Cadence (music)

Cadence (music)
Perfect authentic cadence (V-I [here in V7-I form] with roots in the bass and tonic in the highest voice of the final chord): ii-V7-I progression in C About this sound Play .

In Western musical theory, a cadence (Latin cadentia, "a falling") is, "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution [finality or pause]."[1] A harmonic cadence is a progression of (at least) two chords that concludes a phrase, section, or piece of music.[2] A rhythmic cadence is a characteristic rhythmic pattern indicating the end of a phrase.[3] Cadences give phrases a distinctive ending that can, for example, indicate to the listener whether the piece is to be continued or concluded. An analogy may be made with punctuation,[4] with some weaker cadences acting as commas that indicate a pause or momentary rest, while a stronger cadence acts as a period that signals the end of the phrase or sentence. A cadence is labeled more or less "weak" or "strong" depending on the sense of finality it creates. While cadences are usually classified by specific chord or melodic progressions, the use of such progressions does not necessarily constitute a cadence—there must be a sense of closure, as at the end of a phrase. Harmonic rhythm plays an important part in determining where a cadence occurs.

Cadences are the main method used in tonal music to create the sense that one pitch is the tonic or central pitch of a passage or piece.[1] Edward Lowinsky thought that the cadence was the "cradle of tonality."[5]


Classification of cadences in common practice tonality with examples

PAC (IV64-V7-I progression in C About this sound Play )
IAC (IV6-V7-I64 progression in C About this sound Play )
Evaded cadence (V-V42-I6 progression in C About this sound Play )

In music of the common practice period, cadences are divided into four types according to their harmonic progression: authentic, plagal, half, and deceptive. Typically, phrases end on authentic or half cadences, and the terms plagal and deceptive refer to motion that avoids or follows a phrase-ending cadence. Each cadence can be described using the Roman numeral system of naming chords:

Authentic cadence

  • Authentic (also closed or standard) cadence: V to I (or IV - V - I). The V7 can replace the dominant chord in these cadences. "This cadence is a microcosm of the tonal system and is the most direct means of establishing a pitch as tonic. It is virtually obligatory as the final structural cadence of a tonal work."[1] The phrase perfect cadence is sometimes used as a synonym for authentic cadence, but can also have a more precise meaning depending on the chord voicing:
    • Perfect authentic cadence (PAC): The chords are in root position; that is, the roots of both chords are in the bass, and the tonic (the same pitch as root of the final chord) is in the highest voice of the final chord. A PAC is a progression from V to I in major keys, and V to i in minor keys. This is generally the strongest type of cadence and often found at structurally defining moments.[6] "This strong cadence achieves complete harmonic and melodic closure."[7]
    • Imperfect authentic cadence (IAC), best divided into three separate categories:
      • 1. Root position IAC: similar to a PAC, but the highest voice is not the tonic ("do" or the root of the tonic chord).
      • 2. Inverted IAC: similar to a PAC, but one or both chords is inverted.
      • 3. Leading tone IAC: the V chord is replaced with the viio/subV chord (but the cadence still ends on I).
    • Evaded cadence: V42 to I6.[8] Because the seventh must fall step wise, it forces the cadence to resolve to the less stable first inversion chord. Usually to achieve this a root position V changes to a V42 right before resolution, thereby "evading" the cadence.

Imperfect cadence

Phrygian half cadence (i-v6-iv6-V progression in c minor About this sound Play )
Phrygian cadence (voice-leading) on E[1] About this sound Play )
Lydian cadence (voice-leading) on E[1] About this sound Play )
  • Imperfect cadence: any cadence ending on V, whether preceded by V of V, ii, IV, or I, or any other chord. Because it sounds incomplete or "suspended", the imperfect cadence is considered a weak cadence.
    • Phrygian imperfect cadence: an imperfect cadence from iv6 to V in minor, so named because the semitonal motion in the lower part (flat sixth degree to fifth degree) resembles the semitone heard in the II - I of the ancient (fifteenth century) cadence in the Phrygian mode. Due to its being a survival from modal Renaissance harmony this cadence gives an archaic sound, especially when preceded by v (v-iv6-V).[9] A characteristic gesture in Baroque music, the Phrygian cadence often concluded a slow movement immediately followed by a faster one.[10] With the addition of motion in the upper part to the sixth degree, it becomes the Landini cadence.[1]
    • Lydian cadence: As the Phrygian cadence ends with the final approached by semitone from above and the fifth and octave by whole tones from below, the Lydian cadence ends with the tonic of the final chord approached by whole-tone and the fifth and octave approached by semitone.

Plagal cadence

Plagal cadence (I64-IV6-I progression in C About this sound Play )
  • Plagal cadence: IV to I, also known as the "Amen Cadence" because of its frequent setting to the text "Amen" in hymns. William Caplin disputes the existence of plagal cadences: "An examination of the classical repertory reveals that such a cadence rarely exists. [...] Inasmuch as the progression IV-I cannot confirm a tonality (it lacks any leading-tone resolution), it cannot articulate formal closure [...]. Rather, this progression is normally part of a tonic prolongation serving a variety of formal functions - not, however a cadential one. Most examples of plagal cadences given in textbooks actually represent a postcadential codetta function: that is, the IV-I progression follows an authentic cadence but does not itself create genuine cadential closure."[11] The term "minor plagal cadence" is used to refer to the iv-I progression; for a progression with similar sonorities, see backdoor progression.

Interrupted (or Deceptive) cadence

Deceptive cadence (V7-vi6 progression in C About this sound Play ).
  • Interrupted cadence: V to any chord other than I (typically ii, IV6, iv6, vi or VI). The most important irregular resolution,[12] most commonly V7-vi in major or V7-VI in minor.[12][13] This is considered a weak cadence because of the "hanging" (suspended) feel it invokes. One of the most famous examples is in the coda of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 by Johann Sebastian Bach: Bach repeats a chord sequence ending with V over and over, leading the listener to expect resolution to I—only to be thrown off completely with a fermata on a striking, D-flat major chord in first inversion (II–the Neapolitan chord). Following a pregnant pause, the "real" ending commences. At the beginning of the final movement of Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, the listener hears a string of many deceptive cadences progressing from V to IV6.

Inverted cadence

An inverted cadence is one in which the last chord is inverted. It may be restricted only to the perfect and imperfect cadence or only to the perfect cadence, or it may be applied to cadences of all types.[14]

Upper leading-tone cadence

Cadence featuring an upper leading tone from a well known 16th-century lamentation, the debate over which was documented in Rome c.1540.[15] About this sound Play upper-leading tone trill About this sound Play diatonic trill

Upper leading-tone cadence. For example, in the image (right), the final three written notes in the upper voice are B-C-D, in which case a trill on C would produce D. However, convention implied a C, and a cadential trill of a whole tone on the second to last note produces D/E, the upper leading-tone of D. Presumably the debate was over whether to use C-D or C-D for the trill.

Rhythmic classifications

Cadences can also be classified by their rhythmic position. A "metrically accented cadence" occurs on a strong position, typically the downbeat of a measure. A "metrically unaccented cadence" occurs in a metrically weak position, for instance, after a long appoggiatura. Metrically accented cadences are considered stronger and are generally of greater structural significance. In the past the terms "masculine" and "feminine" were sometimes used to describe rhythmically "strong" or "weak" cadences, but this terminology is no longer acceptable to some. Susan McClary has written extensively on the gendered terminology of music and music theory in her book Feminine Endings.[16] The Society for Music Theory endorses the terms "metrically accented" and "metrically unaccented cadence" in their Guidelines for Nonsexist Language.[17]

Metrically unaccented cadence (IV64-V7-I progression in C About this sound Play ). Final chord postponed to fall on a weak beat.[18]
Bar-line shift's effect on metric accent: first two lines vs. second two lines[19] About this sound Play .

Likewise, cadences can be classified as either transient (a pause, like a comma in a sentence, that implies the piece will go on after a brief lift in the voice) or terminal (more conclusive, like a period, that implies the sentence is done).[citation needed] Most transient cadences are half cadences (which stop momentarily on a dominant chord), though IAC or deceptive cadences are also usually transient, as well as Phrygian cadences. Terminal cadences are usually PAC or sometimes plagal cadences.

Cadences in medieval and Renaissance polyphony

Clausula vera cadence from Lassus's Beatus homo, mm. 34-35[20] About this sound Play ). Note the half step in one voice and the whole step in the other.
Three voice clausula vera from Palestrina's Magnificat Secundi Toni: Deposuit potentes, mm. 27-28[20] About this sound Play .

Medieval and Renaissance cadences are based upon dyads rather than chords. The first theoretical mention of cadences comes from Guido of Arezzo's description of the occursus in his Micrologus, where he uses the term to mean where the two lines of a two-part polyphonic phrase end in a unison.

A clausula or clausula vera ("true close") is a dyadic or intervallic, rather than chordal or harmonic, cadence. In a clausula vera two voices approach an octave or unison through stepwise motion.[20] This is also in contrary motion. In three voices the third voice often adds a falling fifth creating a cadence similar to the authentic cadence in tonal music.[20]

According to Carl Dahlhaus, "as late as the 13th century the half step was experienced as a problematic interval not easily understood, as the irrational remainder between the perfect fourth and the ditone:

\textstyle{{{4 \over 3} \over \left ({9 \over 8} \right )^2} = {256 \over 243} }\,\![21]

In a melodic half step, "no tendency was perceived of the lower tone toward the upper, or of the upper toward the lower. The second tone was not taken to be the 'goal' of the first. Instead, the half step was avoided in clausulas because it lacked clarity as an interval." Beginning in the 13th century cadences begin to require motion in one voice by half step and the other a whole step in contrary motion. In the 14th century, an ornamentation of this with an escape tone became known as the Landini cadence, after the composer who used them prodigiously.

Renaissance plagal cadence About this sound Play ).
Clausula vera for comparison About this sound Play ).

A plagal cadence was found occasionally as an interior cadence, with the lower voice in two-part writing moving up a perfect fifth or down a perfect fourth.[22] A pause in one voice may also be used as a weak interior cadence.[22]

Pause as weak interior cadence from Lassus's Qui vult venire post me, mm. 3-5 About this sound Play .

In counterpoint an evaded cadence is one where one of the voices in a suspension does not resolve as expected, and the voices together resolved to a consonance other than an octave or unison[23] (a perfect fifth, a sixth, or a third).

Classical cadential trill

In the Classical period, composers often drew out the authentic cadences at the ends of sections; the cadence's dominant chord might take up a measure or two, especially if it contained the resolution of a suspension remaining from the chord preceding the dominant. During these two measures, the solo instrument (in a concerto) often played a trill on the supertonic (the fifth of the dominant chord); although supertonic and subtonic trills had been common in the Baroque era, they usually lasted only a half measure (e.g., the subtonic trill in the final cadence from Bach's Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140).About this sound Play Extended cadential trills were by far most frequent in Mozart's music, and although they were also found in early Romantic music, their use was restricted chiefly to piano concerti (and to a lesser extent, violin concerti) because they were most easily played and most effective on the piano and violin; the cadential trill and resolution would be generally followed by an orchestral coda. Because the music generally became louder and more dramatic leading up to it, a cadence was used for climactic effect, and was often embellished by Romantic composers. Later on in the Romantic era, however, other dramatic virtuosic movements were often used to close sections instead.


"'Backdoor' ii-V" in C: ii-VII7-I About this sound Play
Ascending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence on C.[24] About this sound Play
Descending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence on C.[24] About this sound Play

In jazz a cadence is often referred to as a turnaround, chord progressions that lead back and resolve to the tonic. These include the ii-V-I turnaround and its variation the backdoor progression, though all turnarounds may be used at any point and not solely before the tonic.

Half-step cadences are "common in jazz"[25] if not "cliché."[26] For example, the ascending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence which, using a secondary diminished seventh chord, may be used to create momentum between two chords a major second apart (with the diminished seventh in between).[24] The descending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence is assisted by two common tones.[24]

Popular music

Popular music uses the cadences of the common practice period and jazz, with the same or different voice leading. Popular cadences with borrowed chord progressions include the backdoor progression, II-I, III-I, and VI-I.[27]

Rhythmic cadence

Rhythmic cadence at the end of the first phrase from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G Major, BMV 1048, I, m. 1-2. About this sound Play with pitches or About this sound Play with unpitched percussion.

Rhythmic cadences often feature a final note longer than the prevailing note values and this often follows a characteristic rhythmic pattern repeated at the end of the phrase,[3] both demonstrated in the Bach example pictured.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Don Michael Randel (1999). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians, p.105. ISBN 0674000846.
  2. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.359. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  3. ^ a b Benward & Saker (2003). p.91.
  4. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). p.89.
  5. ^ Judd, Cristle Collins (1998). "Introduction: Analyzing Early Music", Tonal Structures of Early Music,[page needed]. (ed. Judd). New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-2388-3.
  6. ^ Thomas Benjamin, Johann Sebastian Bach (2003). The Craft of Tonal Counterpoint, p.284. ISBN 0415943914.
  7. ^ Caplin, William E. (2000). Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, p.51. ISBN 019514399X.
  8. ^ Darcy and Hepokoski (2006). Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata, p.. ISBN 0195146409. "the unexpected motion of a cadential dominant chord to a I6 (instead of the normatively cadential I)"
  9. ^ Finn Egeland Hansen (2006). Layers of musical meaning, p.208. ISBN 8763504243.
  10. ^ Randel, Don Michael (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music, p.130. ISBN 0674011635.
  11. ^ Caplin, William E. (1998). Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Oxford University Press. pp. 43–45. ISBN 0195104803. 
  12. ^ a b Foote, Arthur (2007). Modern Harmony in its Theory and Practice, p.93. ISBN 140673814X.
  13. ^ Owen, Harold (2000). Music Theory Resource Book, p.132. ISBN 0195115392.
  14. ^ Kennedy, Michael, ed. (2004). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, p.116. ISBN 0198608845.
  15. ^ Berger, Karol (1987). Musica Ficta: Theories of Accidental Inflections in Vocal Polyphony from Marchetto da Padova to Gioseffo Zarlino, p.148. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052154338X.
  16. ^ McClary, Susan (2002). Feminism and Music. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816641897. 
  17. ^ Society for Music Theory (1996-06-06). "Guidelines for Nonsexist Language". Western Michigan University. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  18. ^ Apel, Willi (1970). Harvard Dictionary of Music. cited in McClary, Susan (2002). Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality, p.9. ISBN 0816641897.
  19. ^ Newman, William S. (1995). Beethoven on Beethoven: Playing His Piano Music His Way, p.170-71. ISBN 0393307190.
  20. ^ a b c d Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice: Volume II, p.13. Eighth Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
  21. ^ Dahlhaus, Carl (1990). Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality. trans. Robert O. Gjerdingen. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09135-8. 
  22. ^ a b Benward & Saker (2009), p.14.
  23. ^ Schubert, Peter (1999). Modal Counterpoint, Renaissance Style, p.132. ISBN 0195109120.
  24. ^ a b c d Richard Lawn, Jeffrey L. Hellmer (1996). Jazz: Theory and Practice, p.97-98. ISBN 9780882847221.
  25. ^ Norman Carey (Spring, 2002). Untitled review: Harmonic Experience by W. A. Mathieu, p.125. Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 121-134.
  26. ^ Mathieu, quoted ibid.
  27. ^ Romeo, Sheila (1999). Complete Rock Keyboard Method: Mastering Rock Keyboard, p.43. ISBN 0882849824.

See also

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