Cadence (music)

Perfect authentic cadence (V–I with roots in the bass parts and tonic in the highest voice of the final chord): ii–V–I progression in C major, four-part harmony (Benward & Saker 2003, p.90.).  Play 

In Western musical theory, a cadence (Latin cadentia, "a falling") is "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of 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 that indicates the end of a phrase.[3] A cadence is labeled more or less "weak" or "strong" depending on its sense of finality. 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 strong indicators of the tonic or central pitch of a passage or piece.[1] Edward Lowinsky proposed that the cadence was the "cradle of tonality."[4]

Classification of cadences in common practice tonality with examples

PAC (V–I progression in C  Play )
IAC (V–I progression in C  Play )
Evaded cadence (V–V42–I6 progression in C  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

Half cadence

Half cadence (I–V progression in C major  Play )
Phrygian half cadence (i–v6–iv6–V progression in c minor  Play )
Phrygian cadence (voice-leading) on E[1]  Play 
Lydian cadence (voice-leading) on E[1]  Play )
Burgundian cadence on G[9]  Play )
Phrygian cadence in Bach's Schau Lieber Gott Chorale.[10]  Play 

Plagal cadence

Plagal cadence (IV–I progression in C  Play )

Interrupted (deceptive) cadence

Deceptive cadence (V–vi progression in C  Play ).
Deceptive cadence in Mozart's Sonata in C Major, K. 330, second movement.[11]  Play 

One of the most striking uses of this cadence is in the A minor section at the end of the exposition in the First Movement of Brahms' Third Symphony. The music progresses to an implied E minor dominant (B7) with a rapid chromatic scale upwards, but suddenly sidesteps to C major. The same device is used again in the recapitulation; this time the sidestep is—as one would expect—to F major, the tonic key of the whole Symphony.

Inverted cadence

An inverted cadence (also called a medial cadence) inverts the last chord. It may be restricted only to the perfect and imperfect cadence, or only to the perfect cadence, or it may apply to cadences of all types.[19] To distinguish them from this form, the other, more common forms of cadences listed above are known as "radical cadences."[20]

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.[21]  Play upper-leading tone trill   Play diatonic trill 

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 produces 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.[22] Susan McClary has written extensively on the gendered terminology of music and music theory in her book Feminine Endings.[23]

Metrically unaccented cadence (IV6/4–V7–I progression in C  Play ). Final chord postponed to fall on a weak beat.[24]
Bar-line shift's effect on metric accent: first two lines vs. second two lines[25]  Play .

Likewise, cadences can be classified as either transient (a pause, like a comma in a linguistic sentence, that implies the piece will continue after a brief lift in the voice) or terminal (more conclusive, like a period, that indicates the sentence is done). 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 normally perfect, and rarely plagal.

Picardy Cadence

Main article: Picardy third

A picardy cadence is a harmonic device that originated in Western music in the Renaissance era. It refers to the use of a major chord of the tonic at the end of a musical section that is either modal or in a minor key.

In medieval and Renaissance polyphony

Clausula vera cadence from Lassus's Beatus homo, mm. 34–35[26]  Play ). 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[26]  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.[26] 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.[26]

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


In a melodic half step, listeners of the time perceived no tendency of the lower tone toward the upper, or the upper toward the lower. The second tone was not the 'goal' of the first. Instead, musicians avoided the half step in clausulas because, to their ears, 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  Play ).
Clausula vera for comparison  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.[28] A pause in one voice may also be used as a weak interior cadence.[28]

Pause as weak interior cadence from Lassus's Qui vult venire post me, mm. 3–5  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[29] (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 supertonic trill in the final cadence from Bach's Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140). 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. Beethoven was a good example of this, limiting it almost entirely to his concerti, and most other Romantic composers including Chopin and Schumann followed suit; Schubert, who never wrote concerti, hardly used it at all (the Adagio and Rondo Concertante D. 487, a chamber work, being one prominent exception). At the other end of the spectrum, even Mozart rarely used the trill in symphonies. 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.


Ascending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence on C.[30]  Play 
Descending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence on C.[30]  Play 

In jazz a cadence is often referred to as a turnaround, chord progressions that lead back and resolve to the tonic (for example, the ii-V-I turnaround). Turnarounds may be used at any point and not solely before the tonic.

Half-step cadences are common in jazz if not cliché.[31] For example, the ascending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence, which—using a secondary diminished seventh chord—creates momentum between two chords a major second apart (with the diminished seventh in between).[30] The descending diminished seventh chord half-step cadence is assisted by two common tones.[30]

Popular music

Popular music uses the cadences of the common practice period and jazz, with the same or different voice leading.

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.  Play  with pitches or  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.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Don Michael Randel (1999). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians, p. 105-106. ISBN 0-674-00084-6.
  2. Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p. 359. 7th ed. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  3. 1 2 Benward & Saker (2003). p. 91.
  4. Judd, Cristle Collins (1998). "Introduction: Analyzing Early Music", Tonal Structures of Early Music, . (ed. Judd). New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-2388-3.
  5. White, John D. (1976). The Analysis of Music, p.34. ISBN 0-13-033233-X.
  6. Thomas Benjamin, Johann Sebastian Bach (2003). The Craft of Tonal Counterpoint, p.284. ISBN 0-415-94391-4.
  7. Caplin, William E. (2000). Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, p.51. ISBN 0-19-514399-X.
  8. Darcy and Hepokoski (2006). Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata, p.. ISBN 0-19-514640-9. "the unexpected motion of a cadential dominant chord to a I6 (instead of the normatively cadential I)"
  9. 1 2 White (1976), p.129-130.
  10. White (1976), p.38.
  11. 1 2 3 Jonas, Oswald (1982). Introduction to the Theory of Heinrich Schenker (1934: Das Wesen des musikalischen Kunstwerks: Eine Einführung in Die Lehre Heinrich Schenkers), p. 24. Trans. John Rothgeb. ISBN 0-582-28227-6.
  12. Finn Egeland Hansen (2006). Layers of musical meaning, p.208. ISBN 87-635-0424-3.
  13. Randel, Don Michael (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 130. ISBN 0-674-01163-5.
  14. Harrison, Daniel (1994). Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music: A Renewed Dualist Theory and an Account of Its Precedents. University of Chicago Press. p. 29. ISBN 0226318087.
  15. Notley, Margaret (2005). "Plagal Harmony as Other: Asymmetrical Dualism and Instrumental Music by Brahms". The Journal of Musicology. 22 (1): 114–130.
  16. 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 0-19-510480-3.
  17. 1 2 Foote, Arthur (2007). Modern Harmony in its Theory and Practice, p. 93. ISBN 1-4067-3814-X.
  18. Owen, Harold (2000). Music Theory Resource Book, p.132. ISBN 0-19-511539-2.
  19. Kennedy, Michael, ed. (2004). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, p.116. ISBN 0-19-860884-5.
  20. "Medial cadence." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 23 Jul. 2013.
  21. 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 0-521-54338-X.
  22. Society for Music Theory (1996-06-06). "Guidelines for Nonsexist Language". Western Michigan University. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
  23. McClary, Susan (2002). Feminism and Music. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-4189-7.
  24. Apel, Willi (1970). Harvard Dictionary of Music. cited in McClary, Susan (2002). Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality, p.9. ISBN 0-8166-4189-7.
  25. Newman, William S. (1995). Beethoven on Beethoven: Playing His Piano Music His Way, p.170–71. ISBN 0-393-30719-0.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice: Volume II, p. 13. Eighth Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
  27. Dahlhaus, Carl (1990). Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality. trans. Robert O. Gjerdingen. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09135-8.
  28. 1 2 Benward & Saker (2009), p. 14.
  29. Schubert, Peter (1999). Modal Counterpoint, Renaissance Style, p.132. ISBN 0-19-510912-0.
  30. 1 2 3 4 Richard Lawn, Jeffrey L. Hellmer (1996). Jazz: Theory and Practice, p.97-98. ISBN 978-0-88284-722-1.
  31. Norman Carey (Spring, 2002). Untitled review: Harmonic Experience by W. A. Mathieu, p.125. Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 121–34.
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