• Ask Dr. Pokey: “What Is A Cadential 6-4 Chord?”

    in Piano

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    Our focus in this lesson is on the cadential 6-4 chord.

    At the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to define the cadential 6-4 chord, recognize it in chord progressions, and also be able to apply it in songs.

    But before we talk about the cadential 6-4 chord, let’s refresh our mind on the strongest chord progression in music: the chord progression from the 5-chord to the 1-chord.

    A Quick Review Of The “5-1” Chord Progression

    The strongest chord progressions in music move in fifths and the most notable example of such a chord progression and perhaps the strongest in music is the movement from the 5-chord to the 1-chord.

    In the key of  C major:

    …the 5-chord is G major chord:

    …while the 1-chord is the C major chord:

    So, if you progress from the G major chord to the C major chord:

    G major chord:

    C major chord:

    …you’ve just played the 5-1 chord progression.

    The 5-1 chord progression even sounds a lot better if the 5-chord is played as a dominant seventh chord. So, we progress from the G dominant seventh chord:

    …to the C major chord:

    The 5-1 Chord Progressions And The Ending Of Most Songs

    Now, this chord progression is found at the end of songs; especially hymns, anthems, worship songs, praise songs, and other songs because it creates a sense of finality.

    Remember the end of the Happy Birthday Song, right?

    If you want to give it a strong sense of finality, you’ll have to play the 5-1 chord progression at the end of the song:

    To (the 5-chord):

    You (the 1-chord):

    I’m very certain that after progressing from the 5-chord to 1-chord, you’ll have this finality that shows that the song has come to an end and might even get the audience to clap.

    The Perfect Cadence In Music

    In music theory, the movement of the 5-chord to the 1-chord is called the perfect cadence and it actually is a perfect way to end songs and if you listen to classical and jazz songs, you’ll hear the perfect cadences.

    I don’t know the country you’re reading this blog from. But I can assure you that the last two chords of your national anthem would be the 5-chord and the 1-chord and that’s a perfect cadence.

    So, most songs end with a perfect cadence and the next time you hear a song end with a movement of the 5-chord to the 1-chord, that’s a perfect cadence.

    Introduction To The Cadential 6-4 Chord

    The cadential 6-4 chord is a chord that is played before the 5-1 chord progression. So, it is its position, by the virtue of being right before the perfect cadence that gave it its name: the cadential 6-4 chord.

    Here’s how the cadential 6-4 chord is formed:

    Step 1: Go to the fifth tone of the major scale

    Step 2: Add a tone that is a sixth above the note in step 1.

    Step 2: Add another tone that is a third above the note in step 1.

    So, in the key of C major:

    ..the fifth tone of the scale is G:

    Now, to this G:

    …you can add the first note that is a sixth above G and that’s E (that’s step 2):

    …and altogether, you have G-E:

    …then you go to step 3 by adding another note that is a fourth above G (and that’s C):

    Altogether, we have “G-C-E”:

    …and that’s the cadential 6-4 chord.

    “Here’s The Cadential 6-4 Chord…”

    Playing the 1-chord in the major key with the fifth tone on the bass produces the cadential 6-4 chord.

    For example, in the key of C major:

    …where the 1-chord is the C major chord:

    Playing the C major chord with G on the bass:

    …produces the cadential 6-4 chord and it doesn’t matter the key you’re in, you’ll still derive the cadential 6-4 chord if you follow the same procedures.

    So, the 1-chord with the fifth tone of the scale on the bass is the cadential 6-4 and that’s as long as it precedes the 5-1 chord progression.

    Application Of The Cadential 6-4 Chord

    Now, if we play the cadential 6-4 chord right before the 5-1 chord progression, here’s what we’ll get:

    Cadential 6-4 chord:



    …and this happens a lot in songs.

    For example in the Hymn Oh How I Love Jesus we have the ending as:



    …but if we add the cadential 6-4 chord, we’ll have this:




    …and if you play the chord progression with the cadential 6-4 chord, you can hear how the cadential 6-4 chord creates a kind of a preparation for the 5-1 chord progression to bring the song to an end.

    Final Words

    I’m sure you’ve learned what the cadential 6-4 chord is and can also identify it.

    I encourage you to take a few hymns and anthems and try to spot the last two chords (which are most likely going to be the 5-1 chord progression), then you try to precede the 5-1 chord progression with the cadential 6-4 chord.

    At the end of the Hymn All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name we have the ending as:

    Pos (cadential 6-4 chord):

    …trate (5-chord):

    …fall (1-chord):

    Special appreciation goes to my mentor and role-model, Jermaine Griggs, for this rare opportunity of sharing this concept with you and for all that Ive been privileged to learn from him as well.

    Attention: If you have questions, kindly post them in the comment section.

    See you in the next lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Robin Rome

    Great read & lesson, now I’m off to apply it.


    2 Dickson Chinedu Emmanuel

    Thank you for giving this wonderful and applicable lesson
    I have tried it… And I have to conclusion that I can use it to replace
    the 2chord in a 2-5-1 progression


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