I've never heard the terms before:

Antecedent and consequent phrases

they seem to be elements of a period. It seems to be evident that I am not the only one ...

  • 1
    We're a bit like scientists and mathematicians. Why use ordinary words when you can baffle brains with unusual esoteric ones instead..?
    – Tim
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 15:59
  • I think it's the wrong attempt to make music more "scientificial". in German it's called Vordersatz and Nachsatz. Commented May 22, 2019 at 16:03
  • Might be so, but German often uses long words!
    – Tim
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 16:07
  • I used to think that language could easily be simplified, but I'm starting to think that, in English at least, neologisms formed from English roots like "before-phrase" and "after-phrase” are confusing to hear and confusing to read, because it doesn't stand out from the nontechnical language, and doesn't fit with other related technical words. I suspect that German and other synthetic languages would have a better time with this (so I envy them.)
    – awe lotta
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 20:00

2 Answers 2


This answer repeats a lot of what I wrote in... Where is the antecedent and consequent phrase in this melody?

My understanding is antecedent and consequent are the two parts of a period.

The two parts are defined by cadences.

The antecedent can end with a variety of cadences but not a perfect cadence in the main key/tonic. The typical thing is some kind of cadence on the dominant chord of the main key.

The consequent ends on a perfect cadence in the main key.

My understanding of the theory is a period sets up tension in the antecedent by cadencing somewhere that isn't the tonic then later resolves that tension in the consequent by a cadence confirming the tonic. The idea is to create structural dissonance.

In the case of a simple period the structural dissonance is resolved quickly because the second phrase - the consequent - goes to a cadence in the tonic. You can compare that to a sonata structure which also starts with a kind of antecedent, a cadence on the dominant, but then the structural dissonance is hugely elaborated with other phrases cadencing in other keys before finally recapitulating with a final cadence on the tonic.

Periods are found through out classical music. Here is one (Mozart K.331)...

enter image description here

...mm. 1-4 are the antecedent and end on a half cadence I6/4 V while mm. 5-8 are the consequent and end on a perfect cadence I6/4 V7 I.

This particular melody exhibits parallel properties meaning that the antecedent and consequent use the same basic melody with slight variation. While many periods are parallel in shape the parallel shape should not be confused with period structure. The two-part antecedent/consequent structure of a period is defined by the cadences ending the phrases!


A period is one type of theme, like the sentence, common to the Classical style.

The period is generally eight measures long and contains two four-measure phrases, called antecedent and consequent.


2 fine examples are posted in this link:


  • 1
    (But the Mozart example on that website is not a period structure, but a sentence; yikes!)
    – Richard
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 16:03
  • or as Goethe says in Faust: "What you have in black and white, you can safely carry home" Commented May 22, 2019 at 16:05
  • @Richard, that Mozart Sym. 40 example is not a period, because there isn't the two cadence structure? Even though the opening melody has a 4+4 parallel shape. Commented May 22, 2019 at 16:49
  • @MichaelCurtis Those two Mozart examples are the two basic ideas of a larger sentence structure.
    – Richard
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 18:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.