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Cadences

Cadences in Music

A cadence in music is a chord progression of at least 2 chords that ends a phrase or section of a piece of music.
There are 4 main types of cadences:

  • Perfect (Authentic)
  • Plagal
  • Imperfect (Half)
  • Interrupted (Deceptive)


Why do we have Cadences in Music?

Music is similar to spoken word in that it is divided up into phrases.
Take the following spoken rhyme:

Music Cadences Rhyme

Notice how there are different pauses at the end of each line.
The 2nd and 4th line have a full stop (period) at the end – this is because the rhyme could end there and still make sense – it is a definite pausing/stopping point.
On the other hand, there is a comma at the end of the 3rd line – the rhyme pauses, but is clearly going to continue because it wouldn’t make sense if it stopped there.

Similarly, when you listen to the end of a phrase in music it either sounds like it is finished or unfinished.
Whether it sounds finished or unfinished depends on which cadence is used.

Types of Cadences

There are 4 main types of cadences in music you will come across – 2 of them sound finished, whilst the other 2 sound unfinished.
Both of the finished cadences sound finished because they end on chord I.
For example, in C major a finished cadence would end on the chord C. In G major, it would finish on a G chord, etc…

Perfect or Authentic Cadence

The perfect cadence (also known as the authentic cadence) moves from chord V to chord I (this is written V-I). It is the cadence that sounds the “most finished”.

Perfect Cadence

Here is an example of a perfect cadence in C major. Notice how the chords at the end of the phrase go from V (G) – I (C) and it sounds finished.

Perfect Cadence in C major sheet music

      Perfect or Authentic Cadence C major

Here is an example of a perfect cadence in C minor:
Perfect Cadence in C minor sheet music

      Perfect or Authentic Cadence C Minor

Plagal Cadence

A Plagal Cadence moves from chord IV to chord I (IV-I).
It is sometimes called the “Amen Cadence” because the word “Amen” is set to it at the end of many traditional hymns.

Plagal Cadence

Have a look at and listen to this example of a plagal cadence in C major:

Plagal Cadence in C major sheet music

      Plagal Cadence

Here is an example of a plagal cadence in C minor:

Plagal Cadence Minor Key

      Plagal Cadence Minor Key

Both the perfect and plagal cadences sound finished because they end on chord I, but they each have their own characteristic sound.
The perfect cadence has a very definite finish to it, whilst the plagal cadence is a softer finish.

Now let’s have a look at the 2 unfinished cadences.

Unfinished cadences sound “unfinished” because they don’t end on chord I.
When you hear an unfinished cadence at the end of a phrase it sounds like the music should not stop there – it sounds like it should continue onto the next section.

Imperfect Cadence or Half Cadence

An imperfect cadence or half cadence ends on chord V.
It can start on chord I, II or IV.

Imperfect Cadence

Have a listen to this example of an imperfect cadence in C major.
Notice how the last 2 chords are I (C) followed by V (G).

Imperfect Cadence in C major sheet music

      Imperfect or Half Cadence

The music clearly sounds like it should continue.

Here is an imperfect cadence in C minor:

Imperfect Cadence in C minor sheet music

      Imperfect or Half Cadence Minor Key

Interrupted Cadence or Deceptive Cadence

An interrupted cadence or deceptive cadence ends on an unexpected chord – the music literally does sound like it has been “interrupted”.

Interrupted Cadence

The most common chord progression you will come across is from chord V to chord VI (V-VI).
So, in this example of an interrupted cadence in C major below, the last 2 chords are V (G) and VI (A minor).
Listen to how frustrating it sounds that the music doesn’t continue:

Interrupted Cadence in C major sheet music

      Interrupted or Deceptive Cadence

The music very much sounds as though it has been “interrupted”.
Here is an interrupted cadence in C minor:

Interrupted Cadence in C minor sheet music

      Interrupted or Deceptive Cadence Minor Key

Composing Using Cadences

Cadences are a crucial aspect of composing.
You should use cadences at the end of your phrases.

It is helpful to think about the following question when choosing a cadence:

“Do I want the phrase to sound finished?”

If the answer to this question is “yes” then you should use either a perfect or plagal cadence (you will usually use a perfect cadence).

If the answer to the question is “no” then you can choose either the imperfect cadence or the interrupted cadence (if you want to bring an element of surprise into your piece).

Summary of Music Cadences

I hope this lesson on cadences has helped.
Here is a brief summary of the 4 music cadences – Perfect, Imperfect, Plagal, Interrupted:

Summary of Music Cadences

Also, I have put together a wall chart showing the chords from the cadences in all major and minor keys.
Feel free to click on it and download it as a PDF and print it off so you can refer to it:

Major and Minor Key Cadences Wall Chart link image