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Endings month: Cadences

Posted by jrjenks on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Endings Month

I think I was mistaken when I was trying to figure out what Pete Wernick meant when he advised jammers to "[l]isten for instrumental licks that signal ending." I'd guessed that he was asking us to listen for something like Bill Knopf's two-part endings, but that doesn't really make sense. The endings Bill Knopf describes come after a verse or chorus ends, so they're not really helpful as a clue of an approaching ending. Once you hear those guys the verse or chorus is already over.

As I look into this endings thing more, I think that what Wernick wants us to listen for is a cadence.

What is a cadence? Here's what Wikipedia says:

In Western musical theory, a harmonic cadence (Latin cadentia, "a falling") is a progression of (at least) two chords that concludes a phrase, section, or piece of music.[1] A rhythmic cadence is a characteristic rhythmic pattern indicating the end of a phrase.[2] Cadences give phrases a distinctive ending, which can, for example, indicate to the listener whether the piece is to be continued or concluded. An analogy may be made with punctuation,[3] with some weaker cadences acting as commas, indicating a pause or momentary rest, while a stronger cadence will then act as the period, indicating the end of the phrase or musical sentence.

There are several kinds of cadences. The most common one in bluegrass music (and a lot of popular music) is the cadence that goes from the V (dominant) to the I (tonic) at the end of the song. Grab your favorite bluegrass tab book and see how many songs in G end by going briefly into D (or D7) then back into G. Just about all of them. That V-to-I or IV-to-V-to-I thing is called the authentic cadence (also the closed cadence or standard cadence).

Other cadences are possible, but less common. The Grateful Dead song Friend of the Devil doesn't have a V-to-I authentic cadence at the end. Instead, it goes to V and just lingers there. That's called a half cadence (or open cadence or imperfect cadence). There are also deceptive cadences and some other subtypes of cadences. See that Wikipedia entry for a good run-down on cadences.

One final type of cadence kinda isn't a cadence at all: the plagal cadence or "amen cadence". I'll get back to that one later in the month when I cover amen endings.

So, to sum up: A cadence is the harmonic progression that indicates within a verse or chorus that the verse or chorus is about to come to an end.

Cross-posted at J.R. Jenks' blog

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