massed pipes is archetypal. Have a laugh and look at Siegfried Baboon’s website: http://www.gearchange.org

As for diddley tunes, I know that a key-change has occurred if I have to put down one diatonic harmonica and pick up another in a different key. Other than that it’s just tasty little modal thingies that last a couple of bars or less and analysis is pointless. If you think a big key-change has occurred, but I’m still playing the same harp, all that’s happened is that you’ve been deluded by the guitar man’s chords. Be guided by the melody is the only rule needed in Diddley.

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Or even in diddley.

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This discussion would make better sense to me if someone would define what they mean by key change. Lots of tunes side slip one way or another but remain mostly in one key (or mode, but let’s not have that discussion). Others move from one key area to another and stay in the new key area. Others have sections in different, but usually related, keys (or modes. Maybe I should be saying key signatures all the way along).

Then the discussion would make better sense to me if we defined "unusual." Few Irish Trad tunes I can think of actually go to unexpected places harmonically (though many are ambiguous about harmonic centers). Most that do shift centers seem to go to closely related keys or modes (for example G major-Amin or Gmaj-Emin or G major - D major or G major - C major). Multiply the list yourself by starting in a different "home key." There’s good reason for the lack of unusual shifts. Think of the limited key centers on D whistle and D flute, or on pipes, or to a lesser degree on button boxes. If my suppositions are right then there really are few if any "unusual" changes. But, perhaps the OP had some other definition of the term??

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Unusual……different than what the person usually hears, or plays. Being someone who listens to tons of trad daily, I don’t find the changes or shifts to sound unusual at all. There are some odd piping things that would really sound unusual to a person who had never heard it, but to me it’s the usual toasted bread. I love finding the twisted versions of things that the pipes can get hold of and go into outerspace. Unusual to me is when it really goes deep into outer space. But that’s just me and my loony piping world. Unusual to someone else probably isn’t so far out in space. "Unusual" is going to have different parameters for each player depending on what you’re conditioned to.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

One of my favorites in this line is the House of Hammill - a great tune altogether.
Humors of Lissadell is a little peculiar in this regard as well - it shifts from Em to D in the middle of the first bar of the B part, and stays there through most of the B part.
I suppose there’s also the Bear Island one, which leads off on a pretty strong E major, but is mostly in minor.
There’s a few more for your collection.

Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

"… modulation as being more than just a shift in modes.."
The clue is in the words: Mode. Module Modulate. To modulate is to change that by which the standard is set (the module) which could be the key or the mode, and is applied to the composer, not the music. In other words, the tune itself doesn’t modulate, but the composer did.

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Re: Tunes with unusual key changes

Ahhh…yes… gam, Mode, Module, Modulate, the use of modes by the composer as tools to facillitate modulation. Shifting modes within a key to design the clever turns (as llig mentions) for a modulation to occur. Now I’m remembering why I let my theory get dusty in the first place. I’m gonna sprinkle dust back on it and get back to listening. Too much theory thinking gives me a headache. Uuugghh……