If triads are the most common currency of keyboard harmony, cadence is the most required structural unit for phrasing. The unit of a phrase can be defined as having a cadence marking the end of it. A cadence consists of two chords, but they should be regarded as one inseparable gesture. The easiest part to memorize for most pieces is usually the end, where a predictable V-I perfect cadence occurs in the home key. A modulation (to be discussed in Module 1.8 and beyond) is usually confirmed by a perfect cadence in the new key. Knowledge of cadence can enhance the student’s confidence in memorization and making musically convincing phrases. Practicing cadences on the piano improves the student’s aural awareness, identification, and analysis of musical structures.


  • Tonality
  • Scales
  • Triads

It is only appropriate to have a strong foundation and quick recall of tonality, scales, and triads, in order to find enjoyment in practicing cadence. Cadence is the entry point for harmonic progression in keyboard harmony. And the understanding of the harmonic minor scale is particularly important, as the label itself — “harmonic” — is inherited from a frequently raised leading note for the sake of harmonic correctness.

Main Concepts

  • Keyboard style
  • Dominant (V) and raised leading note in minor key
  • Perfect (V-I), imperfect (I-V), and plagal cadences in any major/minor key
  • Perfect cadence with a Picardie 3rd in minor key

Keyboard-style playing is the default for most keyboard harmony training. The basic keyboard style involves LH playing the bass line and RH playing the triad that is in correct reference with the harmony (Module 1.6 will discuss figured bass further). Further training is required to teach students to play with hands together in keyboard style.

There are a few important parallels, as far as relating one cadence to another. It is useful to note how the harmonic minor key (with a raised leading note) is implemented particularly in the V of the minor key in perfect cadence. This results in an identical chord to the V of the parallel major key. Along with the Picardie 3rd resolution, which is common at the end of minor-key pieces, the entire perfect cadence is then identical to the parallel major key. The plagal (IV-I) cadence in one major key is identical to the imperfect I-V cadence in another major key.

Imperfect cadence can occur with ii-V and IV-V (or iv-V in the minor key). These chord progressions will be discussed in conjunction with harmonic progression and voice leading in Modules 1.4 and 1.6.

Drills and Improvisations

  • Habitual training: left-then-right
  • Dominant (V) and raised leading note in minor key
  • Passing the baton

Planning the left hand before the right hand is a golden rule in keyboard harmony, and even in piano playing in general. This approach stems from the basis of western classical music — the bass line is the guiding force of the harmony and figuration above. In a class setting, it is useful to emphasize the left-then-right approach in a demonstration with two groups of students: “cerebral” and “action.” The “cerebral” team verbalizes the key, cadence type, and note names of the bass line, before the “action” team verbalizes the correct pitches for the RH and executes the cadence in keyboard style. Pointing out the identical V shared by tonic major-minor (Figure A) would enhance decision making and efficiency of recall.

Figure A

Students play through the circle of 5ths with consecutive V-I or I-V in major keys, while verbally articulating the key and the cadence (Figure B) in a “passing the baton” fashion.

Figure B

It is natural to move from a simple keyboard style (LH bass line in single notes along with RH triads) to more improvisatory techniques, such as doubling the LH with octaves and arpeggiating the RH triads.

Goal for Next Class

  • Accurately recall and play six cadences in any randomized key within one minute

The accurate recall of cadence is important in many regards. First of all, it gives the students a chance to evaluate their comfort level with various keys. If increasing the number of sharps or flats slows down the student’s ability to recall accurately or quickly, then more practice on the weaker keys would be highly recommended. The correctness of playing the V with a raised leading note in the minor key should be strictly enforced.