How to play cadences (level 5-6)

In today’s video I wanted to discuss how to play cadences. We’ve talked about cadences before on this channel – what they are, what the point of them is – so check out that video for more information.

Today is going to be about the practical application of cadences. This is going to be especially relevant to you if you’re an intermediate student at around an RCM grade 5 or 6 level.

Let’s get started!

How to play a cadence: Major cadence

If you’re doing an RCM grade 5 or 6 exam, you’ll need to play these cadences at the end of your triads. For the rest of you, this is useful to know because it expands your understanding of chords.

The cadence you need to be able to play at this level is a “perfect cadence”. This is the specific pattern:

I-V-I

So if you’re playing a triad in the key of C, you’ll be playing a C chord (I), a G chord (V) and another C chord (I). You’ll tack this cadence on to the end of every set of triads. Think of it like musical punctuation – this cadence is like the period at the end of a sentence.

The I and V chord are also the strongest chords in any key, so it’s useful to know these chords as well as the back of your hand.

If you’re in E major, it’s an E-B-E progression. In Ab major, it’s Ab-Eb-Ab. This is endlessly useful in any type of songwriting/jamming situation, but also to simply deepen your understanding of music.

Okay so how do you play it?

Our left hand is going to be playing the bass notes. So if our cadence goes from a C chord to a G chord to a C chord, our left hand is going to be playing a C, G and C.

Our right hand will be filling in the chords. It’ll be playing the full notes of C, G and C chord.

But we don’t want to play these chords all in their root form – look how much of a leap my right hand has to do if we keep them in root position.

We need to do some chord inverting. Not only will this make the cadence easier to play, but it’ll sound smoother and more unified when the notes are closer and aren’t leaping so much.

Let’s keep C chord in its root format – if you’re playing a C major triad, you’ll be ending with a C chord in root. So it makes sense to keep this one the same. But let’s manipulate the G chord to get it closer in position to a C chord.

C E G

B D G

There’s actually one note that overlaps between the two chords – the G. So to keep this as seamless as possible, it makes sense to keep this note in the same spot.

See how much easier that is?

We can do this same pattern in any key – G, D, F, etc. That’s how you do a simple cadence at a grade 5/6 level.

Here’s the full set of triads…and here’s the cadence at the end to cap it off. Doesn’t it feel like a musical sentence with a period at the end?

Okay, so now that you’ve got the hang of that, we have one more thing to talk about:

Minor key cadences.

How to play cadences: Minor cadences

When you’re playing triads in a minor key (C minor, G minor, etc.), you also need to play minor key cadences. Where this can get a little complicated is, unlike major scales, minor scales have a few different forms. There’s only one way to play a basic major scale, but there are several ways to play a minor scale.

If we were to do the cadence in a natural minor key, it would look like this:

i-v-i

Notice the lower-case roman numerals – this means they’re minor chords. So a C minor chord, G minor chord, and C minor chord if you’re in the key of C minor.

If we were to do the cadence in a harmonic minor key, it would look like this:

i-V-i

Notice how the “V” is uppercase? That means, in the key of C minor, you would be playing:

C minor – G major – C minor

This harmonic minor form is more common in Classical music, so it’s the cadence that you’re expected to learn if you’re doing grade 5/6 exams.

So really, the only difference between your regular major cadences and these minor cadences are the “I” chord – whether it’s major or minor. The “V” chord stays the same – it stays major.

Here’s an example of a minor cadence at the end of a D minor triad. It sounds really neat, right? The harmonic minor sound has such an awesome flavor.

Conclusion

And that’s really all there is to it. Again, if you’re doing RCM exams, you’ll be required to use these at the end of triads. If you’re not doing exams, it’s one of those “good to know” things.

If you practice chords and triads, I urge you to give this a try – as I mentioned earlier, it’ll expand your intuitive understanding of chords in various keys. And there’s much more to finger exercises than scales!

Until next time,

Xo,

Allysia