What are chord progressions and cadences?

Chord progressions

A chord progression is a series of chords played in a sequence. It is the harmonic foundation of a musical composition and determines the overall tonal character and emotional quality of a piece. Chord progressions are typically built using triads or extended chords and are written using Roman numeral notation to represent the relationship between the chords in a key.

Chord progressions help establish the harmonic structure, tension, and resolution within a piece of music, and they often follow certain patterns or conventions based on the genre or style.

When identifying chords within a progression, the main task is to find their harmonic functions within the key, which means to compare the chord to the tonic of the key. The harmonic functions are written with the Roman numerals I, II, III, IV, etc. Each numeral stands for its corresponding degree within a scale. Therefore, identifying the degree of a chord progression involves your abilities to identify intervals accurately.

All of the seven degrees of the major and minor scales can serve as the root of a triad. The triads on the “tonal” degrees of the scale (I, IV and V) are the most important for establishing the tonality of a piece.

Below is shown the seven degrees of a C major scale:


I (C major), II (d minor), III (e minor), IV (F major), V (G major), VI (a minor), VII (b dim)

For example, in the key of C major, a common chord progression is the I-IV-V progression, which consists of the C major (I), F major (IV), and G major (V) chords. Another well-known progression is the I-VI-IV-V, often found in pop and rock music, which in the key of C major would be C major (I), A minor (VI), F major (IV), and G major (V).


A cadence is a melodic and harmonic phrase that provides a sense of resolution or conclusion to a musical phrase, section, or entire composition. It is often found at the end of musical phrases or sections and creates a feeling of closure or pause.

There are different types of cadences, including:

  • Authentic Cadence: This is the most common and strong-sounding cadence. It involves a progression from the V (dominant) chord to the I (tonic) chord, such as G major (V) to C major (I) in the key of C major.

  • Plagal Cadence: This cadence is often referred to as the "Amen" cadence due to its common use in hymns. It moves from the IV chord to the I chord, such as F major (IV) to C major (I) in the key of C major.

  • Half Cadence: This cadence creates a sense of temporary pause or suspense. It typically ends on the V chord, giving the impression of an incomplete phrase or section.

  • Deceptive Cadence: Also known as an interrupted cadence, it subverts the listener's expectation by unexpectedly resolving to a different chord instead of the expected tonic chord. For example, moving from the V chord to a vi chord instead of I.

Cadences help shape the overall structure and flow of a musical composition, providing moments of tension and release.

Both chord progressions and cadences are essential tools for composers and songwriters, as they contribute to the emotional impact, coherence, and organization of music. You can train with progressions and cadences several places in EarMaster:


  • General Workshops
  • Jazz Workshops
  • Customized Exercise