Cadence Music

Do you want to learn about music theory?

Cadence is an essential part of music theory. It’s the musical term for the ending of a phrase or sentence. There are six different types of cadences, each with a unique sound.

Learning about cadences can help you understand how music works and give you new ideas for writing your own songs. You’ll be able to create more interesting and complex melodies by using different cadences in your music.

Read out our complete article on cadences in music!

Introduction to the Cadence Music

As you no doubt know, any verbal debate is organized into a number of phrases, sentences, stanzas, and paragraphs. In a similar way, a group of distinct notes and chords combine to form musical phrases, periods, verses, bridges, choruses, and other larger structures.

Cadence may be considered to be a musical punctuation that may demarcate a half phrase or signify the end of the complete phrase.

The word Cadence is derived from the Latin word “cadere,which literally means to sound rhythmically, to fall.” It assumed greater importance in a musical structure in the 17th century with the advent of chord-based music.

What is a Phrase in Music?

A phrase is a group of notes and chords that forms musical units of two to eight bars. You can consider musical phrases to be of sufficient length to convey a substantial musical thought. They always end with a cadence. Music composers use various forms of interactions among melody, rhythm, and harmony to create them.

Phrases combine to make periods. The phrases in a period are segregated into antecedent or consequent phrases, depending on whether they will end with a weak cadence or a strong one. The antecedent or weak cadence phrase forms the first part of the period, while the consequent phrase is the second part.

A phrase group is a collection of three or more phrases.

What Is Cadence In Music?

The resolution at the end of the musical phrase is termed the “Cadence.” As stated above, the phrases are formed by the interaction of melody, rhythm, and harmony. So a cadence is bound to have melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic properties that define it. Further, it points to the return to the tonic note or center.

So a more technical definition of the cadence will be – A modulation of voice or a sequence of chords and notes used at the phrase ending. The listener can either sense the completion of the underlying musical thought or get a feeling of continuation, where the resolution will happen in later phrases of the musical composition.

You will go through the nuances of the various types of cadences in the subsequent sections. But, at a higher level, they can be classified into open and closed cadences. As you might have guessed, an open cadence provides the feeling of continuation, as we discussed earlier.

The closed cadence, on the other hand, indicates the end of the composition or the musical idea. The composition comprises multiple closed and open cadences at regular intervals to sound cohesive.

Apart from signaling closure or otherwise, the cadences serve another function – to reinforce the tonality in the tonal music, as we will see later.

How Do Chord Progressions Work?

As you probably know, harmonizing any major or minor scale results in 3 major chords, 3 minor chords, and one diminished chord. In any major key, the first, fourth, and fifth scale degrees yield a major chord. As you will see later, in most cases, movement between these chords defines different types of cadences.

The cadences are usually described by using the Nashville Roman Numeral system of designating the chords into different harmonic degrees.

The harmonic cadence is usually a two-chord progression at the end of the VM (Voice Melodic) phrase.

The 5 Different Types Of Cadence In Music

This section will familiarize you with the different types of cadences. While falling into the broad categories of close and open cadence, there are further subdivisions, each evoking a different feeling. Hence considered a separate type. We will cover the 5 main types while acknowledging the other types.

Authentic Cadence

An Authentic cadence is a closed form of cadence built from a V – I chord progression. It is the strongest, most common, and most important cadence in music. You are undoubtedly aware that the V chord represents the dominant chord in any key, and I is the tonic chord.

The V – I cadence signifies the end of the phrase, verse, chorus, or even the complete composition. It must be used as the final cadence of any tonic work, like the song’s end.

The dominant chords have an excellent directional relationship with the tonic chord. In fact,

  • Only the dominant chord possesses the direction and tension with respect to the tonic.
  • All other chords in the key except the tonic have tension but no direction in the tonal harmony.
  • The tonic chord does not have any direction or tension.

This means that playing any chord other than the dominant chord does not give a feeling to your brain of resolving to the tonic chord. That is why V – I is termed as the authentic cadence.

You may add the seventh note to your dominant chord to even enhance the resolution in comparison to a triad. This is because a 7th dominant chord has notes of scale degrees 7, 2, and 4 apart from its root 5.

All these three notes have the most unbalanced of the intervals in the major scale, also known as the dissonant intervals, while the tonic chord has the notes to which they tend to resolve, the 1, 3, and 1(8).

Perfect Authentic Cadences

Perfect Authentic Cadence, abbreviated as PAC, is a special case of authentic cadence where both V and I chords are in their root position. This means the root of both chords is their bass note. In addition, the tonic is played as the highest sound in the last chord by doubling it.

For example, in the key of C, the V chord is G major with notes {G B D}. Let it be played with a voicing {G B G D} and C major with a voicing {C E G C}, as shown on the treble and bass clefs. These chords will make a PAC.

The perfect cadence is the strongest of all. In the minor mode also, V – i cadence is the strongest, and the PAC for mode. The naturally occurring “v chord” in the minor mode is changed to the Vth chord by raising the 7th of the natural minor scale by a half step, resulting in a Harmonic minor scale.

Imperfect Authentic Cadence

Imperfect Authentic cadences or IAC may leave the listener feeling that the piece sounds incomplete. Though they are quite similar, their resolution is not as strong as PACs. The imperfect authentic cadence can be further categorized into the following three types.

  1. Root position IAC – This is the same as the Perfect Authentic Cadence (PAC), but the top note or the upper voice in the final chord is not the tonic.
  2. Inverted IAC – In the inverted IAC, one of the two chords is inverted.
  3. Leading Tone IAC – In the leading tone IACs, the V chord is replaced by a leading tone.

Half Cadence

The half cadences end with the dominant harmony or the V chord. They are also known as imperfect cadences or semi-cadences, or partial cadences. The chord before the V chord can be any chord, like I – V, II – V (secondary dominant V/V), ii – V, vi – V. What is important is that a half cadence ends with a V chord.

An imperfect cadence is usually played at the end of antecedent phrases that we discussed earlier or after the first verses or choruses in western music. You can never end any song on a half cadence. The phrases of the song “Happy Birthday” below show the use of perfect cadence and half cadence.

Plagal Cadence

Next, we come to the Plagal Cadences, characterized by using a subdominant chord in them followed by the tonic chord. A plagal cadence is also known as an “amen cadence” due to its frequent use in hymns, popularized in the 19th century.

The IV – I progression does not confirm tonality or articulate formal closure but carries out tonic prolongation.

If you perceive the IV – I cadence as a modulation, it is equivalent to an I – V progression, where IV becomes the new key and Old key I becomes the new dominant chord.

Minor Plagal Cadence

The minor plagal cadence uses a minor iv rather than a major IV chord. So the progression in the cadence is iv – I instead of IV – I. The minor plagal cadence has a strong resolution to the tonic as the voice leading is similar to the perfect cadence.

Deceptive Cadence

The cadence ending with a submediant chord (VI or vi) is known as the interrupted cadence, a false or deceptive cadence. The deceptive cadences act by creating an impression of resolution with the presence of a penultimate dominant chord, whereby the listeners expect the tonic chord to follow. But gets deceived by the other chord, which, more often than not, is the vi chord. It can also be an IV chord, though.

The chord progressions V7 – vi in the major key and V7 – VI in the minor key are most commonly used as deceptive cadences.

As you know, the vi chord in any key shares the two notes with the tonic. For example, C Major has notes {C E G}, while the vi chord, the A minor, has notes {A C E}. So the notes C and E are common. Hence these chords provide an unexpected but natural sound. The interrupted cadences are often used to create the repetitions of the last verse lines.

An example of deceptive cadence is the chord progression I-vi-IV-V-vi-IV-V-I, where instead of the I Chord after the V, we have vi, and again the IV – V sequence is followed before the final cadence.

Other Types of Cadences

There are other types of cadences like the Phrygian half cadence, Lydian cadence, Inverted cadence, Rhythmic classifications, Picardy third, Upper leading-tone cadence, Evaded cadence, Landini cadence, etc., but we have discussed the most common ones.

Cadence in Melodic Context

So far, you have looked at harmony and its role in defining cadences, including their types. But, the cadence also depends in an equal part on where the melody is at the time of landing on the tonic chord for the authentic cadence and on the dominant chord for half cadences.

Harmony at the Tonic Chord

You will normally have the melody on any one of the following scale degrees at the end of a phrase.

  1. Scale Degree 1 results in a conclusive-sounding cadence with full melodic closure.
  2. Scale Degree 5 is less conclusive sounding
  3. Scale Degree 3 is still less.

Despite the tonic harmony, if the melody is at scale degree 3 or 5, the cadence will sound like a continuing one.

Harmony at the Dominant Chord

To create a feeling of continuity, the phrase ends with a dominant chord. The melody to support the feeling of continuation must be at some other note except the tonic.

The notes in the two phrases of a period may either be in sequence or in contrast. In the case of the contrast, the first VM phrase in the melody may end at a note which is substantially lower or higher in pitch in comparison to the beginning note of the phrase. The 2nd VM phrase will return back to the opening note towards its end.

How To Find Cadence In Music

If you wish to find out the cadences in any song or a musical composition, you may need to go through the following steps in sequence.

Find out the key of the song.

To begin with, determine the key of the musical piece. If you have the sheet music, going through the key signatures will tell you the key.

Determine the chords.

Identify the chords used in the song from the sheet music.

Study the relationship between the chords and the chord progressions used.

The next step is identifying the relations between various chords and the song’s key. This will give you the Roman numeral nomenclature of the chords and the associated scale degrees.

Identify each cadence from the chord progressions.

From the chord progressions, you can infer what types of cadences are used based on the types of cadences and their associated chord progressions.


If you understand cadences, you can use them to give your music a natural flow. By using cadence in music, you can create dynamics and interest for the listener. It is important to note that there are different types of cadence, and each one has a different purpose. Be sure to choose the right type of cadence for the mood you want to create in your music. If you have any questions or comments about this article, please post them in the section below.

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