A major half cadence

The Solution below shows the A major half cadence on the piano and treble clef.

The Lesson steps then describe the cadence structure in this key, the chords used, followed by an example of its use.

For a quick summary of this topic, have a look at Cadence.

Half cadence keys
KeyCC#DbDD#EbEE#FbFF#GbGG#Ab[A]A#BbBB#Cb

Solution

1. A major half cadence

This step shows the half cadence in the key of A major.

The half cadence moves from any diatonic scale chord eg. supertonic (ii), to the dominant (V) scale degree.

So in this major key, we are going from the A major triad chord #ii - B minor chord, to A major triad chord #V - E major chord.

A major half cadence

A major half cadence

To demonstrate this, on the treble clef above, chords A major triad chord #I, A major triad chord #V, and A major triad chord #IV are used to set up the phrase as being in this key, then the cadence chords ii and V finish off the phrase, giving only a partial sense of completion, in comparison to the A major perfect authentic cadence.

Audio downloads
treble clef iconTreble Clef:MidiMP3

Lesson steps

1. Cadence Types

This step describes the main cadence types, and the idea of strong versus weak cadence.

Cadence definition

In music theory, a cadence is two chords which create a sense of closure, or rest to a phrase, section, or entire piece of music.

The most commonly used are: perfect authentic, imperfect authentic, plagal, deceptive and half cadence.

Some of the above are US-english terms. In the UK, authentic cadences are called perfect cadences, half cadences are called imperfect cadences, and deceptive cadences are called interrupted cadences.

Cadences - strong versus weak

Each of the above cadence types use different chords (or inversions) to create these rest / closure effects.

Strong cadences give a real sense of finality, and so are most often used right at the end of a piece.

In contrast, weak cadences are less conclusive, which can be used to create a sense of rest, or even surprise the listener with a false ending, when a strong cadence was expected in its place.

2. A major scale notes and chords

This step shows the A major scale notes and the triad chords in that scale.

Before describing the details of the half cadence in the key of A major, first it would be to useful to identify the scale notes, degrees and chords that could be used in this key.

A major scale notes

Below is a piano diagram showing the A major scale notes.

A major scale

A major scale chords

For details on all the chords in this scale, have a look at A major triad chords, and A major 7th chords, but a summary table of all chord names and their scale degrees is shown below.

A major scale
Note no.Note nameScale degreeTriad chord #7th chord #
1AtonicA major triad chord #IA major seventh chord #I7
2BsupertonicA major triad chord #iiA major seventh chord #ii7
3C#mediantA major triad chord #iiiA major seventh chord #iii7
4DsubdominantA major triad chord #IVA major seventh chord #IV7
5EdominantA major triad chord #VA major seventh chord #V7
6F#submediantA major triad chord #viA major seventh chord #vi7
7G#leading toneA major triad chord #viioA major seventh chord #viiø7

For each note in the scale (2nd column), there is a triad chord whose root / first note is that scale note (4th column), and the same applies to 7th chords (5th column).

To understand what the roman numerals mean, please look at A major triad chords or A major 7th chords.

According to the cadence type, some of these chords, scale degrees and roman numerals will be used in later steps to define this cadence.

Audio downloads
bass clef iconBass Clef:MidiMP3treble clef iconTreble Clef:MidiMP3

3. A major half cadence

This step shows the A major half cadence on the piano and treble clef.

Structure

The half cadence moves from any diatonic scale chord eg. supertonic (ii), to the dominant (V).

So looking up the chords relating to these scale degrees from the table above, we are going from the A major triad chord #ii - B minor chord, to A major triad chord #V - E major chord.

It is less strong than the A major perfect authentic cadence, because it doesn't give the same sense of closure or completion to the phrase, since a music phrase will usually sound most complete when the tonic(I) is the final resting place.

This means that the half cadence is often used as a pause in a piece of music, which finally ends using the A major perfect authentic cadence.

A major half cadence

Example

The two chords above are shown as the last two chords on the treble clef below.

The first three chords on the staff below are not strictly part of the cadence, but they are useful to set the expectation that this phrase is definitely in the key of A major.

To do this, we are using chords A major triad chord #I, A major triad chord #V, and A major triad chord #IV, and after hearing these chords, followed by the first chord in the cadence (chord ii), our ear is definitely expecting the tonic chord (I) as the final chord in the sequence.

Instead of resolving on the tonic chord, by resolving on the dominant chord, the sense of resolution and finality is not there, in comparison to the A major perfect authentic cadence.

A major half cadence

The audio files below also contain all 5 chords shown on the treble clef above.

Audio downloads
treble clef iconTreble Clef:MidiMP3