Musical Cadences and Cool Chord Knowledge for Songwriters


A cadence is a series of at least 2 chords that signal the end of a phrase, a song section, or the end of a musical composition.
Cadences create a sense of resolution, finality, or a pause.

When a cadence creates a strong sense of finality, it is called a strong cadence.
When a cadence sounds like it has a lesser conclusive ending, it is called a weak cadence.

The most common cadences are:

  1. Authentic Cadence

    V – I
    G C

    Most of the songs end on this cadence.
    The authentic cadence is the strongest sounding of all cadences.

  2. Half Cadence

    any chord – V
    C G
    F G
    Em G

    When a chord progression towards the end of a phrase or song section ends on the V chord: that is called a half cadence.
    The half cadence sounds incomplete.
    As a result: composers always follow this cadence with a phrase that ends on an authentic cadence.

    The songwriter who knows about cadences has control over the flow, drive, direction, and feel of his songs and chord progressions.

    As an example: if you end your verse on the chords V – I, your verse will sound final, and it will not connect as well to your next song section.
    If however, you end a verse on the V chord, then that song section will pull nicely forward into the next song section if you start the next song section on a I chord. (V always wants to resolve to I)

  3. Deceptive Cadence

    V to VIm
    G Am

    This is also called the “interrupted cadence”. This cadence deceives the listener, as the listener’s ear expects to hear a I chord following the V chord, instead, the chord progression, phrase, or song section ends on the VIm chord.

    VIm and I are both tonic chords: they both have a I feel. However: the VI chord followed after the V chord at the end of the phrase or song section, feels like an open ending. This “hanging” suspended feel makes this a weak cadence.

    Here you play with your listener’s emotions. You play with elements of surprise.
    This cadence is a tool to keep the listener’s attention. You let your listeners hang so to speak: then you hit them with the real ending in your next phrase.

  4. Plagal cadence

    IV – I
    F C

    Also called the “Amen” cadence, this cadence is used in gospel music and in churches, where people sing “Amen”.
    This plagal lacks complete resolution. It feels like an ending, but lacking the strong forward momentum into the I chord.

Lesser Common Cadences

  1. Diminished cadence

    I VIIdim I
    C Bdim7 C

    This is an interesting sound.
    It is a strong cadence with a conclusive ending.
    The Bdim7 chord shares 3 notes with the V7 chord: B, D, and F

  2. Major Neapolitan 6th Cadence

    The Neapolitan 6th in music theory is a major chord built on the bII and played in 1st inversion.

    In classical music, the bII/3 (bII with 3rd in the bass) is labeled as N6
    The N stands for “Neapolitan”.
    The 6 stands for the interval you get when you play a major chord in 1st inversion.

    bII in the key of C is Db
    Notes in Db = Db F Ab
    1st inversion = F Ab Db: distance from lowest note F to highest note Db = a (minor) 6th

    N6 V7 I
    Db/F G7 C

    Usually, these chords are voiced in such a way in classical music, so the melody notes are: Db (the root of bII) followed by B (3rd of V) followed by C (the root of I)

  3. Minor Neapolitan 6th Cadence

    This also works in minor keys.
    The bII in A minor is Bb

    N6 V7 Im
    Bb/D E7 Am

    Usually, these chords are voiced in such a way in classical music, so the melody notes are: Bb (the root of bII) followed by G# (3rd of V) followed by A (the root of Im)

  4. Minor IV Cadence

    I IVm I
    C Fm C

  5. Minor IV and bVII Cadence

    I IVm bVII I
    C Fm Bb C

  6. Sus4 Cadence

    I V7sus4 I
    C G7sus4 C

    This cadence sounds like a conclusive ending, but lesser strong than the authentic cadence because the leading tone (the 3rd) in the V chord is replaced with the sus4. The 3rd in the V7 chord has a strong tendency to want to resolve to the root in the I chord.

  7. Picardy Cadence

    The minor song ends on a major chord.
    Example: a song in Em that ends on an E major chord.

    Em | Em | Am | Am | Bm | Bm | E | E ||

    This harmonic device started in the Renaissance era.
    The Picardy cadence sounds like an uplifting, surprising, happy ending.

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