According to the Wikipedia article on Cadences, they create "a sense of resolution [finality or pause]."

This got me wondering about a more modern and pop context, where simple chord progressions tend to be repeated; sometimes, the end and start of such a loop seem to constitute of chords that seem to be eligible to be considered as a "cadence".

As an example, in Johann Pachelbel's Canon, the chord progression 15634145 (in Roman Numerals) is repeated for pretty much the whole piece; it ends with a 5, and starts with a 1. Is every "loop" of this chord progression considered a cadence, or is only the end of a piece with 5-1 considered a cadence?

Another thought that popped into my head was, if I had a song with a similar loop, but the chord progression changes from the 5 chord into something like 1-4-5, would that be considered a change of "phrase", and hence considered a cadence as well?

  • Each loop is considered a cadence, see also my answer.
    – user408858
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 19:20

4 Answers 4


I'm glad someone finally asked this question.

Let take a pop progression like |: I V vi IV :| and compare that with the formal concept of a cadence.

If we have the mistaken idea that cadences are merely specific chord progressions, then the pop progression produces...

I V a supposed half cadence
V vi a supposed deceptive cadence
IV I a supposed plagal cadence

Any of the three supposed "cadences" clearly does not conclude a phrase or the end of a section.

Yes, the vocal part sung over the progression eventually will stop when the section ends, but it will be coincidental to the harmony. The vocal will stop simply because ...well, honestly it stops after about 4 repeats of the progression or whatever is enough time to fulfill the expected length of a verse or chorus in a pop song. But without doubt, the vocal phrase doesn't end as a result of the harmony of the chord progression effecting a cadence!!! This is an important distinction.

The actual definition of a cadence requires the end of something. The end of a phrase (even if the music doesn't stop, ex. elided phrases) or there should be an actual stop in the music. But, really we need the end of a phrase, otherwise musical rests could be misconstrued as demarcation of cadences.

Let me reiterate: repeating the pop chord progression does not necessarily generate phrases. It's just a harmonic background. This contrast strongly with classical style where repeats normally help demark formal sections and phrases.

I like to think of repetitious pop chord progressions as an anti-cadence device. The whole point is to not stop. Keep the groove groovin'!

Pachelbel's Canon brings up a specific case: a ground bass. Yes, it repeats the same harmony over and over. But it's a variety of theme and variations form. Importantly, the repetitions of the harmony do mark the end of phrases.

Another way you can bring in classical music to understand this distinction between mere chord progression versus a cadence is looking at the so-called 'first theme group' in a sonata. Many sonatas start with several thematic ideas which harmonically might be I V I. Those ideas unfold as an unbroken chain which harmonically just defines the tonic. It would be inappropriate to call those things "cadences." It is often described as cadential harmony, but without out a doubt it would not be formally a bunch of cadences.

Whether analyzing pop music or classical music the term "cadence" should be used only to describe formal endings.

Essential reading: WILLIAM E. CAPLIN, The Classical Cadence: Conceptions and Misconceptions


Re. the blues, which came up in @AlbrechtHügli's answer.

Obviously, 12 bar blues is familiar in the pop style and like pop progressions it repeats over and over. But I would put the 12 bar blues into a category sort of like classical ground bass. The blues turnaround whether V IV I I :|| or V IV I V :|| does demark a phrase ending and a type of cadence.


The word cadence comes from the Latin 'to fall', and originally the majority of music ended with a fall in notes - often the '3 Blind Mice' motif. It ended on the first beat of a bar, bringing the piece back home unequivocally. That was, and is, the perfect cadence - authentic over the pond.

A cadence is anywhere where there is a lull in proceedings - the end of a phrase, end of a line, and certainly the end of a piece. It really comprises the last two harmonies at that point - called a cadence point - both being responsible for what it gets called.

So, yes, the end of a phrase, if it could be deemed a pause in the piece, can have a cadence. The most used are: V>I, IV>I, IV(or other) >V, V(or other) >vi. Others, such as Phrygian and suspended cadence, through to even a 'feminine xxx cadence'. Worth doing a bit of research!

There are more than the usual four (just done some homework!) that are the perfect, imperfect, plagal, and interrupted - which get christened with different names in U.S.

An interesting one is used by Bach, amongst others: the Phrygian cadence. Imagine a piece being in C major but finishing on E G♯ B - E major. That piece could be construed as actually being in E Phrygian, which is a minor mode, but then has a tierce de Picardie to end on.

  • 1
    Am I misunderstanding your explanation of a Phrygian cadence? A Phrygian cadence is simply iv6 to V, a kind of half cadence. The Phrygian label is applied because the lowered ^6 half step down to ^5 and ^4 whole step up to ^5 voice leading for those chords looks like a clausula vera in a Phrygian mode. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 19:54

There's another use of the term cadence in the solo concert, when the orchestra holds on a I(46) chord while the soloist plays the climax of his part (to show his virtuosity and his ability to improvise) leading into the final passage of the solo concert. Correction: this the cadenza

The cadence I - IV - V - I is the ultimate chord progression in classical music to determine the tonality of the piece. (Most music of Bach's Suites and piano pieces start and end with this cadence or their substitution I - IIm - VII - I.)


In jazz this is I - IIm - V7 - I ( developed from the IIm6 or VI with sixte ajoute and also from the mentioned barock music (e.g. prelude D major Bach WTC.

Often used is the in popmusic is the so called "quintfall sequenz" (sequence of falling fifths that goes I - IV - VII- III - VI - II - V and can be started by any of these chords. (eg. Vivaldi, Händel, Bach)

From the aspect of "cadere" also the sequence of falling fifths maybe considered as a cadence.

the chord progression changes from the 5 chord into something like 1-4-5, would that be considered a change of "phrase", and hence considered a cadence as well?

As the 12 bar blues scheme ends on V and can as long be looped as you like but finally will end on a I (exactly I7) the loop of the Pachelbel canon will finally end on the tonic (I) and finish with IV - V - I, if it will not be played eternally.

It won't be a change of phrase: It's the ending the Pachelbel cadence by the "classic cadence", that existed already in baroque.

  • 1
    I like the vast content of the answer but I think it fails to address the OP's question more directly...
    – coconochao
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 15:49
  • There's cadence and cadenza. What you describe at the beginning of your answer is a cadenza, and quite different from a cadence.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:05
  • 1
    Thank you, Tim, in german the term is identical but the italian makes it clear. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:13

Today's music theory is thought way too much vertical. You always have to consider how notes behave in a horizontal way. In renaissance there were several rules how notes are allowed to move with respect to each other. One of those rules is, that if one note makes another one dissonant, the latter one has to drop downwards, such that the notes become consonant again. Simple example:

Consider two notes. Note 1 and note 2 on C. If note 1 goes up to D, you will have a dissonance, in that way, that note 1 made note 2 dissonant. So note 2 has to move downwards to B, such that it is consonant again. After that, it is again possible for both notes to move to C again, what actually is happening in the most known chord progression I-IV-V-I in C major.

So a cadence is more like a sequence of how notes, starting from being consonant, finding it's way out of dissonance into consonance again in a horizontal point of view. So this can happen in a very playful way, and of course the example I gave was just really simple.

Try to listen to some really old music, so you will hear that the notes in the "chord progressions" (which is actually a concept in which you look vertical on notes) never really changed at the same time. There was always this little gap, where another note had to move downwards finding it's way out of a dissonance.

Now if you imagine that note 2 is always trying to get consonant again "as fast as possible", you kind of forget about the horizontal moving and find a more vertical approach. That is what happens when you are looking at chords. It is kind of a more abstract concept. So as a beginner it is hard to find out which role has each note, because you cannot read out the horizontal concept out of chords. You are missing a lot of information about notes from a historical point of view.

  • 1
    I think you are mixing up - at least in part - tendency tones with dissonance. In a basic cadence the ^7 has a strong tendency resolved by moving to ^1, but that ^7 as a member of the V chord is not dissonant, nor is the V triad. You might say the ^7 is sort of dissonant in the tonality as the leading tone pulling to the tonic. But that phenomena is really just called a tendency tone. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 19:39
  • Thanks, I want to make this more clear: I am not saying that the ^7 is dissonant. I am saying the opposite. If you listen to old music you will not hear the ^7 coming just like that. Again being in C major, you would first hear $G-C-D$ such that $C$ was made dissonant by $D$ and has to resolve downwards to $H$. After that, of course, it has the tendency to go upwards to $C$. I am referring to a more historical context.
    – user408858
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:39

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