Cadence: Four Different Types

Posted on June 9, 2022

There can sometimes be confusion over the meaning of two musical terms: cadence and coda. Whereas coda can span an entire section of a song or a composition, cadence is more limited in length. Do you know what cadence actually means and the different types of cadences? Read more and expand your knowledge of music theory and musical terminology.

What is cadence?

Cadence is the ending of a phrase. You can think of a phrase as a complete piece of music that could exist separately from the entire song or composition. Cadence, on the other hand, is the ending of that phrase. A cadence is usually two chords in length at the end of a phrase.

We can make the distinction between finished and unfinished cadence. You can think of these as sentences in spoken language: A finished cadence is a sentence that ends on a full stop, whereas an unfinished cadence ends on a comma or some other symbol indicating that the sentence still continues.

What are the different types of cadences?

In music theory, there is usually a distinction between four different types of cadence. The four types of cadence are:

  • Authentic cadence
  • Half cadence
  • Plagal cadence
  • Deceptive cadence.

Out of these, the authentic and plagal cadence are examples of finished cadence. Half and deceptive cadence, on the other hand, are examples of unfinished cadence. Let’s have a closer look at each four.

Authentic cadence

As mentioned above, authentic cadence is a type of finished cadence. Generally, we can make a further distinction between perfect authentic cadence and imperfect authentic cadence. As a finished cadence, the authentic cadence starts on chord V and ends on chord I (V-I). When listening to perfect authentic cadence, it sounds like it’s “finished” — the musical phrase has come to an end. Think of this as a sentence that ends on a full stop and doesn’t sound like there’s anything missing.

Half cadence

As opposed to the authentic cadence, a half cadence sounds incomplete and like it should continue. The half cadence is also known as an imperfect cadence. A half cadence ends on V but can be preceded by any other chord.

Plagal cadence

Another example of a finished cadence is the plagal cadence. In other words, the plagal cadence sounds like it’s finished. Whereas the authentic cadence goes from chord V to I, the plagal cadence also ends on I but begins at IV. Another name for the plagal cadence is the “amen cadence.” This is because the plagal cadence can be found in many hymns.

Deceptive cadence

Another name for deceptive cadence is “interrupted cadence.” When you hear one, you’re sure to know why: a deceptive cadence sounds like it is interrupted by an unexpected chord at the end. In a way, it deceives the listener by introducing a chord that you would not normally expect to hear at the end.

Learn about cadence and other music terminology

Read more about cadence and other concepts in our complete Musician’s Glossary article full of music-themed terminology.

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