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Amy Winehouse, Meet Irving Berlin: Modulations, Part 2

In last week’s post I covered two of the five general categories I laid out for songwriting modulations.  You can read that post here for a summary of the five types and for examples of #1 and #2.  This week we continue to #3.

(Again, I strongly encourage you to listen to and play the examples below.  I guarantee you’ll add some cool songwriting tools to your kit.)

#3 is when, within one section, a song briefly changes key (modulates) and then quickly returns to its original key.

One example is Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’.  The center of the song chordally is C7 (basically a pop/r&b/rock version of the key of ‘C’) and the Chorus contains C7, F7, and G7.  For the Verse she goes ||: Eminor | Aminor | F | Ab :||.

The Ab is not in the key and really ‘wakes up’ your ear.  In another style she might use an Fminor instead (almost the same chord as Ab) but it would have a much sweeter feeling… less funky.  The Ab is a good choice for the bluesy melody and a good way to keep the listener alert.

I’ve always been fond of the unparalleled Irving Berlin’s song  ‘Always’, which has been covered by hundreds of singers, using many different chord changes.  It’s such a romantic song that seems so simple and direct.  Yet when you look under the hood you find, as with most great songwriters, much more than meets the ear.

Taken in the key of ‘C’, its 7 bar first Verse goes like this (in a 6/4 time signature):

| C | C | G | C | C | E7 | B7 | E Dminor G |

The first five bars are in the key of ‘C’ and couldn’t be less complicated.  Then Berlin takes a beautiful 2&1/2 bar detour (E7|B7| E) and then returns to ‘C’ with a turnaround (Dminor to G) in the 7th bar.  Again the brief stepping out of the key has a ‘wake-up’ effect not dissimilar from the Ab in ‘Rehab’.

The second section – 8 bars – of “Always’ (the song is only 15 bars long – no bridge):

| C | C | A7 | Dminor | Dminor Fminor | C A7 | Dminor G7 | C |

This section has an out-of-key harmonic digression (in bars 3 through 5) before resolving, in a satisfying manner, back to ‘C’ in bars 6 through 8.

More than 100 years after his birth, Irving Berlin still rules!

We’ll continue this in coming weeks.

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4 responses to “Amy Winehouse, Meet Irving Berlin: Modulations, Part 2”

  • Joyce Rogers

    agree and love under the hood

  • Bruce Gordon

    In the 6th bar of the 2nd section you have Em A. While that works, I believe Irving wrote C D9
    PS. I also love Amy Whinehouse and Irving Berlin.

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