Coda: The Must-know Classical Musical Element

Posted on July 14, 2022

When discussing music, the words and terminology used to talk about classical music are often different from those used in the context of popular music. One such term is “coda.” What is the definition of a coda, and where can you expect to hear one? How about “codetta?” Read more to expand your musical vocabulary and keep up with the conversation when it turns to classical music.

What does coda mean?

The word “coda” may be confusing sometimes as it has multiple definitions depending on the context in which it’s used. For example, coda can refer to the end or the concluding section of a speech. In fact, the word “coda” can be used when talking about any kind of ending in general.

However, in the context of music, a coda is a musical element at the end of a song or a composition that brings the whole piece to an end. The length of a coda can vary greatly, spanning from just a few bars at the end of a song to an entire longer section that brings the song or musical composition to a close. A coda can greatly influence how strong of an effect a song or composition has on the listener, as it is often the climax of the entire piece. End with a disappointing coda and the listener may be left unimpressed.

A more familiar name for a coda in popular music is an outro. An outro, in other words, is basically the ending of a song. Coda is used more often in the context of classical music, whereas outro is used to refer to the ending of a pop or rock song.

Where does the word “coda” come from?

The word coda literally means “tail” in Italian. Not surprisingly, this is why coda is used to refer to the ending – a tail – of a piece of music. The corresponding word for tail in Latin is “cauda.”

What is the difference between coda, codetta, and cadence?

A codetta, on the other hand, means “little tail” in Italian. Thus, codetta is less extensive than the larger coda and is used to end a single section of a song rather than the entire musical piece.

Coda can often be confused with a similar concept: cadence. As already mentioned, when it comes to length, the coda can span from a few bars to an entire section. Meanwhile, cadence refers to a much shorter section, less than a single bar. The purpose of cadence is to create a sense of resolution but not end the entire song or composition altogether. There are four types of cadence: authentic, half, plagal, and deceptive cadence. You can read more about these in our text about cadence.

Learn about coda and other music terminology

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

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