I'm just wondering if every phrase in music ends on a Cadence? Much like every sentence in English ends with a period?

I am mainly talking about common music such as pop, rock, classical, traditional, Western European and American folk music, etc.

  • 1
    How to you even define "Cadence" in musical styles that don't use harmony? For example classical Indian music, or youtube.com/watch?v=lzkOFJMI5i8, or youtube.com/watch?v=nvH2KYYJg-o, or youtube.com/watch?v=nIs3jechQ_E (well, I suppose it does have a cadence at the end!).
    – user19146
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 13:51
  • 2
    Who says every sentence ends with a period? Neither of yours do, nor mine! ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:02
  • @alephzero these are nonstandard. I'm just talking about a typical song. btw, that last link you gave had 450k views, wth lol.
    – user34288
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:02
  • @foreyez what is a typical song? If you mean a song that ends in a cadence then yeah I guess they do but there is no such things as a typical song. So no.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:31
  • @tetsujin... How about "punctuation"? Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 18:27

3 Answers 3


In some styles of music, music is always or usually divided up into phrases, and these phrases are marked by cadences

In many styles of music, the music can be well conceived of thinking about "phrases", but these phrases are not necessarily marked by a harmonic cadence, but by something rhythmic, the melodic shape, or something else. This may include a harmonic cadence, or may not. This describes most popular music, jazz, rock, electronic music etc.
It's also true of many different traditional musics from all over the world: I suppose it's natural that music might mimic the rhythm and phrasing of speech to some degree.

Other styles of music may not even have clear phrases at all, this is less common, but possible.


A lot of jazz is some of the most conversational and "phrased" music in the world. Listen to the middle section of this record (starting at 0:39)

Louis Armstrong - Potato Head Blues (1927)

This to my mind is the example of music where phrasing can be viewed like "sentences" in English, the trumpet literally sounds like it's asking and answering questions. In this sense, while there are very clear "phrases", they are not marked by harmonic cadences but by the shape of the lead line (and also the harmonic rhythm of the band).

On the other hand, here is a piece of music where the phrasing is marked very well by cadences:

Bach Bradenburg Concerto in G BWV 1049 - Allegro

And finally, something in which phrasing is less a part of the music. The music of Steve Reich for example is often less centred around discreet musical "phrases" but more often a continually developing theme, a sort of immersive painting of sound that washes over you.

Steve Reich - 6 Marimbas

Isn't music wonderful!

  • I did like the different examples. but next time "On the other hand, here is a piece of music where the phrasing is marked very well by cadences". notice that if the link is broken no-one would know what you're referring to. but I liked what you said about music being wonderful, bc it is!
    – user34288
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 2:36
  • that's a good point, I'll leave the links because it makes the answer easier to digest without having to look up the references yourself, but also include a test description of what they point to so that it's also "future-proof"
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 7:46
  • @foreyez Huh, it turns out that I did actually include link descriptions in the answer enclosed in dummy HTML tags. I don't know why I felt it best to hide the information in the source markup though!
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 7:52

As with a lot questions on this site, it's a matter of scope: what genre are you talking about?

I'll give the perspective from the common-practice period (what most call "classical" music). It was most famously put forward by William Rothstein in his book Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music:

If there is no cadence, there is no phrase.

As such, the overwhelmingly prevailing view on common-practice music is that every phrase has a cadence at the end of it.

The next question, though, is more complex: what exactly is a cadence?

In common-practice music, the prevailing viewpoint is that a cadence must involve a root-position dominant chord. (This claim is now most attributed to William Caplin.) An inverted dominant moving to tonic, at least in this repertoire, is not sufficient for a cadence, and thus not sufficient for a phrase ending.

But in popular music, cadences can be very different. Indeed, some cadences don't even use a tonic chord, with V moving to IV to mark a phrase boundary.

  • "If there is no cadence, there is no phrase". I like that. I edited my question with the genres I'm referring to.
    – user34288
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 15:22

Only if you define 'phrase' as 'a section of music leading to a cadence'. In a simple piece like a hymn tune this may be the case. A lot of music is rather more free-ranging.

  • that's like saying a 'sentence' is a 'section of english leading to a period'. I thought all sentences lead to periods eventually. so I guess in music it doesn't work really work like a period/sentence?
    – user34288
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 13:35
  • @foreyez it can do, but doesn't need to. In some styles it usually does, in other it usually doesn't
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:03

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