Cadences And Diatonic Psychology

If you had made it this far in the course you are obviously interested in music and its inner workings. Well, brothers and sisters I am here to tell you that throughout your study of music theory you will be amazed at the power and effectiveness of the major scale. As I have said before, the major scale is king and all discussions in music theory are always made in relationship to some major scale.

From your perspective, that of a guitar player the real magic of music are the pleasing combinations of chords called cadences. In this lesson will be examining the hows and whys of creating chord progressions, discussing the personalities of chordss, and learning the most important cadences that professional songwriters, arrangers and composers rely on to do their daily work.

The table below is an examination of each of the seven diatonic chords and a description of their personalities, and musical effect they are best at creating. I suggest that you study the table with the aid of your guitar and once again play the basic diatonic harmony in the interactive diagram you see below on your guitar to acclimate your ears to this key.

I Major


The tonic chord is the chord that gives the key its name, in the example above the tonic chord would be C major. This is also called the I chord (one chord) and is usually where a song begins and ends. It is the most common point of cadence, stopping place, point of arrival and the chord which provides the greatest sense of resolution. Since the inner game of music can be simplified down to a process of tension and release, the one chord is the chord which provides the best and most frequently occurring sense of release.

II minor


The II minor chord, also called the supertonic creates a sense of departure from the tonic, a pool are sensitive musical motion. Another job that the super tonic has is as a substitute for the sub dominant as the two cord can create a little stability of it, own almost the sensation of floating above the tonic chord. The II minor chord can move to a variety of targets, such as returning to the tonic, proceeding higher by step, are most commonly to the V chord to create one of the best-known and most widely used cadences in music, the II -V.

III minor


The III minor chord also called the mediant is also restful and stable, and does not promote a strong sense of harmonic movement rather it adds a new color to the sense of resolution that is inherent in music. The III minor chord is also known as a tonic substitute and can do the job of the tonic, or share the job of the tonic.

IV Major


The sub dominant or IV chord is a very interesting and multifaceted player in the game. The root of the IV chord is the fourth note in the scale which is an unstable note and demands a resolution down to the third or as part of the scale, back to the tonic. the IV chord sort of wears three hats, the first one demands harmonic movement back to the topic, and suggests a sense of poll called harmonic motion back to home base. The second job of the IV chord is to provide a little bit of stability and resolution of its own, in rock and pop music the most common cord for a bridge, or a new section is the IV chord. The third job is to precede or set up the V chord, remember the I - IV - V cadence is the most important harmonic construct in modern music.

V Major


The dominant or V chord can be considered a one dimensional player in this game. It's job is to return to the tonic, to cadence back to home base in the sense of release that is the goal in the game of tension and release. Nobody does it better than the dominant or V chord. the dominant contains two unstable scale tones four F and the seven B, both of which create movement and pull back to the tonic.

VI minor

Sub Mediant

The VI minor chord also called the sub mediant is also a substitute for the tonic chord. Chord progressions moving from I to VI do not suggest strong harmonic movement rather a continuation of the rest and resolution provided by the tonic. The VI minor chord is the relative minor to the tonic and their three note triads have to notes in common. Chord progressions moving from I to VI and back again are considered cliché, but they can be quite beautiful and are utilized in virtually every style.



The VII diminished chord is not at all popular in pop and rock music. It is built on the seventh note of the scale, and unstable note called the leading tone which demands a return to the tonic. If it were to be used it would immediately return back to home base, the I chord. Because of its unstable nature, and the desire to return to the root note, C, the VII diminished chord it is also known as a substitute for the dominant chord.

II - V - I Cadences

If a carpenter as his set of tools and tricks, a songwriter has a knowledge of basic cadences. We have done a good job of learning everything we can about cadences involving the I - IV & V chords, and that forms a good center, a foundation of strength for a modern musician and songwriter.

There are of couse, a number of standardized, tried-and-true chord progressions that form a vocabulary of modern American music. We have already covered the I - IV - V chords and their progressions in great detail and will be returning to the three primary chords throughout our study of theory. Below you will find what is arguably the most important of all the standard or stock cadences, the II - V - I.

Cadences are included in every good songwriters and arrangers toolkit. As a musician you must be intimately familiar with stock cadences as they are quite simply the standared ideas and building blocks you will use to do your job. Remember, anything and everything goes, as long as it sounds right! PLEASE (!) don't view stock cadences as some kind of strident lifeless academic system that will kill your creativity. Quite the opposite: disciplining yourself to learn music theory will give you more artistic freedom than you ever thought possible.

Below there are several variations of the II - V - I cadence. The idea here is that the I chord establishes the key providing rest and resolution. The II or D minor is meant to lead your ear away from home base, away from the tonic. The purpose of the five chord, the G7 in this case, is there to return your ears back home to the C major chord. I often use the analogy of playing baseball to explain this: wwe started at homebase, in this case the tonic chord, go around the bases and return to back homebase. To oversimplify, the game of music is creating pleasing combinations of chords called cadences and deriving beauty and artistic meaning from the resolutions they produce.


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The example below written in a rhythm and blues style and employs another common technique used when composing with the II - V cadence. The actual cadence itself is repeated over and over again, delaying the final resolution. In this course I have classified the small little bits of music as chord patterns. Memorize the sound of this chord pattern in your ear and use it frequently as a jamming tool, and a writing tool.

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Our final example of a II -V chord change is written in a jazz style and again shows another tried-and-true and extremely common technique employing the II -V cadence. It's the exact opposite of the previous example which delay the resolution. Here the resolutions are coming fast, every two bars sort of beating us over the head with the sound of the cadence. It's simple and it works.

Notice however that the jobs of the chords have not changed. The D minor chord is still leading our years away from the tonic and the G7 chord is still returning our ears to the tonic, the psychology of the chords has remained intact throughout all three of these examples.

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Deceptive Cadence

The game of the cadence and therefore music, revolves around resoving to or returning to home base, to the tonic chord also called the one chord. When the dominant chord, the V chord, is followed by a chord other than the I chord, the tonic, it is called a deceptive cadence. Quite often, this chord is the VI minor chord, A minor in this case. This effect can be heard quite nicely in the common knowledge chord progression I - V - VI - IV.

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