C4 | Modulating to distant keys / the lied

How to modulate to distant keys?

  • Related keys are the ones that are one sharp or one flat away from each other. Usually, these are the dominant and sub-dominant keys.
  • Distant keys are the ones which are further away in the key chain, e.g. from C major to A major.
  • Although the structures of the Classical period rely on functional harmony (harmony or keys that define a new section, e.g. second subject in Sonata Form), many composers started to modulate to more distant keys in order to create contrasts.
  • The song Widmung by Robert Schumann is in ternary form or ABA, with the middle section contrasting in many ways.
  • Section B modulates from A major to E major – a very distant key. Look at the process:

A major

enharmonic change from A to G#

E major, with G# being the MIDDLE note of the new TRIAD


A German word meaning art-song with the words, melody and accompaniment all linking together (plural: lieder). They usually have German lyrics and are usually linked to the German or Austrian composers such as Schubert, Schumann, Wolf and Brahms. The French equivalent is the Mélodie.

By using a note or a pivot chord, you can modulate to any key. Go to the step on modulations to related keys first of all to remind yourself of the method employed.

Composition task

C4 Composition task