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A work of tonal music modulates when it changes key. Typically, this is achieved by a the use of a cadence in the new key, in particular a movement from the dominant seventh of the new key to the tonic. A cadence is essentially a musical grammatical mark, like a period, denoting the end of an idea. Additionally, a cadence has a strong key defining effect. So if a composer can smoothly work in a cadence from the new key, there is a sense of continuity between the new and original key.

In popular music, it is not uncommon to modulate up a major second, not with a cadence but simply by raising all the notes in the verse or chorus by a whole tone. This often indicates the end of a song and reduces monotony, however, the technique's overuse might be considered by some to be in poor taste.