How About Cadences?

An analytical look at how YOU could end your piece wonderfully!

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So, you've written quite a nice little song, have you? It has all the elements of a great and catchy song; it has a solid chord progression, it has a nice breakdown in the middle, and it even has a pretty cool guitar solo in the middle. You have ALMOST everything you need to make this song shine. What's missing, you ask? Why, only one of the most important concepts in all of music: a cadence! Cadence comes from the Latin word cadentia, which means "a falling". In music, it's the term used to describe the ending to a musical section, phrase, or piece. Basically, it indicates closure. It is outlined by certain intervals or chords, and based on how those intervals or chords are used, you can determine how much "closure" your musical phrase has. Know that whiny ex-girlfriend that complains that you never gave your relationship closure? In a musical sense, a cadence is what she wanted. Wow, that's a pretty good analogy. Because, just as there are multiple methods of closure, there are multiple kinds of cadences. Some are stronger than others; certain cadences are used to indicate the definitive ending to a piece. Other, weaker cadences can be used to transition between different parts in a piece. Don't worry, I'll go into detail.

Authentic Cadence

As its name suggests, this type of cadence certainly is authentic; prehistoric, if you will. It's also known as a Perfect Cadence. It is by far the most common type of cadence you will encounter. It is used so often (almost always at the end of a piece) because of its incredibly strong sense of closure. An authentic cadence at the ending of your piece will go from the V chord back to the I (root) chord. If you're not familiar with the basic Roman Numeral Analysis of chords, you can start by checking out the wonderful column "Identifying Intervals" by coffeeguy9; that should give you the basic understanding you'll need for this article. Anyway, since the key of C Major is such a nice and easy key to work with, let's use that. You should know that there are 2 types of Authentic Cadences. Let's examine both of those, in C Major:

Perfect Authentic Cadence

Okay, let's use that C Major key and make a little progression. Just because I'm in a bit of a rag-time mood, we'll go with this one:
|C|C|F|F|C|C|G|G|C|C|F|F|C|G|C|C|
Now, that's a pretty nice-sounding progression right there. But, when you want it to come to a definitive end, you should try an Authentic Cadence. Since the V chord in the key of C is a G, then instead of those last 2 bars being |C|C|, they could be |C-G-|C|. What exactly makes an Authentic Cadence a Perfect Authentic Cadence, you ask? If both the V and the I chords are in first position (meaning the root note of the chord is their lowest note), and if the root note of the I chord is also the highest sounding note (in this case, C is your I chord, so C should be your highest note), then what you have is a Perfect Authentic Cadence. To make things clearer, here is a tab of what your G and C chords could look like:
G C |3---------------| |3-------1-------| |0-------0-------| |0-------2-------| |2-------3-------| |3---------------|
Notice that the G is the root note of the G chord, and C is both the root and highest note of the C chord. This constitutes a Perfect Authentic Cadence. However, there's another type of Authentic Cadence.

Imperfect Authentic Cadence

Those rules for the Perfect Authentic Cadence are a little picky, aren't they? I think so, anyway. The guidelines for making an Imperfect Authentic Cadence are a little more lenient. An Authentic Cadence uses the V then the I chord, and for it to be Imperfect, none of the chords have to be in root position. You can have one or both of your ending chords be inversions, rather than in root position. For instance, your last 2 chords could be a G 2nd inversion and a C 2nd inversion, like so:
V 6/4 I 6/4 |3-------0-------| |3-------1-------| |0-------0-------| |0-------2-------| |--------3-------| |--------3-------| G C
The G chord is a 2nd inversion because the fifth (D) is the root note. The C chord is a 2nd inversion because the fifth (G) is the root note. However, they are still G and C chords nonetheless. The fact that they are not in root position, however, means that this is an example of an Imperfect Authentic Cadence. You should also note that an E is the highest note in a C chord, as opposed to a C; this also rules out the possibility that this could be a Perfect Authentic Cadence. Wow, hope that's clear to you. It's a bit difficult to grasp at first, I know, but I'll be sure and give more helpful examples along the way here. But wait! There are more kinds of cadences!

Half Cadence

Whereas going from the V chord to the I chord provides an Authentic Cadence, going from something else to the V chord provides what is known as a Half Cadence. Theoretically speaking, it's acceptable to go from any chord to the V chord, but the most common Half Cadences you will find will be I-V, IV-V, or ii-V. This is especially cool because it gives a sort of floating, hanging feeling, as if there should be more. It works well at the end of a piece, though it can be equally as effective to transition between two different musical phrases. When it comes to cadences, you can pretty much use them in whichever way you personally feel necessary. That's the beauty of the cadence! Anyway, here are 3 different possible Half Cadences you could use, in the C Major key again:
I V |--------3-------| |1-------3-------| |0-------0-------| |2-------0-------| |3-------2-------| |--------3-------| C G IV V |1-------3-------| |1-------3-------| |2-------0-------| |3-------0-------| |3-------2-------| |1-------3-------| F G ii V |1-------3-------| |3-------3-------| |2-------0-------| |0-------0-------| |--------2-------| |--------3-------| Dm G
There is also a special kind of Half Cadence called a Phrygian Half Cadence. In a minor key, a Phrygian Half Cadence is outlined by going from the iv chord to the V chord. Using the A minor key (relative minor of C Major), here's your Phrygian Half Cadence:
iv V |1-------0-------| |3-------0-------| |2-------1-------| |0-------2-------| |--------2-------| |--------0-------| Dm E
This is called the Phrygian Half Cadence because the D minor's F and the E Major's E outline the Phrygian Mode. Anon, more cadences await!

Plagal Cadence

This one's fairly simple. For a Plagal Cadence, you need to go from the IV chord to the I chord. In a minor key, it would be the same as going from the iv chord to the i chord. Using the ever-faithful C Major key again, here's what your Plagal Cadence should look like:
IV I |1-------0-------| |1-------1-------| |2-------0-------| |3-------2-------| |3-------3-------| |1---------------| F C
This cadence is also referred to as the "Amen Cadence" because it is frequently used at the end of hymns. Feel like throwing your listener for a loop? Keep reading, because this next cadence is an especially cool one.

Deceptive/Interrupted Cadence

As its name suggests, it certainly can be a deceiving end to a passage. The first half of your Deceptive Cadence is a V chord. But, instead of going back to the I chord, you go to another one; psyche! Here's the catch, though; in order for it to be a "true" Deceptive Cadence, the chord you resolve to has to contain 2 of the 3 notes of the triad of your I chord. It is a common misconception that Deceptive Cadences go from the V chord to any other chord (and it is often taught incorrectly this way), but in reality, the chord you resolve to must contain 2 notes from your I triad. Take a look at this wrong Deceptive Cadence, in C Major:
V IV |3-------1-------| |3-------1-------| |0-------2-------| |0-------3-------| |2-------3-------| |3-------1-------| G F
That is almost a Deceptive Cadence, because the note C is shared between the IV (F) chord and the I (C) chord. Remember, though, you need two notes in the resolved triad to match the I chord to make it a true Deceptive Cadence. So we could resolve to an F7:
V IV7 |3-------1-------| |3-------1-------| |0-------2-------| |0-------1-------| |2-------3-------| |3-------1-------| G F7
See, a C Major triad is CEG, and an F7 chord is FAC with an E in it, so you've got your C and E, which are 2 notes in a C Major triad. Voila! There's a true Deceptive Cadence! An Interrupted Cadence works differently, though. The first half of an Interrupted Cadence is, again, the V chord, but instead of going to another chord that has 2 of the 3 notes of your root triad in it, you can go to anything! V-ii, V-vii7, V-iii; it's up to you! That's all that separates a Deceptive Cadence from an Interrupted Cadence. With an Interrupted Cadence, it's easier to transpose to another key, because theoretically you can go to any other chord you want. Just keep that in mind if you think your piece needs to transition to a different key. The idea behind a Deceptive Cadence is to make the listener anticipate the I chord, but then be bombarded with something completely different. It can make a neat piece-ender, yet it works especially well if you want to transition to another key.

Some More Cadence Facts O' The Day

In addition to being classified by their intervals or chords, cadences can also be classified by where the cadence occurs.
  • Masculine Cadence It is called Masculine because it generally has a strong effect. Typically the Masculine Cadence will occur on the downbeat of a measure, most commonly on beat 3 or 4.
  • Feminine Cadence This one is called Feminine because it is usually placed in a weaker position in a measure than the Masculine Cadence. A Feminine Cadence will usually be dragged out longer, and most Feminine Cadences will occur on beat 1 of a measure, most likely after the first chord of the cadence is held for one whole preceding measure. I know, it's sexist to say that a Feminine Cadence isn't as strong as a Masculine Cadence, right? Sorry, but no other terms are really as common. Perhaps the Masculine Cadence should be referred to as the Jedi Cadence, which is stronger than the Sith Cadence? No? Just suggesting alternatives, is all.
  • Rhythmic Cadence This is separate from the chords that determine the aforementioned cadences. A Rhythmic Cadence is determined by the rhythmic patterns which characterize it. Some cadences can be just as memorable for their rhythm as the actual harmonic intervals used in them. For instance, if you're in 2/4 time, the last 2 measures of your piece could have a rhythm like so (Q=quarter note, E=eighth note, S=sixteenth note):
    |Q---E-E-|E-SSQ---|
    Certain rhythms can just provide a memorable quality to your cadence. Granted the harmonic intervals behind your cadences should always be considered first, analyze how you could arrange the rhythm, too. Well, those are essentially the basics of the wonderful concept of cadences. Hopefully now you're equipped with all the knowledge you need to end your songs with a bang. After all, a good song has good structure, but a great song has a great cadence. Just some words of wisdom for ya. Keep on rockin'!
  • 45 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      Millenium
      Thanks a bunch for putting this together, i love your columns. Keep up the f*cking great work!
      La Qotsa
      I beg to differ, as soon as you write a song and end it, it's BOUND to have a cadence in it. :p:
      Invader Jim
      Oh God... not these again! Seriously, this is gonna help me in my music theory class a lot.
      urrynater
      Great job. My AP music theory also said that you can go from a dim vii chord to the I chord in root position to make a Perfect Authentic Cadence. That being said, you nailed this one, keep up the good work
      Kole*
      Great article, you explained everything very well and made it easy for people to understand. This will be very useful for beginning theorists.
      Dan Steinman
      Key of C: G7 to Am is also a good deceptive cadence. For what it's worth. You know, hit the relative minor to mix things up.
      Synectics
      gg m8. It's nice to see some deeper music theory I could actually use in my grunge-style rock.
      SethMegadefan
      Donarskjold wrote: Who give s ashit about music theory? If you've got music in your soul, none of this scholarly bullshit matters. Thanks for nothing, Nerdlinger.
      ??? Nerlinger? Music in my soul? I'd be offended, but I really don't see where you're coming from here. I mean honestly, man, who has music in their soul?
      Demon_acecat
      That's a pretty subjective analysis of music (in you soul), but I think I know what you mean. You're wrong though. Anyone who can't see the value of music theory is probably too stupid to explain it to anyways.
      callum2903
      hey, i just wana say that just to clear up, a cadence isnt for an ending to a phrase all the time, it can also be used within a phrase to add enphisis on a disired point, or so my higher music teacher has told me constantly for the last 3 yeasr!, lol but good article, u didnt need sooo much detail, just saying that 1-4 is imperfect 5-1 is perfect, 4-5 is plagal ect would of probs surficed, cause lets face it, anyone who knows anyting about writing a " solid chord progression" as you so put it, would no about cadences, or should do unless the chords are by chance!, but yeh, i see ur points, thanks
      demonofthenight
      SethMegadefan wrote: Donarskjold wrote: Who give s ashit about music theory? If you've got music in your soul, none of this scholarly bullshit matters. Thanks for nothing, Nerdlinger. ??? Nerlinger? Music in my soul? I'd be offended, but I really don't see where you're coming from here. I mean honestly, man, who has music in their soul?
      is that like music in your head, because arent there insane people like that?
      DroptheBomb
      amazing amazing article keep up the amazing articles. really informative and has helped my playins tons.
      Johnljones7443
      brokenanthem wrote: good article. but a p.a.c. doesn't have to have the root as the highest souning note; the chords just have to be in root position. eg- C E G instead of E G C (first inversion) or G C E (second inversion). and an easy way to remember plagal cadences is that it's an "amen" cadence. play a IV-I progression on a guitar )or better yet, a keyboard) and you'll notice that is sounds like an amen being sung.
      In a perfect authentic cadence, both chords should be in root position & the root of the final chord must be the uppermost voice in the chord - without the soprano ending on the tonic, it becomes an imperfect authentic cadence.
      Night_Lights
      nice lesson... shouldnt this be a lesson, not a column? dosent really matter unless you're looking for something but w/e.... G7 to a C. sounds niiiice
      delizio37
      good job...to bad you couldnt post this about 3 weeks ago when i needed it for class lol..great work
      Eirien
      good lesson, but i'm not sure how much of it is correct. an F7 doesn't have an E in it, nor does the chord diagram you showed. it has an Eb, which does not feature in a C major key, so that is not a true deceptive cadence in the way you described it. A better chord to resolve to would be F major 7, which does feature an E. i just though i'd point this out to you so you can correct the mistake. and another thing, i don't think you explained the phrygian half cadence thoroughly enough. you've either made a mistake in this aswell or you've explained it in an extremely confusing way. but on the whole good lesson! it refreshed a lot of my knowledge of cadences that i learned in high school and built upon it. also you gave me some ideas of how to use them practically in my music.
      frankv
      what does the 6/4 thing above the imperfect authentic cadence mean?
      ns9977a
      Very good work. Just a couple of little thing to add some extra options. A dim vii triad in first inversion can be used as a substitute for the V chord (both contain scale degrees vii and ii) for a slightly more dissonant version imperfect authentic cadence. Also, a I chord in second inversion can be used to elongate the V in a cadence (hence its common nomenclature as a cadencial 6/4). So an authentic cadence can be extended from this: V-I to this: V6-I6/4-V-I
      metal4all
      This is a very easy to understand column to something not many people know. But like Eirien said, dominant 7ths (like F7) have the intervals:1,3,5,b7 unlike major 7th: 1,3,5,7. Easy mistake though.
      SethMegadefan
      Eirien wrote: good lesson, but i'm not sure how much of it is correct. an F7 doesn't have an E in it, nor does the chord diagram you showed. it has an Eb, which does not feature in a C major key, so that is not a true deceptive cadence in the way you described it. A better chord to resolve to would be F major 7, which does feature an E. i just though i'd point this out to you so you can correct the mistake. and another thing, i don't think you explained the phrygian half cadence thoroughly enough. you've either made a mistake in this aswell or you've explained it in an extremely confusing way.
      An F major 7 is what I meant; I'm one of those lazy theorists who substitute 7 for maj7. I apologize for that. I knew what I was talking about, only the lazy way I learnt it prevented me from writing it clearly. I meant Fmaj7, and thanks for pointing it out. But what's confusing about my Phrygian Half Cadence explaination? An E and an F outline the Phrygian mode in C major... A minor is its relative minor, which is what the key the diagram I posted was in. The only way I guess it could be confusing would be if someone didn't understand the Phrygian mode itself. And that's a different article for a different time. Unless that's not what you thought was confusing...? Nonetheless, thanks for the feedback and critique, everyone! Keep it comin'!
      Eirien
      SethMegadefan wrote: But what's confusing about my Phrygian Half Cadence explaination? An E and an F outline the Phrygian mode in C major... A minor is its relative minor, which is what the key the diagram I posted was in. The only way I guess it could be confusing would be if someone didn't understand the Phrygian mode itself. And that's a different article for a different time. Unless that's not what you thought was confusing...?
      ok, i see what you mean. so in c major the phrygian mode would be in E, but what I was confused by was the G# in the E major. that's not in the E phrygian mode. wouldn't it make more sense to go from the D minor to an E minor?
      SethMegadefan
      ^Huh? My example wasn't in E major, though, that's the point. It was in A minor. Are we talking about the same thing anymore?
      Eirien
      yes. maybe i just can't explain it properly though. if the f in the d minor and the e in the e major serve to outline the phrygian mode, wouldn't it further this idea to play an e minor (containing a g, which is in the e phrygian mode) rather than an e major (containing a g#, which isn't in the phrygian mode)?
      powerage225
      the tab in the last part about rhythmic cadence needs to be marked clearly, dont know what one dash equals
      Johnljones7443
      The phrygian half cadence is incorrect. The iv chord must be in first inversion, ergo iv⁶ - when you do this you have the 6th degree of the root at the bottom of the chord - thus the motion of the bass from iv⁶ - V is a half step, which is what aurally identifies the phrygian mode (bII - i). Apart from that, great article Seth.
      Johnljones7443
      ^Ugh.. those ⁶ were supposed to be '6' - notating the chord in first inversion as iv6, lol.
      SethMegadefan
      ^Ahh, okay. I guess I wasn't fully aware of how the Phrygian Half Cadence worked, then. Thanks a bunch for clearing it up.
      brokenanthem
      good article. but a p.a.c. doesn't have to have the root as the highest souning note; the chords just have to be in root position. eg- C E G instead of E G C (first inversion) or G C E (second inversion). and an easy way to remember plagal cadences is that it's an "amen" cadence. play a IV-I progression on a guitar )or better yet, a keyboard) and you'll notice that is sounds like an amen being sung.
      actaderock
      Ive been using a lot of cadences in my latest songs, varying them off course (in the same song) and playing with neopolitan chords is cool