I'm trying to practise my aural skills except I really need some tips on how to properly differentiate and tell cadences. I know the basic characteristics of each cadence, perfect sounds complete, plagal the "Amen" one, interrupt a question mark sounding finish and imperfect the one that takes twist at the end. However, especially between the 2 pairs, plagal and perfect, imperfect and interrupt I'm still having trouble identifying them as often I get muddled with what counts as a "weaker" finish, an "Amen" etc. Is there any trick or tips to help identify these cadences apart? Thanks all

  • What do you do with this information? I mean, in what kind of situation is such classification useful for something. Nov 19, 2019 at 10:39
  • Your "interrupt a question mark sounding finish and plagal the one that takes twist at the end" statement doesn't seem quite correct. Also, are you trying to identify these cadences by ear or in sheet music?
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 19, 2019 at 11:43
  • 2
    @piiperi - questions on cadences feature in many theory exams, and it's usefu on occasions to be able to communicate with other musos using proper terms. 'Let's try ending this number on an interrupted cadence'.
    – Tim
    Nov 19, 2019 at 12:11
  • I can't imagine a situation where any actual musician I know would use the term "plagal cadence" except as a joke. But then again, I just play pop music. Nov 19, 2019 at 13:27
  • @piiperi anyone who plays from a hymnal will play a 'plagal' cadence at the end of just about every hymn, not as a joke, but because it's written on the pages. Nov 19, 2019 at 15:00

4 Answers 4



Often confusion between them - especially with respect to perfect / imperfect.

Perfect Authentic Cadence goes V-I with both chords in root position and top voice resolving to tonic

Imperfect Authentic Cadence goes V-I but is not in root position; top voice does not resolve to tonic

Plagal Cadence goes IV-I; chord voicing does not matter

Deceptive Cadence most commonly goes V-vi, but really may go to any other chord besides I

Half / Interrupted Cadence stops on V.

All cadences may have any predominant chords precede the actual cadence itself. The last thing to remember is that cadences only happen at the ends of phrases. Simply going V-I within a progression is not in of itself a cadence, but rather, if the progression from penultimate chord to final chord for a given phrase is V-I, then it becomes a cadence.


Might be different than your terminology, but here's a tip on how I categorize things:

  • Authentic - V-I
  • Deceptive - V-VI
  • Plagal - IV-I
  • Half - ?-V

Those 4 are main categories.

What sounds weaker depends largely on the context, more specifically, whether the tonality has already been "confirmed" and to what degree...

I myself take imperfect/perfect to be related to chord inversion and voice movement - more melodic jumps combined with more interpolated harmonic movement will mostly yield a "stronger" cadence.

  • I guess you're to the left of the Atlantic Ocean. On the right, the OP's terms work well. Just looked - you're even further left !!
    – Tim
    Nov 19, 2019 at 12:14
  • Suggestion of terminology is there to help clarify the simplification of categorization. I am not suggesting one is more accepted than the other, and I am fully aware of differences. To tell you the truth, I have no idea which side of the Atlantic ocean I am. You got a point though, I am rephrasing the top part of the answer Nov 19, 2019 at 12:19
  • @Tim, I guess I am so left that I am actually right, but thankfully, I don't have a driving license :) On the serious side, I am in eastern Europe, and in my country we do by the German system. Nov 19, 2019 at 12:25
  • 1
    Yes, my fault, I was standing on the wrong part of the Moon... It's still woth mentioning that Authentic=Perfect, Deceptive=interrupted, Half=Imperfect, and Plagal, oh! authentic and Perfect seem to have differing voicings depending where in the world one plays..! And - there are quite a few different names for each - it's interesting just reading ome. Abrupt, Broken, Avoided anyone?
    – Tim
    Nov 19, 2019 at 12:39
  • Yes, synonyms are used on both sides. As you might figure, eastern Europe is stretched between western (German) and eastern (Russian) terminology, or "way of thinking". Abrupt - sure, Broken - idk, Avoided - definitely. Nov 19, 2019 at 12:42

Using the OP's terms, which are prevalent in UK at least, they fall into two categories, looking at it one way.

Perfect and Plagal (both P...) finish on root chord. Imperfect and Interrupted (both I...) do not.

Looking at it another way, Perfect is exactly opposite to imperfect - as the very words suggest. and listening to each, the terms seem apposite.

Plagal (amen) pretty well speaks for itself, as does interrupted, which sounds like it's not actually reached a destination, but stopped for a rest. Imperfect can also sound thus, but the penultimate chord in each is different. With interrupted, it's often V>vi, whereas imperfect could be just about anything before V.

Bearing in mind there are only the four (which do also get sub-categorised) it's worth just playing them all, in different keys. By the time you've got through, they're probably all stuck in your brain!

  • I think your final paragraph is The Answer. Playing cadences is the best way to internalise them. Nov 19, 2019 at 13:29

An exercise I have used is to play cadences in sequence to highlight their 'structural' use.

What I mean by structural is use ending cadences at the end, use continuation cadences in the middle, etc. Think of a musical period, perhaps a simple 16 bar piece like a minuet. the first 8 bars end with a half cadence, the second 8 end with the concluding perfect cadence. Playing a half cadence followed by a perfect cadence puts thinks in a sequence that reflects both common forms and highlights the difference in feeling.

From that structural perspective a deceptive cadence should precede a perfect cadence. Typical use of a plagal cadence is after a perfect cadence.

An example sequence might be: half cadence, deceptive cadence, perfect cadence, plagal cadence. All played in one key.

You have to decide what to play leading up to the various cadences, but a few beats of the tonic chord should be enough to set the tonal backdrop.

Pay attention to the barline! Placing the defining chord after the barline on beat one will make clear the cadence type. So, the V of a half cadence should be on beat one after the barline, the vi of a deceptive cadence should be after the barline, etc. That isn't a rule, but it should help contrast each cadence type. Plagal cadences are different in this regard. The IV usually comes on beat one.

Using typical chord leading to the cadence will help too. Use a subdominant before the dominant of a half cadence, like ii6 | V. Use a cadential 6/4 in a perfect cadence, like i6/4 V7 | i.

The use (or omission) of the seventh on the dominant can help highlight the difference in half and perfect cadences: don't use the seventh in half cadences, be sure to include the seventh in perfect cadences. This isn't a rule, but it reflects common treatment of the dominant chord in a lot of classical music.

Play in major and minor. Play on all twelve tonics.

If things become too rote, try some figuration (arpeggiation) of the chords, and change meters: duple, triple, and compound.

Sing out loud different parts: the bass, or the upper voices paying attention to the movements between TI and DO, and FA and MI.

Do this for a few months and you should end up really hearing and feeling the different cadences.


Apparently there is some question about whether plagal cadences are written at the end of hymns. Example from Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861:

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...the so-called plagal cadence is written out like this for hymns through out the book. This is common in many other hymnals.

  • agreeing with @jjmusicnotes and others, cadences come at the end of phrases. the A-men comes after the double bar, justifiably at that, i.e. it follows usually an authentic cadence, so one shouldn't confuse A-men with plagal cadence, except as a way to remember what it sounds like. Interesting to note here, the bar before A-men is missing a beat (BTW, why are those alto and bass half notes written mirrored and quarter notes the other way? I guess to line up vertically, but then we are doing it wrong...) Nov 29, 2019 at 10:09

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