Slash Chords Piano Lesson series
Piano lessons Slash Chords Chapter 4
In this piano lesson, we’re going to look at some very unique slash chords. In previous lessons, we’ve used slash chords to transform very complicated chords into manageable, easy to play chords that sound fantastic.
Today, we’ve got a brand new use for slash chords on the piano. We’re going to use them as modulation chords to transition smoothly between different keys.
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Now modulation is a big word, kind of a scientific sounding word but it’s an essential skill that you must have in your toolbox as a musician.
Webster’s defines musical modulation like this: a change from one musical key to another.
Any musician can simply jump from one key to another, however, in this piano lesson I’m going to show you how to use slash chords to modulate smoothly from one key to another. Not only will these slash chords enable you to move smoothly from key to key, but they are especially useful if you are a keyboard player or a piano player in a band.
The amazing thing about the slash chord modulations is that they have the ability to telegraph your intentions to the entire band – simply by playing these slash chord modulations, your entire band will know that you’re going to move to a different key and you won’t have to say a single word!
This is very effective if you want to be able to direct a group of musicians on the fly from the keyboard or the piano.
Or let’s change up a scenario a bit – this time let’s pretend that there’s a singer involved – either you or someone else. But the nightmare scenario is that you might start playing in a key that is waaayyy too low and the singer starts giving you dirty looks! Isn’t that funny by the way how singers will always give the piano player dirty looks when something bad happens on stage? I guess it comes with the territory.
Anyway, there you are up onstage backing up the singer but you’re playing in the wrong key. What a bummer. At this point, the superhero power that you need to pull out of your musical toolbox is the ability to modulate, or change to a different key.
There’s lots of reasons to modulate – and the greatest piano players know all the tricks that enable them to modulate on the keyboard in such a way so that any other musicians that happen to be playing along can follow smoothly. This is in advanced skill on the piano but it’s one of those essential skills that you dare not leave home without.
This is what we’re going to study today. We’re going to go over three fantastic ways to make smooth modulations, or transitions between keys on the piano. Here we go.
We’re going to be looking at three specific techniques that will come in very handy in different situations that may require you to modulate on the fly.
The first example we’ll look at is a modulation track to smoothly go up 1/2 step, for instance from the key of A to Bb. This is a very simple technique, and the beauty of this modulation technique is that any other musician that may be playing along with you doesn’t even need to know that you’re going to be moving up a 1/2 step. You can use this technique to all of a sudden clue them in and give a musical heads up the band saying in essence – “Hey we’re moving up 1/2 step!” – and everybody makes the musical step together instead of having a giant train wreck on stage.
Here’s the chord A – assume that now you want to move up to Bb. Now sounds OK to go from A to Bb if you’re playing by yourself. But if you’re playing with a band they may not know that you’re moving up to Bb! So they’d be playing along in the key of A, and you would’ve made the jump to Bb! And together, it’s just not very musical!
So you need to come up with a secret modulation chord on the piano going from the key of A to Bb that not only sounds good musically but also tells the band “Hey people were moving up”!
Let me show you know what it sounds like when you’re playing along and the key of A…
Now here comes the secret modulation chord, listen to this – do you hear that? It sounds like it wants to go up to Bb. And that’s where we are now. Let’s do it again just to give you another example (back to A) Now here comes the modulation chord and we go to Bb. Do you hear that? The whole band could hear that coming and everybody would push up to Bb together.
Now let’s analyze this and let me show you how it’s done.
Again for review, here’s the chord A on the piano… And here’s Bb on the piano… Now let me play it with the secret modulation chord on the piano…
Here’s that secret powerful modulation chord… And here’s the Bb. It wants to go to Bb. It has to go to be flat right? So let’s go back to the chord A on the piano. I could just tell you what the modulation chord is, but I want you to know how to find it on the piano.
Let’s start with the chord that were modulating from, which is A. Then we want to do that magic modulation and go to Bb because it sounds so nice, works fantastic and the band will know what’s going on.
Starting with A, here’s the question that you have to ask yourself: A is the third of what other chord on the piano? Hmmm…. Let me say that again – A, the note to A, is the third of what other chord on the piano? Be flat? No. E? No. C#? No way! F? Yes, the note A is the third of F major.
So here’s the trick- keep playing an A in your left hand on the keyboard, (because that’s what it was playing already) and in your right hand, play that F major chord. There’s that magic nice modulation chord.
Here’s the reason it works so well-when you’re playing an A major chord, the bass player is thumping an A down in the basement, and he has no idea what’s coming! But you’ve got a trick up your sleeve – you know that you want to move up a half-step to Bb, so mentally you think “A is the third of what chord on the piano? ahhhh…. A is the third of F!” So you begin playing in F major chord with your right hand.
And the bass player’s head snaps around and looks at you, but he’s not mad, he’s excited! He’s thinking ” Wow, this is cool. I’m part of modulation!” And deep down in his musical brain a little voice will say “Hey it sounds like I need to move to Bb” and everybody makes the move together, and another train wreck is avoided thanks to the happy technique of modulation.
This is a powerful modulation technique
Now don’t be afraid to rewind this video and go through that again. There’s not a whole lot of musical math that you have to understand, it’s a pretty simple formula. But you have to get it exactly right to make that smooth modulation up 1/2 step.
The next modulation on the piano or keyboard that I want to show you today is how to modulate up a fourth.
The primary use of this modulation is not to go between verses of a song, because you’re modulating up a fourth on the piano, and that’s a pretty big jump.
The primary use of this modulation is when the next song that you want to transition smoothly to is a fourth higher than the key that you’re currently in.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a song and you’re cruising along in the key of D. You’re coming to the end of your song and nobody knows where you’re going next. But then you throw in this secret modulation chord, and the music sounds like it wants to go to the key of G. Now we’re solidly in the key of G. Let me show you again…
Your playing the piano in the key of D, doing all kinds of neat things, and the band behind you has no idea what key the next song is in, where’s it going to go from here? But you give them the secret modulation chord and they all say “I know we’re going up to G”. Let’s take a look at this powerful modulation technique that allows you to jump up a fourth.
Now this modulation is so simple that I can show you in 30 seconds on the piano. Here’s what it sounds like again – you’re playing the keyboard in the key of D, you hit that modulation chord, and jump to the key of G, taking all your musical friends with you.
Here’s how it’s done – when you’re playing in a particular key, again for instance the key of D… And you want to come up with fat modulation that will push you up a fourth, leave your left hand playing the same note D – and with your right hand, play a chord that is a whole step below the note in the left hand.
Now, what the whole step below D? Everybody knows that this would be C. So once you’ve run that musical formula in your head, keep playing the D in your left hand on the piano and play in C major chord in your right hand. There it is. Now like I’ve shown you in previous piano lessons, you can play that C major chord in your right hand anywhere you want on the piano. In addition you can even use the straddle technique to really make it sound cool. If you want to check out any of the previous slash chord piano lessons, go to playpianotoday.com/lessons
So let’s move on in this piano lesson. You’re playing the D in your left hand, and you’re playing a major chord in your right hand that’s built on a note a whole step below your left hand. (a C major chord)
Everybody hears that, and the bass player thinks “Hey this guy’s modulating on the piano again… And this time it sounds like we’re going to jump up a fourth! How does he do that?” And when you jump to the key of G, you find that you’re friends made the jump along with you, and nobody wants to shoot the piano player.
Remember, rewind this piano lesson video if you need to and then we’ll jump to the third modulation technique in this lesson.
Now modulating in down on minor third is very useful when you’re putting together a set of songs, and you want to go from one major key (like C Major) to a minor key that is a third lower (like A minor)
Now you’re in a minor key right away. Did you notice how smooth the transition was? Let me show you again here is C… And here’s down a third to A minor.
One little bit of music theory that applies to the piano and every other instrument: Every major key has what’s called a relative minor key which can be found a minor third lower. For instance, the relative minor key of C major is A minor, because A minor is down a minor third from C.
Why do we care? The important point is that major keys and their relative minor keys have all the same notes in common. They have the same exact key signature. For instance, C major has no sharps or flats, (here’s the entire C major scale, no sharps or flats here) and it’s relative minor key, A minor, also has no sharps or flats. Here’s the entire A minor scale, no sharps or flats here either. On the piano, we can really exploit this characteristic to make a fantastic slash chord modulation down a minor third.
Just to make a point, let’s try this in a different key than C major. Let’s take the key of F major. The key signature of F major has one flat – Bb. It shows up when you play the entire F major scale… now again, to find the relative minor of F major, we have to go down a minor third, which by the way is three half steps. Down three half steps lands us in the key of D minor. Here’s the full scale of D minor on the piano. Look at that one flat shows up – Bb.
Again, the point of all this is that F major and D minor share all their notes in common. So here’s what I’m driving at-
If you’re playing an F major chord, and the bass player is playing the note F, you can safely move your right hand to the relative minor chord at any point. Again, the poor bass player was clueless about what the piano player was going to do, but he’s pretty happy camper because he’s still part of the modulation.
Here’s a very important thing about this particular modulation on the piano – because there’s no intermediate modulation chord between the two different keys, this is called a direct modulation.
In our other modulation examples, none of the other musicians knew that you’re going to modulate on the piano, but at least you threw in an intermediate modulation chord that clued them in to where you were going.
This modulation, down a minor third, it is a direct modulation on the piano – it happens instantly. So to give all the other musicians a little bit of time to acclimate to the new key, don’t move your left hand for a while.
Let me show you what I mean. Your playing a song on the piano in F, and you’d like to modulate down a minor third to the next song, which is in D minor. Simply move your right hand to a D minor. You’ve made the transition, but stay in that position for a while till it really starts sounding like you’re in D minor. When you’ve been there for a little while, all of the other musicians will start hearing D minor as the tonal center, and they can (and will) safely move there anytime.