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"Common Chord Modulations in 'Come in with the Rain,' by Taylor Swift
Hey everybody welcome to the Spotter Spots Vlog. Today we’re going to take a look at some “Common Chord” modulations in the song “Come in with the Rain,” by Taylor Swift.
First thing to say, so there’s no confusion of terms, is that the Common Chord Modulation, or “key change”, can also be called a “Pivot Chord Modulation.” And you can remember that by thinking about how a Basketball player has to “pivot” on the same foot—or their ‘common’ foot—when they want to pass the ball to another player—or in our case, a new key.
Okay let’s get rolling, left to right. As you can see here, the key of D Major has the ball first, for about :50 seconds, and then it’s like [guitar-sing] G, which is the IV chord in D, then A, which is the V, back to G then C! And there’s your modulation, at :52 seconds!
So, but what’s exactly happening here; what is that slick Nashvillian Taylor Swift up to?
Well, first thing to point out is the common chord itself, here colored in blue. It’s a G major chord that functions as the ‘IV’ in D major, but it’s also the diatonic ‘I’ chord in G major, the key we’re modulating to.
And real quick, going back to the basketball analogy, you can think of this whole ‘diatonic’ thing as the ball getting passed to a player on the same team, or on your side, or at least on your same side of the circle of fifths.
So yeah—if you know anything about the circle of fifths, you’ll know that G and D are right next door to each other on the wheel, and that means their key signatures are only going to have a one-note difference.
This means, with all those common notes, there’s going to be a lot of commonality with the chords; there’s going to be a lot of pivots—a lot of people to pass the ball to.
Okay, speaking of that ‘only one-note difference’: There it is, right here in the next chord, C major.
You see, in the key of D, C is regularly sharped, as the ‘leading tone’, or seventh scale degree. Because of this, if there was no key-change, and we were still in the key of D, we’d have to call it a bVII, shown right here in parenthesis. But, since we did modulate, it’s really a IV.
Last thing I want to talk about concerning this first modulation, for now, is the Dominant Function of the common chord. See, if you single out just these two chords, G and C, it’s plain as day that this is a dominant V-I cadence in the key of C.
Real quick, here’s all a “dominant V-I cadence” is: you got your G, that’s the thumb, and your C, that’s the pinky, in the middle you go down the alphabet, G-F-E-D-C, and the cadence is just Thumb-Pinky, or G-C, or V-I, or dominant resolution to the Root. If you got five fingers and you know the first seven letters of the alphabet frontwards and back, you’ll always be able to tell if any chord change you come across is Dominant.
Okay, but here, since we’re not in the key of C, but passing from D major to G major, we’re obliged to think of this particular five-down-to-the-one as a ‘secondary’ dominant, either a V/bVII, or maybe a V/IV.
And I know there are some who are uncomfortable with calling something a V/bVII because a bVII isn’t diatonic.
However, in the pop music of today, the bVII is arguably the next most popular chord after the holy trinity of the I, IV, and V chords, so it’s becoming ‘arguable’ just how “not diatonic” it really is, in many cases. But that’s a whole other topic with no clear answers… if you’re interested, here’s a link to a vlog that talks more about that:
Alright, on to the second modulation, or we could call it the “Return Modulation.” It picks up here with an Em chord, which is a vi in the key of G, then a C chord which is the IV, then a D chord, and there’s your modulation, the Return of the Key!
Okay, so what happened—here?
Well, we can start wrapping our head around it by seeing that D is a V chord in the old key, and the ‘I’ chord—or root chord—in the key we’re returning to—D major. Bang—common chord, pivot, pass, dribble-dribble-dribble shoot.
Simple enough, but one big difference you notice about this key change, first heard at 1:23 by the way, is that this time, the so-called common chord—or pivot chord—starts the modulation, instead of acting as the “set-up” chord—like it does in the previous modulation. So yeah, they’re on opposite sides of the modulation fence, and that my friends is what we call: variety.
Okay though, then you might be asking yourselves, what “sets up” this modulation—since the common chord didn’t did do it?
We can point to two things. First, is that the C chord, which remember, would be a “bVII” chord in the original key, is acting in a ‘sort of dominant’ way.
I say sort of dominant way, because people in the music theory community still argue whether a ‘bVII to I’ chord progression should be termed “dominant,” in the same way that “thumb-pinky V to I”s and diminished sevens to ones are. So, yeah, for this reason, we only ‘sort of’ underlined this sort-of-dominant.
Oh by the way, real quick, another tonal trend tidbit to point out here, is that “Common Chord Modulations” are almost always followed by the V of the new Key, and that’s more or less true in both these cases. So yeah, I just wanted to point that out quick as another way to recognize these babies, here in red.
Okay, the other way this second modulation “sets itself up” nicely, is by inserting in an extra measure, or “mod measure,” right before the modulation.
I say ‘extra’ inasmuch as all of the other parts of the song so far are your standard ‘four measure phrases’. But, when you add this extra “mod measure” it makes the phrase five measures total.
And this is a slick trick because, since our brains have been thus far conditioned to expect changes every four measures, we’re less likely to notice it when a fifth-measure-change slips past our defenses.
Incidentally, there’s also one of these extra “mod measures” inserted before the final Modulation of the first type. Look for it around 3:04, when you hear the Arpeggio that uses Plucked-String Harmonics! It’s the same slick trick—get us used to hearing something one way, then change it just enough so that we’re surprised, but not enough to where the surprise distracts from the music.
Okay, last, I want to point out one more Slick Trick our favorite Nashvillian uses to smooth out her key changes.
So yeah, we’ve already seen the slickness of the only-one-key difference, the common/pivot chords, the dominants and the bVII to I sort-of dominant commonness, and, we’ve talked about the slickness of the ‘mod measure.’
But while an extra measure is a delay in time, a third way things get smoothed out, is a delay getting to the root of the new key.
See, in the first Modulation, you can see the Root chord is delayed by two chords after the modulation itself, and here you can see that even the unflappable “following V” is delayed by a chord. It makes for a very slow, gentle turning of that Circle of Fifths Dial.
So yeah I hope you liked this Spotter Spot Vlog, and I wish you all the best in recognizing and using these Common Chord Modulations, Dominant Functioning Chords, Extra Mod “delay” Measures, Delayed Roots, and Following Vs, in the music you like—and especially, in your own music, just like Taylor Swift does!
Okay, and don’t forget to like us and follow us and stuff, and we’ll see you next time here at the TonalTrends.com Music Vlogs.