Prince and The Cadence

Let me present you with a hypothetical situation:

You’re interested in the music theory topic of cadences and you’ve started “Googling.”

You find yourself awash in terms such as authentic cadence, plagal cadence and half cadence.

Now, you dutifully continue your research and determine that a plagal cadence, for example, is when a IV chord resolves to a I chord.

You pat yourself on the back. And because you’re so proud of your research, so you decide to…

Put Your Knowledge to the Test

To put your newfound knowledge to the test, you listen to Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

Naturally, you play the song from the beginning. You listen to the introduction…

The introduction to Prince’s “Purple Rain”

You are enjoying the wonderful music…

And then, towards the end of the introduction… your ears perk up.

You hear a chord progression of IV* resolving to I.

What could this be?

Let’s “zoom in” to this chord progression:

A IV* – I chord progression at the end of the introduction to “Purple Rain”

You ask yourself the big question:

Is this a cadence?

*This E-flat chord contains the note F, which adds additional color to the chord, but it is not relevant to our discussion at the moment, so we will be ignoring this small detail.

A Cadence Defined.

A cadence is any part of a song that feels like an ending. It could be the ending to a musical phrase, a section of the song, or perhaps the entire piece.

The thing about cadences is… you know it when you hear it.

This is because a cadence is a complicated combination of different musical factors coming together to give the sensation of a conclusion or ending.

Back to our Question. Did We Hear a Plagal Cadence?

Even though the excerpted section above is indeed a IV – I chord progression… this is not a cadence.

Why? Well, there is no sense of conclusion. No sense of finality.

In a true cadence, there would be other cues – perhaps found in the instrumentation, dynamics, shape of the melody, form of the song, or any of dozens of other possibilities.

A cadence is much more than just a particular progression of chords.

authentic cadence

Let’s Take This One Step Further

Before Prince teaches us what a real cadence sounds like, let’s take this one step further.

Take the chord progression of V to I. This progression gives a very strong feeling of resolution.

The opposite is true as well. The chord progression of I to V leaves you with a feeling of “hanging” and a sense of tension, yearning to be resolved.

Yet, both of these progressions are found in cadences. In fact, both are so common that they have their own individual names.

How can this be?

Well, this “conundrum” is not a conundrum at all.

Because… there is more to a cadence than simply the chord progression.

plagal cadence

Prince Teaches Us What a Real Cadence Sounds Like

Let’s learn what a real cadence sounds like. Back to “Purple Rain” we go.

Listening onward, we get to the verse.

The first verse of Prince’s “Purple Rain”

What was that at the end?

Is that…. a cadence? Why, yes it is.

Let’s “zoom in” to the section in question:

The cadence at the end of the first verse of Prince’s “Purple Rain”

Now, this is a true cadence.

There is a definitive finality to the end of this phrase.

How exactly can you tell it’s a cadence?

Pay attention to the nice tight ending. We hear the intensity building during the lyric “only want to see you laughing…” only to end in a firm staccato on the word “rain“.

Listen to the instrumentation during the lyric “rain.” We hear a cymbal grab, a guitar chord which is only briefly played and then silenced. In fact, all of the instrumentation and vocals cut out together, followed by silence.

And this all takes place neatly at the end of the verse within the overall song form.

A classic cadence.

cadence music

What Type of Cadence is This?

Now that we have identified that we have a cadence, we can evaluate the chord progression and identify what type of cadence we are dealing with.

Here are a few common types of cadences

  • Authentic cadence
  • Plagal cadence
  • Deceptive cadence (sometimes called interrupted cadence)
  • Half cadence

In this case, our chords are F7 and B-flat major. Since we are in the key of B-flat major, these two chords are V7 resolving to I.

Cutting right to the chase, this is an authentic cadence.

Authentic cadence

An authentic cadence is often thought of as the strongest cadence. That is because it is the most straightforward and self-evident of the various types of cadences.

It is simply a V chord (dominant) resolving to a I chord (tonic).

To add extra umph… make that first chord a V7.

And that is precisely what we have in the Prince example.

The first chord is F7. To be specific, we have an F major triad (notes: F-A-C) with a minor 7th interval added (E-flat) in order to create a dominant seventh chord.

The seventh I am referring to during the F chord is actually created by the vocal melody.

This V7 chord then resolves to the I chord, which is B-flat major.

Side note: I think I hear a very subtle “G” note in the guitar during the F chord, which would color the chord even further. (What do you think? Let me know in the comments.)

authentic cadence

Perfect or Imperfect Authentic Cadences

One final note before we conclude our lesson today (pun intended).

If both of the chords of an authentic cadence are in root position, it is traditionally referred to as a perfect authentic cadence.

If one or more of the chords are in an inversion, it is called an imperfect authentic cadence.

What am I talking about?

A chord is in an inversion if a note other than the root of the chord is in the bass (the lowest note in the chord).

The root of the chord can be thought of as the name of the chord – for example, the root of an F chord is the note F.

Is the Prince Cadence Perfect or Imperfect?

Now, listen back to our cadence. During each chord, try to focus on the lowest note that you can hear in the recording:

The cadence at the end of the first verse of Prince’s “Purple Rain”

In this case, the root of each chord is the lowest note in the recording, which means that we are in root position.

Our example is a perfect authentic cadence.

Thanks Prince – We Will Miss You!

As I write this, Prince passed away only days ago.

I wrote this lesson about cadences as my special tribute to this great man, just as we learned about secondary dominants after David Bowie passed away earlier this year. This has been a sad year for music.

If you enjoyed this lesson, please subscribe to Pop Music Theory in the box below. And please feel free to leave a comment below that, I reply to every single one! Peace :-)

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  • Useful and great lesson as always. Thanks Eric. By the way, the sidebar looks a little strange on my iPad, just FYI.

    • I appreciate the feedback Brandon. I am a “one man band” here at PMT, so I don’t always catch those things on my own, so thank you! I will get on it right away. And glad you found the lesson useful!

  • Thanks Eric. Nice to note Prince’s contribution to music, and using a perfect authentic cadences is sadly appropriate to talk about the end of his career and life.

  • I still don’t really get what a cadence is but thanks anyway for the lesson and paying homage to prince.

    • Hey Leo – A cadence is any part of a song or piece of music that feels like a conclusion/ending – or otherwise gives a sense of resolution or finality. A cadence could occur at the end of a musical phrase, a section of the song (like a verse), or maybe even the whole song.

      I am planning a “list style” post where I will give multiple examples, rather than just a single example. I have done posts like this with other topics in the past (for example, anacrusis). Stay tuned for that, and it should help your understanding further.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      • I like the post btw.
        However a cadence is literally a transition from one chord to the next.
        For example an interrupted CADENCE is a cadence yet does not feel like a resolution (the complete opposition in fact).

        Cadences are just relating chords to their intervals of the scale.

        But once again, not hating, merely trying to correct you 😉

  • really appreciated this lesson! thanks! What do you think the purpose of the cadence here is, since prince doesn’t use it to end the song, and the next “purple raaaaain” comes after the cadence?

    • Such a great question Janet! And also thanks for your kind words and I”m glad you appreciated the lesson.

      We should really always try to ask the purpose behind things – why did this chord progression resolve to the vi chord instead of I…. etc.

      I find that this cadence is an integral part of the structure of the song… it really delineates the end of that section and helps create the song form. He could have written the song so that it didn’t have such an abrupt “cadenc-ey” feel, and it could have just seamlessly flowed into the following section. But instead it creates a sense of space and “breathability.”

      It is really fun to speculate about this type of thing, and it’s part of what makes music theory so fun! I hope this helps and again, glad you liked the lesson.

  • Hello, very nice lesson and tribute to Prince.
    I really enjoyed it.
    Now he lives forever as a legend.
    Thank you.

  • Really wanna get sad ? Try resolving the V7 to the VI chord. Also, to get all 1940’spop music on ya, we can use the VII chord as an alternative to the V7 in the V7 to I cadence. The VII is also known as an incomplete dominant seventh (V7) and has many of the same elements in it. You had best resolve that haunting VII to the I (or to the VI) chord should you wish to use it. Don’t leave me hanging. Blondie’s “Hanging On The Telephone” is a perfect example of a V7 to VI cadence. So sad.

  • Really wanna get sad ? Try resolving the V7 to the VI chord. Also, to get all 1940’spop music on ya, we can use the VII chord as an alternative to the V7 in the V7 to I cadence. The VII is also known as an incomplete dominant seventh (V7) and has many of the same elements in it. You had best resolve that haunting VII to the I (or to the VI) chord should you wish to use it. Don’t leave me hanging. Blondie’s “Hanging On The Telephone” is a perfect example of a V7 to VI cadence. So sad.

  • Hi Chris,I really enjoyed your lecture about prairies at the Science Cafe last night. I was taken with your description of the open and stark beauty of prairies and I’ve always felt that Nebraska has a unique natural beauty. Also, thanks again for your feedback to my question about milkweed and aphids. One of the many benefits of gardening with natives-they stand up to pests better!

  • Credit card insurance is a waste of money IMO. If you used that money to pay down your debt, you would save more just from interest payments alone. The credit card company will require you to exhaust all other ‘options’ before halting payments, so the stress of the whole ordeal just isn’t worth it.

  • Follow you on Bloglovin'. Check your blog daily and always get great ideas from your style. Love this dress, I would wear it with a wide belt, large necklace with some color in it, and LAMB Daphne sandles. Thanks for all your inspiration.Cheryl

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