Muze Online: Lesson 13

Cadences

A cadence is a sequence of two or more chords at the end of a musical phrase. It often signals the end of a phrase or section of music, or to signal that a phrase is going to continue. 


The most common cadence is a perfect cadence, which is used at the end of most pieces of music to signal the end. This is when the V chord moves to the I chord (the dominant moving back to the tonic). It is a satisfying cadence because the notes in the V chord lead back to the ‘tonic’ chord, which is like the music coming home. These cadences can be written on sheet music in different ways, but in the bass there will be a movement from the 5th scale step (dominant) to the tonic (1st scale step). As you can see this perfect cadence is the same in both the major and minor key because in a harmonic minor scale the 7th degree scale is raised.

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The reverse of this cadence is the imperfect cadence which is when the tonic chord moves to the dominant. This is often used in the middle to passages to signal that the music is going to continue. This is where the tonic chord (I) moves to the dominant (V).

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The final type of cadence we will look at is called a plagal cadence. It is often used in classical church music, for this reason sometimes it is referred to as the ‘amen cadence’. This cadence is used at the end of pieces, like a perfect cadence but it sounds very different because the chords used are IV (four) to I (one). The IV chord has the tonic notes within it so there is less of a dramatic shift between the two chords.

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