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A cadence is a group of notes or chords at the end of a phrase or piece of music that gives a feeling of pausing or finality. An important characteristic of any cadence is its degree of finality, expressed in terms of its relative strength. Cadences may be thought as the punctuation in music, just like commas or full stops in a sentence.

Cadences may be notated in two styles: vocal style and piano style.

  • Vocal style - Cadences are notated so that it is easier for vocalists to sing. (Two voices are notated on the treble staff and two voices on the bass staff)
  • Piano style - This variation differs from the vocal style cadence as it caters for the pianist's finger-span. (Three voices are notated on the treble staff and one voice on the bass staff)

Types of cadence

The four most important cadences are:

Perfect cadence (Full stop)

The most important cadence, since it is usually placed at the end of a piece or the end of a major section. This cadence consists of the dominant chord followed by the tonic chord.

Plagal cadence (Amen, agreeance)

This cadence may also be used to close a piece, but it is not as strong as the perfect cadence. The cadence is used to create a sense of agreement or "Amen". The cadence consists of the subdominant chord followed by the tonic chord.

Imperfect cadence (comma)

This type of cadence is frequently used during the course of a piece of music, since it acts like a "comma" and suggests that there is more to come. It reverses the procedure of the perfect cadence and consists of a tonic chord followed by a dominant chord.

Interrupted cadence

This cadence takes a great advantage of giving the listener the impression that it is going to be a perfect cadence, as it begins with a dominant chord; but it is "interrupted" by moving to the submediant chord rather than the tonic chord.

Cadences can also be divided into what beats they are placed over. If a cadence moves from a weak to a strong beat, it is said to be a masculine cadence. If a cadence moves from a strong to a weak beat, it is said to be a feminine cadence.

Cadences do not necessarily have to employ chords in their root position. When inversions are used, the cadence is said to be inverted.

Strength of cadence

A few aspects may define the strength of a musical cadence.

  • Basic fifth relationship

If the roots are a fifth apart, the cadence is stronger when this interval is made apparent to the ear by placing both root notes in the bass.

  • Position of root in final cadence

If the phrase concludes with a tonic chord (as in a perfect cadence), it will be stronger if the root, rather than the third or fifth, appears in the uppermost voice (e.g. soprano voice) of this chord.

  • Conclusion on a tonic chord

A cadence that ends on a tonic chord is stronger than one that does not. This is also true even when this final tonic is a secondary tonic.

  • Presence of the leading tone in either chord
  • Masculine ending

The masculine ending is a stronger form of cadence than the feminine ediring. Masculine ending - cadence ends on a strong beat. Feminine ending - cadence ends on a weak beat.