Ear Training Blog by Bruce Arnold for Muse Eek Publishing Inc. Key Retention

Modulation: Improving your aural comprehension

What is Modulation

A modulation is a key change. When you are within a piece of music think of key change and modulation as the same thing. Many times in classical music you will actually see a new key signature used when there is a modulation. In contemporary jazz, rock etc… You just see accidentals used but basically no other indicator that a key change or modulation has taken place. Key change isn’t absolute no matter where it may seem like it is happening. It is up to “you” to develop your ear to the point where “you” decide whether you have modulated to a new key. This is where music theory and ear training take a different path. You might look at an analysis of a piece of music where the writer shows you a modulation because all the notes fit into a new key center. But remember, that doesn’t always mean you personally have modulated you have to confirm that using your ear. So always use your own ear to decide how you hear pitches and finally how you organize this information in your mind.

Mode Change rather than Modulation

In many cases rather than a modulation you have a simple change of mode. By this I mean if you are playing a medium to up tempo blues and the 1st chord change is a C7 chord you would play a Mixolydian scale. When you go to the IV chord “F7” you would play a C Dorian scale not an F Mixolydian scale. Why? Well, you haven’t modulated you have only changed the mode. If this makes sense to you the Scale Analysis book is your next step to understanding how to apply this to a Major Blues, Minor Blues and Rhythm Changes. Once you have worked through this book you can apply this information to any music in any style. Then finally, you will connect your ear to chord changes. This will allow you to hear melodies over chord changes much easier and except for a few weird scales every once and awhile, you will find playing over changes to be much easier


Modulation is a situation that often comes up when trying to improve your aural comprehension.  It is a tricky road with many unusual twists and turns because of course you have modulation many times in music but do you really need to modulate as much as you are?  Probably not, is the short answer.  I think a good place to start this discussion is with Two Note, Three Note or Four Note Melodic Ear Training as well as the companion books Key Retention Builder, Melodic Modulation and Key to Your Kingdom

Modulation when hearing multiple melodic notes.

The first thing most students realize when they start melodic ear training is one or more of the notes might cause a modulation.  You will notice over time that when notes modulate they make ear training much harder because now you need to know:

  • What the new key center is
  • What the notes in the new key center are

So it is best that you don’t have a modulation if you don’t need to, because it makes ear training much harder.  Certainly after hearing a key center and then a few notes you shouldn’t need to have a modulation.  But that isn’t usually what happens with most students.  Either from previous interval training like memorizing that “Hear-Comes-the-Bride-is-a-fourth” or with hearing any 4th as “So” to “Do” you can have a huge problem if you are trying to hear multiple melodic notes. Let’s say 2 or 3 fourths;  you will be modulating all over the place.

To fix this common issue you need to improve your key retention so that you don’t  modulation as often when hearing a series of notes.  Singing is the answer to fixing this problem.  I first created Key Retention Builder which has you sing multiple pitches in a key center and then slowly weans you away from needing the support of a drone.  It works wonderfully and usually doesn’t take too long either.  I often give more specific assignments for students via email so if you get the book check in with me for some extra assignments. 

To Drone or not to Drone

You might be thinking “I thought I was always supposed to use either the MetroDrone or the MetroDrone app when I practice?”  That is true in many cases BUT relying too much on a drone is not a good thing.  Over time you need to wean yourself away from using a drone and develop the ability to not have a modulation too frequently and stay in a key center without needing a drone, otherwise it can become a crutch.  I’ll speak more on that in future emails.

One final note.  Many of you are doing the Ear Training One Note Complete or Contextual Ear Training. That’s great; it’s the perfect combination to start the ear training. 

These books teach you to hear all 12 notes in relationship to a key center.  But there are two sides to this:

  1. Recognizing the pitches in a key center.
  2. Staying in the key center and only having a modulation where it makes sense.

Most beginning students have both these problems and that’s why starting with Key Retention Builder ASAP will help immensely to keep you in a key center and solve half of the problems you are experiencing with contextual ear training.

The Historic Precedents Of This Kind Of Music Education

You might enjoy checking out the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located on my artist’s site. You will clearly see the historic progression of pedagogy that is the basis for Muse Eek Publishing Products. Great musicians throughout history have been studying the ideas presented by Muse-eek.com which derives its content from a a lineage that stretches back to Scarlatti!


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About Muse Eek

Muse-Eek Publishing Company is a publishing house with a broad focus on music education. Muse-Eek also publishes fine art and poetry books, and has its own record label, Muse-Eek Records. Our online presence, Muse-Eek.com specializes in the publication of music workbooks, video courses and sound and video recordings that teach the foundation of good musicianship through groundbreaking and innovative methods along with traditional methods that have been taught for centuries. These historic methods date back through centuries of great musicians and educators. To see these interesting relationship please see Bruce Arnold's Music Education Genealogy Chart which tells you a lot about the where many of his educational ideas took root and some of the educational pillars that are evident throughout the books you find on this website. The Muse-Eek Records catalogue contains a diverse selection of music much of it by Bruce Arnold in collaboration with some of today's best players in classical, jazz, rock and avant-garde music. These are available in CD, DVD and mp3 formats. We believe in a working relationship with our music education customers; they are free to interact with the author after purchasing a book to help them through any material they don’t understand or which they need further clarification. We also have a member's area which contains a wealth of free information to help a student understand music at a deeper level and access additional files for our books. Many of our books offer cutting edge ideas regarding ear training, guitar technique, rhythm and time. These methods have a proven track record. Our main author Bruce Arnold has taught at some of the most prestigious music schools in the world, including Princeton, Dartmouth, Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, The New School and NYU. Along with Mr. Arnold's publications on the Muse-eek.com website he has also written books and appeared in educational DVDs for MelBay and Truefire. Over the years Mr Arnold has used his experiences with his students to develop a program that can elevate a musician's ability to world class caliber. If you have questions about any of our books or recordings please send us an email. Along with general questions about either our record label or our publishing company we also welcome questions to help a student choose the proper materials to reach their goals. We have over 300 products to help you learn any style of music and to develop your musicianship to its peak. We also make recommendations for practice schedules for students who use our methods to get the most out of their study time. This, along with personal interaction with Bruce through email, nurtures the student's ability through a closely monitored situation, ensuring there is no wasted time or misunderstanding.

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