Major Key Cadences
Musical composition is built on the convention of tension and resolution. A melody or a harmony progressively cycles between these two ends of the spectrum. In harmony, this convention is best embodied in the technique of cadencing, where tension from a dominant or subdominant chord is resolved into a tonic chord. A cadence is generally used to end a phrase. Here are the four most common cadence types in a major key.
Authentic Cadence V to I
Ex. 1 in G from “Stand by Me”
The authentic cadence is the most conventional of the major key cadences and is one the bedrock progressions of Western music. It brings the greatest sense of harmonic closure. The third of the V chord, which is the leading tone of the key, resolves upwards to the tonic, while the root of the V chord moves by a perfect fifth (the most stable bass motion) to the root of the I chord. It can be very effective in setting hooks and best used in phrases that have a sense of finality.
Plagal Cadence IV to I
Ex. 2 in G from “Let It Be”
Sometimes called the “amen” cadence for its use in closing hymns, the plagal cadence imbues a sense of resolution with less tension than an authentic cadence. It is very common in popular music despite its religious origins. It can be used in both verses and choruses for both concluding and continuing phrases.
Ex. 3 in C from “Imagine”
Unlike the previous two examples, the half cadence avoids resolution by ending a harmonic phrase or section with a dominant chord. Rather than creating resolution, the half-cadence highlights tension, begging for a continuation. Therefore, it is best used to end a phrase or section that builds momentum towards another phrase or section. It is frequently used at the end of verses and pre-choruses to transition to a chorus, or at the end of a bridge to return to a chorus.
Ex. 4 in G from “Still Crazy After All These Years” in G
Whenever a V chord resolves to a tonic chord other than I (i.e. IIIm or VIm), it is considered a deceptive cadence. This cadence provides an incomplete feeling of resolution and is often used to deceive the listener with a false resolution before proceeding to a more stable cadence. It is also use to transition between section in a major key to sections in a minor key.
Exercise 1. Perform roman numeral analysis and identify any cadences in the following progressions.