Survey Of Standard Cadences

This course in musical theory is analyzing cadences and chord progressions as a way of understanding modern music. All songs in every style are built on pleasing combinations of chords and the resolutions they produce. The final resting point, point of cadence, point of arrival, or destination point is called the tonic chord. In music the endgame is cleverly, artistically and musically arriving at the tonic chord.

To achieve that end songwriters, arrangers and improvisers have relied on stock cadences and standard chord progressions and patterns as a way of organizing their musical knowledge and supporting melodies. The goal of any musical pursuit is a logical and orderly presentation of a repertoire or a piece. The forces at work inside musical compositions are more often than not the power of their cadences, theie harmonic movement. Strong movement, or bass movement is the platform on which musical compositions are constructed. The baseline causes harmonic movement and therefore is facilitating the achievement of your goals. The strongest types of bass movement are associated with the cadences we have learned so far, those cadences have the bass note moving by four or five scale steps. This is called motion by a fourth our motion by a fifth respectively and to repeat, they are the two strongest type of root movement possible. Below let’s examine the cadences we have learned so far.

V – I, The Authentic CadenceIs also known as the strongest cadence, it can be a five chord are a dominant seventh chord built on the fifth – either way the effect is still the same. Virtually every song in the rock pop jazz and blues genre contains a five chord. The V chord contains two notes from the major scale which are considered unstable: the fourth, or F and the seventh, or B which both demand movement and resolution back to the tonic.

I – IV, The Plagal Cadence

Is known as the second strongest cadence in modern and popular music, also called the sub dominant chord. It is unique in the sense that it does not demand a return to the one chord, but rather can precede the five chord and in many cases some other chord. A chord progression going from the one chord to the four chord, tonic to subdominant, has a gut bucket or blues sound.

I – IV – V

Is certainly the best known, most widely played and virtually definitive chord progression for rock music. The I – IV -V progression is firmly in place as a staple in all forms of rock, blues, pop, jazz, and even traditional music. There is no end to the pleasing combinations, unusual harmonic rhythms, and original sounding compositions that can be derived from this cadence.

II – V – I

Is the perfect vehicle for studying the game of music in a microcosm. The II chord gently leads your ear away from the tonic or the I chord, the V chord creates tension and forcefully demands a return back to the tonic. Essentially, this is the game of music. Study this and all the cadences you are learning in this course with the aid of your guitar as directed by the interactive illustrations to your right.

I – VI – II – V

Is also an extremely common cadence in the world of modern music great songs from every style in every era employed this simple yet beautiful cadence. The I – VI – II – V is also an indispensable feature of jazz composing and arranging, and therefore jazz guitar playing. The VI chord is not there to create harmonic motion or cadence, it’s root motion is subtle as it serves to complement and extend the pleasing nature of the tonic chord. The I to VI change is something very special.

sitional tool is indeed yet another famous cadence: the I – VI – IV – V, using the great sounding VI minor (A minor chord), to extend the feeling of rest but we are next playing the powerful IV and V chords (chords whose sound you understand well) as a means of returning to the tonic.The I – VI – IV – V is associated with many hit records from the 1950s and 1960s. Once again I remind you not to make the mistake of thinking that any cadence or chord patterns or musical device is bound to a particular style or genre.

For the rest of the lesson, we will be working in three different keys to gain more control over the material presented in this course. Study the table below and compare the keys of F major, C major and G major. To reinfirce the point that specific cadences are not bound to any one style the musical arrangements in this course will be drawn from the traditions established in the rock, pop, blus and jazz genres.

Chord Quality:

I Major
II minor
III minor
IV Major
V Major
VI minor
VII mi7 (b5)
Key Of C:
C Ma7
D mi7
E mi7
F Ma7
G 7
A mi7
B mi7 (b5)
C Ma7
Key Of G:
G Ma7
A mi7
B mi7
C Ma7
D 7
E mi7
F# mi7 (b5)
G Ma7
Key Of F:
F Ma
G mi
A mi
Bb Ma
C 7
D mi7
E mi7 (b5)
F Ma7

I – VI – IV – V Has A Place In Music History

Musicians have a nickname for everything it seems and the I – VI – IV – V progression is no exception and is often refered to as

  1. The Ice Cream Changes.
  2. The 1950’s Progression.
  3. Blue Moon Changes (In honor of the song Blue Moon, an early example).

Below is a reference of famous I – VI – IV – V songs for listening and analysis, take special note of the “year” column in the chart below. Sound musical and theoretical concepts never go out of style.


The examples of the are using different musical styles and protocols to create the arrangements and also a different number of measures to affect the I – V – IV – V cadence. These three examples merely serve to scratch the surface of what is possible in any cadence, the only limit is truly your imagination. Remember, classic cadences are your basic tools for composing, arranging and especially copying chord progressions. Since the world of music revolves around chord progressions, and tension and release, a firm command of basic cadences will increase anyone’s skill level significantly. Listen to, play, and study these examples until the cadences presented here are firmly within your grasp and complete comprehension.

I – III – IV- V

To complete our study of basic diatonic cadences the final example presented here is called a I – III – IV – V and is one of my personal favorites. The III chord, E minor in this case, functions in the same way as the VI chord does and is in fact considered a tonic substitute. Transitioning from a C cord to a and E minor chord serves to extend the restfulness and peacefulness of the tonoc C chord. This transition does not suggest strong root movement, chord to chord motion or cadencing. The cadence is does conclude with the powerful IV and V chords respectively.

The example below uses a rapidly developing cadence, where chords are only playing for one beat. This example will give you more insight into the craft of creating music, the more you know about how music was written the more you will know about how it is to be played.


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