If we compare it to English, then a cadence acts like a period. But what about other punctuation marks like commas, exclamation marks, questions marks, etc. Are they also called cadences?

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    I've downvoted, as it's fairly straightforward that the answer has to be 'no', and with a little homework and some thought, it should be clear that music, whilst a language in its own right, cannot be directly compared logistically with music.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 17:59
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    Baroque music theory is a lot about similarities between language and music. I think this question is very good.
    – tommsch
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 6:16

3 Answers 3


In 1973, Leonard Bernstein gave a series of lectures at Harvard University where he discussed an interpretation of musical phrases as being analogous to English language phrases and sentences. (Note: all of these lectures are available on YouTube at the time of this writing.)

In Bernstein's analogy, the answer to your question would be no. As in, a cadence would not be mapped to punctuation besides the period (full stop), and actually Bernstein might night have suggested cadences and periods are fully analogous.

A better why (from my interpretation of these lectures) to correlate musical phrases to English phrases is to think more of poetry. Poetry uses some punctuation, but also line breaks and stanzas and white space to create different rhythms. Poetry uses repetition and meter, like music.

With poetry, we can ask questions, and we may or may not actually include a question mark. When the words of a poem are phrased like a question but no question mark is used, we aren't sure if it's a question or an unusual statement. The same is true of musical phrases that tend to lead us to the next part of the music. Such phrases could be viewed as questions or unusual statements.

Another famous composer who has drawn a parallel between English language and music is Hans Zimmer. In his Masterclass, he discusses how phrases can be questions or answers. In his model, the first movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony would be a sequence of exclusively questions, followed by an emphatic answer at the end. So for Zimmer, a musical phrase can be a question without having any kind of cadence.


But it's not English! There are basically four cadences recognised - perfect, imperfect, plagal and interrupted (in English!- the language, not English language...).

There are many other marks which tell/suggest how a note,phrase or more should be played, but they cannot be cadences. Cadences are found at the end of phrases, more usually at the end of lines or verses. A staccato sign tells how a note should be played, but could easily be found in the middle of a phrase.


A cadence does not act like a period but like the last part of a sentence before a period, or actually a whole lot of other punctuation marks. A period would be something like a fermata. A comma is more like a breath mark. A colon is "attacca" above a double bar.

Of course, most of those analogies are pretty nonsensical as we are talking about a wholly different domain here, but your own analogy that compares a cadence (which is basically "words" in terminal position) with punctuation is not just mixing up musical and verbal content but actually mangles content and content separators/terminators.

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