Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”
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There’s nothing like a creative chord progression that really feels like it’s taking you on an interesting journey. But in the attempt to make a progression more enticing, many songwriters’ progressions either wander too much, or they use chords that simply don’t work. If you’re looking to make longer progressions, and have them really work, try throwing in a deceptive cadence.
First of all, a couple of definitions. A cadence is a resting point in music, the equivalent of a comma or period in sentences. If you play the progression A D E7 A, the last two chords would be considered the cadence.
That particular cadence is a very common one, known variously as an authentic, or perfect, cadence, described by the Roman numerals V-I. The benefit of that cadence is also its problem for many: it’s very predictable.
There are other types of common cadences: the plagal cadence (IV-I): A D E7 A D A (The plagal cadence, as demonstrated there, often follows an authentic cadence), and the half cadence (?-V), which happens when a progression rests on the V-chord: A D F#m Bm E is a good example.
When you’ve got cadences that are predictable to the point that you have names for them, you know that they’re predictable! You can solve the predictability problem with a different kind of cadence, known as a deceptive cadence.
As the name implies, a deceptive cadence pulls the ear in a certain direction, but then gives you something unexpected at the end; you wind up resting on a chord that you weren’t expecting.
If it’s done too often, a deceptive cadence can be a bit trite, and even a bit tiring to the ear. Remember, predictability is not a bad thing in music, but excessive predictability can be a problem. So an occasional deceptive cadence can be a welcome way to throw something unexpected into your song.
It also has the added benefit of prolonging a progression. Since a deceptive cadence sends you to a chord that’s a bit unexpected, it can offer you the opportunity to approach the cadence once more and finally give the listener what they’ve been looking for.
Here are some examples of progressions in A major that end with deceptive cadences:
A D E7 F#m
A F#m Bm E D
A E D F#m F7 E F
And so it’s easy to take those progressions and use the deceptive cadence as a way of prolonging the progression by coming at the cadence one more time and finishing more predictably on the I-chord:
A D E7 F#m D E7 A
A F#m Bm E D Bm E A
A E D F#m F7 E F D E7 A
Like any musical device, a deceptive cadence can be useful if you are judicious about when to use it. Overuse can actually make something deceptive sound expected.