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On a Songwriter's Mind This Week #14: Chords and the Perfect Cadence

Heya folkies! So today I thought I'd elaborate a bit on a segment in my recent newsletter (here) on chord sequences. I'd like to tell you a bit about the perfect cadence and WHY it is used, which should give you some ideas as to when to use it if you are a budding songwriter/composer. It's still really interesting though for your casual music fan, something to impress your mates with! So my little FoxCubs, let's get cracking....

The Perfect Cadence

The perfect cadence is when you go from the fifth (V) chord to the first, tonic (I) chord. In the key of C that means from G back to C. Also it has to happen towards the end of a musical phrase. A phrase is to music what a sentence is to writing.

Say what, Foxy? Give us an example!

A good example of a perfect cadence in pop music is the end of the chorus to Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind. When Bob sings "the answer is blowin' in the wind", "blowin'" is on the V chord, which then changes to the I chord on the word "wind". See the video below, about 0:38. Notice how this chord change feels like a lovely resolution. That's why it's called perfect - the clue's in the name!

Another example is the ending of the verses in Hey Jude by the Beatles. McCartney sings "then you can start to make it better". The word "start" is on the V chord, which then resolves perfectly to the I chord on the word "better". It's at around 1:14 in the video below.

The Juicy Bit

But why does it sound so pleasant on the ear? Musicologists are pretty much agreed on this - it's because the V chord contains the "leading note" of the scale within it (which is a B in the key of C). B of course is one note lower than the tonic note of C, so when you hear then played consecutively it sounds like a nice resolution. So there you have it! Something to impress your mates with down the boozer, or tell your nan over Sunday lunch.

Why don't you try and see if you can notice any other perfect cadences in songs you hear on the radio. I'll help you out - there are loads!!!


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