Is there a generally accepted term or a useful published discussion of differences between chord progressions that resolve within a phrase (say in the fourth bar of a four-bar phrase) as opposed to ones that end unresolved (say on V) and wait until the start of the next phrase's "I" to find resolution.

I am thinking about this question in regards to examples such as the contrast between the usage of "I-IV-V...I" in the verse vs. chorus of The Proclaimer's "I'm gonna be (500 miles)": http://www.e-chords.com/chords/the-proclaimers/im-gonna-be-(500-miles) where the verse resolves the "I-IV-V" at the end of each verse, but the chorus leaves the V unresolved until the start of the next verse (except at the end).

  • I don't know of any scholarly accepted term - though I wonder if this question has more to do with periods than cadences. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 17:36
  • I have not heard of any term or phrase to describe what you are referring to, which is basically a "delayed" resolution. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't some antiquated term invented by some European music theorists, but I've never heard it. Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 15:05
  • In some cases this could be called a 'feminine' ending. But the resolution needs to be on a weak beat, for example beat 3 of bar 4. Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 4:49

4 Answers 4


I have frequently thought about this and have not found an answer. I have a few thoughts about it though. I like to call it Traditional Phrasing or Traditional Harmonic/Cadence Phrasing. I will refer to this as "Traditional Phrasing".

The more traditional the music the more likely that the phrasing will place the cadence within a standard form. In baroque and early classical music you will find that pieces starting with an anacrusis, or pick up, will always leave an equal amount of beats out of the last measure (in 4/4: if your pick up is one quarter note, your last measure will only have 3 beats). The strict rules of form made phrases end within a standard form. It seems they rather liked the idea of perfection (perfect intervals, cadences) and thought that keeping everything inside a nice even number of bars, like 16 or 32 for a short piece, made them more perfect. To remain in the form, or the even phrases within that form, the cadences must take place in or before the last bar of the perfect form.

Song form is largely evolved from the classical tradition and the closer to the classical era the music is, the more likely it will have this "traditional phrasing". Early Jazz, through the 50s or so, largely conforms to a lot of the classical phrasing. Many Jazz standards are popular songs of the time period they were written, which often conform to standard forms and phrases. These standard phrases also allowed for easier improvising as the genre evolved.

I've also noticed this tendency in Blues, Folk and Bluegrass. I believe this is a result of the evolution of song form as well.

Rock seems to be one of the big turning points. Early rock is still largely placed in the "traditional phrasing" but as the genre started becoming more modally driven and riff based "traditional phrasing" became less common. I think that this is partly due to the repetitive nature. A riff or phrase would usually be short and repeat itself many times over. When a phrase starts and ends on the tonic, it kind of feels like you're starting over every time you repeat. When you resolve your cadence at the start of the next phrase, it feels like you never stopped. Right when you would have stopped, the next phrase started. It seems that because the phrases were short and intended for repetition, the cadences were placed on the downbeat of the subsequent phrase.

The Modal approach to Jazz was another turning point but in a sort of different way. I would still hear the melodies as conforming to the "traditional phrasing" just not always having the harmony accompanying it. The melodies tend to resolve within their given form, not at the top of the next phrase. Some pieces still seem to exhibit the "traditional phrasing" but on a much larger scale than the melodic phrasing. For example, "So What". 2 chords in the whole song: I-7 and bII-7; I for 16 bars, bII for 8, and back to I for 8. If we consider bII the dominant, then in the large scale we could see the last 8 bars being the resolution. To look at it scaled down: I | I | bII | I ||

It seems that the more a style of music draws from a long standing tradition, as opposed to a new approach, the more likely it will conform to the "traditional phrasing".


I think you're asking about cadences. These are basically the last two chords in a sequence. Four general ones are used, but there are others.

Two of the most common end on the tonic; V-I is called the perfect cadence and sounds most final. IV-I (or iv-I) is the plagal cadence and is the 'Amen' sound at the end of hymns.

The two most used which don't end on the tonic are the imperfect, which is the opposite to the perfect, going I-V, thus sounding like there is definitely more to come, and the interrupted, which usually goes V-vi, or iii-vi, leaving the music sounding ,well, interrupted.

As above, there are other, interesting, cadences, but they are used infrequently.

  • No. I should've used the term cadence in my question, but both of the situations I'm referring to are both authentic cadences; their beat position makes them both "masculine" cadences. The difference is the position within their phrases where the cadence takes place. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 14:54
  • Funnily enough, I played this last week on a dep. gig,and as stated earlier, the sequence is imperfect, as the chorus ends on the dominant.You saying 'at the end it's not the same' kind of gives the view that the end cadence of the chorus is imperfect, leading right into the next verse, which it can't do at the end of the song. Not sure what a "masculine" cadence is - ending on I ? Also, not sure what a 'beat position ' is. It's the bars rather than the beats that designate cadences, although you hint that cadences are not in question.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 18:07
  • 4
    Cadences can be classified by rhythmic position in addition to harmonic content. The outdated terms "masculine" and "feminine" are examples of inadvertent linguistic sexism and should be substituted with "strong" and "weak".
    – NReilingh
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 19:33

I don't think there is a general accepted definition.

I do think however that what is important here is that the basic accent scheme holds true:


S W s w S W s w


S W s w S W s w

i.e. Tonic chord in stronger position than its preceding Dominant.


I often write phrases with non-tonic closes (and of course, lots with.) My own terminology (as I never found any) was that closing on a tonic (even if it's only a temporary tonic, not the whole piece) would be "closed." Closing on dominant chord would be "open." I didn't have a phraseology for other type of cadences.

My reason for phrasing endings on dominant was to allow one to repeat a phrase without sounding like one was stopping. The idea was that if lots of people were dancing, one might like to extend a piece and if no one was dancing to cut things short. This procedure allows more musicality than merely using a stop watch or just stopping. It's easy to convert one to the other without damaging the structure of the music. Often it's just writing exchanging a V-I for a I-V or a I-I-V-V for I-I-V-I or evening just tacking a I at end of a closing V (extending the phrase length). Even better sometimes adding vi-ii-V-I or the like.

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