A cadence is the progression of two (or more) chords which ends a section of a piece of music.
(You need to know about chords to understand this lesson.)
We describe the progression by naming the chords with Roman numerals, for example "IV-I" is a cadence.
The very end of a piece of music nearly always contains a I chord, (e.g. a C major chord if the key is C major). The chord before this is often (but not always) a V or a IV chord, (G major or F major if the key is C major). We would describe these cadences as "V-I" and "IV-I". "V-I" is also known as a "perfect cadence", and "IV-I" is also known as a "plagal cadence".
The end of a phrase within a piece of music, however, might end with a V chord. The chord before it could be a I, a II (or something else). We would describe these cadences as I-V and II-V. Any progression which ends with a chord V can also be described as an "imperfect cadence".
(You won't be tested on the cadence names "perfect", "plagal" or "imperfect" at Grade 5.)
Sometimes the cadence is made up of three chords. Possible cadences with three chords are I-II-V, IV-V-I and so on.
Here is an example in C major. The first phrase ends with cadence 1, and the piece ends with cadence 2.
Cadence 1 progresses from a chord of D minor to G major- or II-V.
Cadence 2 progresses from a chord of G major to C major- or V-I.
You only need to know about cadences which use the chords I, II, IV and V for Grade 5 Theory.
In Grade 5 Theory, you are given a melody line and are asked to suggest suitable chords for two or three cadences. The positions of the cadences are marked in the score; you have to work out which chords would best fit around the notes in the melody at the points indicated.
You can indicate your choice of chords either by either by
using the Roman numeral system (e.g. IV) (recommended),
writing the notes of the chord directly onto the stave (more chance of making a mistake!)
You don’t need to indicate the inversion of the chord (i.e. you don’t need to say what position it is in, or which note is in the bass).
Here are the same cadences from above, but fitted to a melody line and with some decoration in the other parts:
And this is how the question in the exam paper might appear:
Suggest suitable progressions for two cadences in the following melody by indicating ONLY ONE chord (I, II, IV or V) at each of the places marked A-D. You do not have to indicate the position of the chords, or to state which note is in the bass.
First Cadence: A= ..... B= ......
Second Cadence: C= ..... D= ......
Process for Suggesting Suitable Cadences
Here are the steps you need to follow. More guidance is given for each step below.
Identify the key signature
Write down the notes of each of the chords I, II, IV and V in that key signature.
Identify which notes are enclosed by the bracket.
Decide which are chord notes, and which are passing notes.
Identify the possible chords and select the most likely if there seems to be a choice.
Identifying the Key Signature
Look at the key signature, and then check whether there are any added accidentals (naturals, sharps or double sharps) in the music.
If there aren’t any sharps or naturals added, it will be in a major key.
If there are sharps or naturals, one will usually be on the leading note. The semitone after the leading note is the tonic, (1st note), of the corresponding minor key.
Write down the notes which make up the chords I, II, IV and V in the key signature of the piece (this is a good way to avoid mistakes!) For example, if the key is D major, write:
Identifying the Bracketed Notes
Look at the first place marked in the extract. You will see a bracket which encloses 1-5 different notes. Write these notes down in letters, and then double check to see if there any accidentals which need to be applied. Check the key signature, tied notes and accidentals which occur earlier in the bar.
Passing Notes and Chord Notes
Notes which occur naturally in the chord are called chord notes.
Notes which don’t occur in the chord are called passing notes.
Keep in your mind the fact that chords are made up of the third and fifth notes above the root.
Passing notes usually occur between the root and the third, or between the third and fifth notes, because they create a run of three notes.
In bar 1 there are no passing notes, just the notes which make up a chord of G major.
In bar 2, the passing note is A, which comes between the root (G) and the third (B).
In bar 3, the passing note is C, which comes between the third (B) and the fifth (D).
In bar 4, both passing notes have been included.
Passing notes are more likely to be found on the weaker beats of the bar.
Passing notes can also occur between two notes which are the same, like this:
This kind of passing note is also known as a "neighbour note".
The trick to identifying passing notes is to ignore the middle note if you have a run of three notes together.
Identifying Possible Chords
Let’s look at the possible chords we can place, depending on the number of notes enclosed by the brackets.
This note must occur in the chord, and will often be the root of the chord. (E.g. if it’s a G, the chord is often G major or G minor).
Both notes must occur in the chord if they are a 3rd apart- you have two chord notes. Look at your list of chords- which chords contain these two notes? In most cases, you won’t have a choice of chords, but sometimes you can choose between a II and a IV chord. (In minor keys, it’s better to choose a IV chord, as the II chords are diminished and often don’t sound quite right. In major keys either will do). (If the notes are just one scale degree apart, one of them will be a passing note.)
Often, the three notes will form the three notes of the chord you need. However, sometimes you might encounter two chord notes + 1 passing note.
Three chord notes + 1 passing note, OR two chord notes and 2 passing notes.
Three chord notes + 2 passing notes.
Working Through a Question
Now let's use the process to find the cadence chords from our original example:
The key is C major, because there is no key signature and there are no accidentals.
We'll write out the notes of the chords for easy reference:
Chord A = A and G. Only one of these notes can be in the chord - the A is best because it's on the strong beat and a longer note. So we could choose IV (F-A-C) or II (D-F-A). (It also occurs in VI, but we don't use VI in Grade 5 Theory. Chord A = IV or II.
Chord B = G. Chord B = V. Chord V here would make an imperfect cadence, which is very typical for the half-way point of the exercise. G also occurs in chord I of course, but we'll be using chord I at the end, so it's better to avoid it here if possible.
Chord C = B and A. The A is a decorative note sitting between two Bs - the chord should contain B. The only chord we can use at grade 5 is V (B also occurs in III and VII, but we don't use these at grade five!).
Chord D = C. This is only note of the chord, and it's the final chord of the piece, so it must be a I. C also occurs in chord IV, but we can't end a piece on chord IV because it won't sound finished.