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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Melody Part 12 - Phrasings and Endings

In this “Melody Series” so far you’ve revised keys, key signatures, major and minor scales, the circle of fifths, modes, chords, inversions, melodic decorations, and various ways of playing chords. In this blog we’ll look at phrases and cadences.


A phase is a musical sentence. All music needs a phrase, in much the same way as all stories need a sentence! Phrases can be any length but two or four bars is the regular length. Sometimes a phrase mark will be used. This is a large curved line that goes over the notes. It’s important not to confuse a phrase mark with a slur.

In this example I’ve coloured some of the notes green to show the phrase. In standard sheet music you wouldn’t get different colours. The other way you sometimes see, especially in music for instruments played with breath is the comma. I’ve also use the phrase mark (curved line).

In the first paragraph of this section I wrote that you don’t want to confuse the phrase mark with a slur. My personal feeling is that many musicians will see a phrase mark and play everything within it slurred. If, as a composer, you don’t want the musician to play it slurred, don’t use the phrase mark and use one of the other methods.

If there are words, then the punctuation within the lyrics will help the phrasing. This means that the curved line should really only be used to indicate a smooth passage. See below.


A cadence is made up of two chords and is used to help show the phrasing. That is to say they only appear at the end of a phrase.

There are four (main) cadences: Perfect, Plagal, Imperfect, Interrupted.

Perfect Cadence

The Perfect Cadence sounds finished. The last two chords are five (V or Dominant) going to one (I or Tonic).

Our example of Happy Birthday ends with a perfect cadence. The last but one chord is G7 (Dominant Seventh - the main chord is the dominant which is V), and it goes to C (tonic or I).

Plagal Cadence

The Plagal Cadence also sounds finished, but has a different feel. It’s often referred to as the “Amen” Cadence as it is frequently used in religious music.

The two chords are four (IV or Subdominant) going to one (I or Tonic).

Imperfect Cadence

This is like a comma in writing. It’s not the end of the sentence but a brief “break”.

The second chord will always be a five (V or Dominant). The first chord is usually one, two or four (I, II, IV or tonic, supertonic, subdominant).

In our Happy Birthday example you can see the first phrase finishes with chord I going to chord V.

Interrupted Cadence

This sounds interrupted! It always starts with the dominant chord (V) and will normally go to the submediant (VI). However, it can go to any chord except the tonic (as that makes it a perfect cadence).

Tierce de Picardie

This is a very useful phrase to remember! This is when a piece of music is in a minor key and the final chord is a major chord. For example if you are playing a piece in D minor and your final chord is D MAJOR, you’ve just experienced a Tierce de Picardie.

It is best to play around with cadences so you get to know what each one sounds like.






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