TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Quick Reminder: Harmonising Cadences

harmony | voice-leading

There are a number of guidelines that you should bear in mind when you are writing four-part cadences in the style of a Bach chorale. Some of these guidelines can be considered as rules, but most concern part-writing that is characteristic and the various considerations have to be weighed against each other.

The last two chords of a cadence are almost always in root position. You should only use inversions if you are following a standard cadential formula (e.g. ascending quavers in the bass at an imperfect cadence)


  • all three notes of the triad should be present in each chord
  • it is best to double the root
  • it is fine to double the third in first inversion chords
  • it is good to double the fifth in a cadential six-four
  • never double the seventh
  • the largest gap should between the tenor and the bass

Motion between the voices

  • never move to a fifth or octave in parallel motion
  • avoid motion to a fifth or octave in similar motion
  • it is best to have some contrary motion between the voices although cadences are the places where this guideline is least often followed
  • parts should rarely (if ever) cross over

Individual parts

  • parts should usually move by as small an interval as possible (except for the bass)
  • it is therefore best to keep notes in common between the two chords in the same voice
  • a fifth is the absolute maximum leap
  • the voices should mostly stay within the following ranges:
    soprano - c1 to g2; alto - g to d2; tenor - c to f1; bass - E to c1 [this system of note-labelling is explained in basics]

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