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"Disney Song Stats Part 2 - Keys and Modulations"

Hey everyone and welcome back to Disney Song-Statistics. This one’s called “Part 2: Keys & Modulations.”

And a quick reminder that the Spreadsheets and Charts we look at in these videos are embeded at for you to peruse for yourself, at your leisure. There should be a link somewhere below, unless you’re already there, then stay put. Or you could do what my wife does and have your video open in one browser and “free Tetris” open in another one. And again, if you want to skip the introductory part, and go straight into the computer presentation, go here:


Okay the first thing we’re going to look at is data on Tonalities. In total, there were 80 tonalities found in 70 songs, which means that 10 songs used two tonalities at different times. These instances turned out to always go from either major to minor or vice versa.


We also found some songs in the Blues tonality, but if a song was in blues, it stayed that way. So yeah, 80 instances of either Major, Minor, or the Blues supermode, no other modes like dorian or istrian or anything fun like that, but, oh well, too bad, what are you going to do?


And one disclaimer about “Blues” tonalities: it can be somewhat subjective, describing a song that uses blues elements—blue notes, and blues chords—to be officially in a “blues” or supermode tonality, or just a song in major or minor that happens to have a few exo-diatonic sounding elements here and there.


But yeah, moving on, as far as “keys” go, or the tonics of the tonalities go, the challenge was that half the time the published sheet music was different than what it was in the source material. So, what did I end up doing about that? Well, I decided to just catalogue both. And the final tally was that in the book we had 118 keys, and in the original productions we found 138 keys. Mostly the discrepancy came from sections that modulated and were not included in the book, offset by a few that were actually added to the book for whatever reason.


And speaking of modulations: probably thee most impressive statistic in this study was that between all the song sources, there were slightly more modulations than there were songs—I know, right? Total tally was 73 modulations found in 70 songs! And that’s not even including any of the return modulations or book-to-film transposed modulations! I mean, that’s just nuts; that’s almost ten times more modulating going on than your average song from the Rolling Stone Greatest Songs list!

Okay, let’s see how this looks on the grids, back into my computer we go!




So firstily, we can see, quite predictably, that Disney songs favor major tonalities, by a lot. And yeah, that isn’t that exciting since most genres use major keys the most, and minor the least. The only slightly interesting thing here to point out is how low the bar is for blues tonalities. Only 8% of the songs used everyone’s favorite many-notes-squished-together modern supermode of a tonality often referred to as the “blues”. But yeah, maybe it didn’t appear as much as it did in the Rolling Stone list because Disney produces mostly happy type stuff, with like princesses and their cuddly sidekicks and what not—and the blues is steeped in like, your lover cheating on you and your creditors confiscating your mule, and like—Human Slavery, so yeah, when you think of it that way, 8% seems like a pretty good showing, for Disney music anyway.

Now onto key usage: first, please note how the Published keys are colored in blue, and the Produced keys are colored in red.


Okay, so our overall winner was the key of F, especially in the sheet music column, where it was used a full quarter of the time. Then, C and G have some pretty good showings, and after that we have a moderate anomaly with Eb in 4th place, an anomaly because this key was one of the bottom dwellers in the Rolling Stone study. The last place key, by average, was the key of B which is no big shock.

There are some points of interest though with the low showings for E and A, since E and A were the first and second place winners according to Rolling Stone. Look what happens when I add in the Rolling Stone Data:

See, E and A are the clear winners in here. But yeah, like I alluded to when we saw this graph in its last video, you can chalk up E&A’s popularity to the fact that the lowest two open strings on guitars are E and A, and because of this, guitarists really like to write in those keys.


Basically, I guess this just means that Disney songwriters are not often guitarists. Disney, you do not rock. Not you Hannah Montana, you rock, everyone else, sorry.


But yeah, now that we’ve been looking at this for a while, let’s prove our theory that publishers do not like keys with sharps and flats. Dig this: so, discounting minor tonalities, the tallest half of these blue lines here all have 3 black notes or less, and the shortest half have 3 or more black notes in their key signatures—so yeah, I mean, doesn’t get much more clear-cut than that. For the red columns, we do see the same tonal trend, it’s just way less pronounced—like, there are some shorter reds, but none that just got completely squashed by the publishers like these three guys here on the left.


And yeah, if you’re sad I left out the minor mode in that analysis, and were hoping I’d break down the Key data further by pure sharps and flats like I did in the Rolling Stone video series, well, for this video, I decided not to, mainly since there just wasn’t enough data to make it worth it. But yeah, if you’d like to see what that can look like when you break it up by relative keys instead of parallel keys, you can watch that video.

Okay, let’s move on to Modulations!


So here’s what’s going on here: I got my modulation motions down the left side here, with the lowest bar representing when the modulation was down a P4th, and the highest representing modulation up a tritone. And I should point out that the way it’s organized here is by shortest distance, which is how most people think of it. But like, if you wanted to think in terms of all ups, like thinking that modulating down a m2nd is the same as modulation up a M7th, that’s perfectly fine, you’ll just have to do the math in your head, but yeah, that’s extra credit, for now, it’s just easier to have a bias towards shorter interval distances.


The color coding you see shows what kind of tonality was modulated to, and if you remember, blues songs always stayed in their supermode. Beyond that, I’ll just tell you that songs starting in major and modulating to minor were three more in number than songs starting in minor and modulating to major. I’m just telling you that because I couldn’t figure out a way to represent that tidbit on the graph. I also didn’t find a way to include return modulations, but, I probably wouldn’t have included that data anyway since it might have been unfair in a double dip kind of way. But yeah, as far as return modulations go, I’ll just say they happen about a third of the time, and especially when a tonality has also been changed. For instance, the only song in the study that changed tonalities for good, well, I’ll just say the song started in minor, then “let it go”, and was Frozen in Major.


Looking at the total length of the bars, we see a couple things: First, that musicians like to modulate upward, or “near upwards” if you prefer, more than they like to modulate downwards. So much so, that our first, second, and third place winners were directly above the original key, with modulations up a M2nd in the lead. The fourth place finisher is in the down category, down a m3rd. And I think many of you are already guessing that that’s a symptom of modulating to the relative minor from major, which people do all the time. If you don’t know what that is, “relative” modulation from major to minor is where you keep the same key signature, but move the root down a m3. You can reciprocate this from minor to major as well, which is one reason why “Up a m3rd” finished so strong, and also perhaps a reason why it doesn’t have a reddish “to-minor” segment in it, unlike the “down a m3rd” which does have a nice beefy reddish chunk.


Incidentally, the other place we see a larger hunk of red is in the unison bar in the middle, where some songs seemed to have liked to modulate to minor while maintaining the same root or tonic. These are called parallel modulations when this happens.


Moving on, the modest showings for modulations by P4th, up or down, are probably owed to the fact that modulating tonalities by P4ths is equivalent to just one turn of the circle of fifths dial, which means only adding or subtracting one sharp or flat. This “least amount” of tonal change can also mean the least dissonance to the listeners ear, which can be nice I guess. But yeah, what can sometimes be prohibitive about these modulations is the fact that these larger leaps might present too much of a challenge for a singer and their vocal range. Not Michael Bolton though, Michael Bolton will modulate anywhere, anytime.

But yeah, keep in mind this limitation is more for vocal music than instrumental music; you’ll probably see more of these leaps in purely instrumental music studies, especially piano music, an instrument that has virtually no limits when compared to the human voice.


Last thing to notice is that modulation by Tritone is predictably the lowest with no modulations represented in the study. And that’s because if you do modulate by tritone in a Disney song, I believe what happens is that Bambi’s mother’s ghost comes back as a zombie deer and kicks your eyeballs in with her zombie hooves. Pretty sure that’s why the Tritone Field is empty.


Okay before we go I’d like to mention just a couple of my favorite modulations from the study.

First, the modulations in the song “Little April Shower” are kind of cool since they ascend based on the roots, third, and fifth of a major C triad, so we got C major, then later we got E major, then we modulate to G major! Even cooler is that those three keys happen to be the first three notes of the melody! Modulations based off motif! Find that technique somewhere else for me and I will mail you a dollar!


Next, “Be Our Guest” has a sizable showing with 5 modulations and 6 keys. And I kind of think of these like how John Cusak describes mix tapes in High Fidelity: so like, we start in G, then we kick it up just a semitone to Ab, but then we cool it off a notch down to F#m, because we don’t want to blow our wad, but then we pick it right back up where we left off in our rising chromatic sequence, to A, and then we skip the double dog dare Bb key straight to B major, and just when you thought any more modulation would be against the laws of physics and Einstein and that: boom C major!!! So yeah, G, Ab, F#m, then A-B-C, easy as one two three!


Third I want you to get excited about some mid-section modulations. Most of the time, we modulate in the transition space from one song-form section to another, so when we modulate in the middle of a section it can be that much more epic. So like, the first verse in the song “Reflection” from Mulan has this ascending phrase in F# that goes like this, and what it does, is it takes the last note of that, and upon repetition, this last note now becomes the first note of the phrase. “So” becomes mi, and the key modulates, following the motif!

Another example of a mid-section-mod is in “The Circle of Life” from Lion King, where in the last chorus we have a common tone modulation up a m3rd right when the sunray hits the new baby lion king, and it’s all like “ah”, right in the middle of the chorus. It so nailed me the first time I heard it, and now I know why. So we’re on the V chord in Bb major (F), when suddenly, a common tone allows us to modulate to Db major, and then we return to a Bb chord, but now instead of being the I chord, it’s a secondary dominant to the ii of the new key (Ebm)!!! SO good.


Next, in “Everybody Wants to Be A Cat”, we’ve got six unique modulations. And remember, blues keys have major/minor elements squished together, but we can also describe them as being in major blues or more minor blues depending on their biases. So like, I want to highlight that the bridge modulations are examples of major blues keys in the midst of more minor blues keys.


So yeah, the head keys are in minor blues, but the bridge ii-V-I stuff is in Major blues. It’s a great song for outlining the difference between when a Jazz number is in major blues and minor blues.

5) For my last favorite—remember how I said there were no modulations of a tritone? Well, Michael Bolton came close in “Go the Distance” from Hercules, here’s how:


So we’re starting out in D major with a I V IV, then a direct mod to F with a I IV V, then a common melody tone mod  back to D for a circle of fifths dial-back from A to D to G, or V I IV, then we have another common melody tone modulation  to B major, in which they delay the I chord with a V IV V (F# E F#), and finally to the I (B).


So yeah, that’s a mod up a m3rd from D to F, then back down a m3rd to D, then quickly down another m3rd, finally getting to B. So yeah, this is as close as we come to a modulation by tritone. It’s a herculean hydra of modulations for a herculean song!


Okay, that’s it for this one, but I hope you can stay for the next video, Disney Song-Statistics Part 3: Rhythms, Tempos, and Meters. Thanks for watching, and please make sure to click us a like on facebook, subscribe to the youtube channel, follow me on twitter, join the mailing list, and tell all your friends about the songwriting and music theory videos at Thanks!

Click Picture for link to the "New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs" on Amazon.