July 29, 2008

Clarity - What's in (a) Cadence?

So my friend Matt and I argue about the meanings of words all the time, kind of like Richard Stallman and... well... just about everybody else. This is an unfortunate side effect of ambiguity in musical language.

So I'll be doing these little posts about conflicting definitions as I discover them. Hopefully someone will find them helpful.

Here's a bit of Clarity for the word Cadence:

This word has a strong tie to music, but there are several other meanings; Wikipedia's disambiguation page for 'cadence' has over 20 entries!

Here is the musician definition (if you're classically trained at least). From wikipedia:
In Western musical theory, a cadence (Latin cadentia, "a falling") is a particular series of intervals or chords that end a phrase, section, or piece of music. Cadences give phrases a distinctive ending, which can, for example, indicate to the listener whether the piece is to be continued or concluded. (read more...)
In other words, a cadence is how a phrase ends. It's what makes it feel like it's going to continue or that it's complete, and it's one of the first things you learn about in a music theory class.

The literary meaning of the word cadence is related, quite different. This can come up if you're working with a lyricist who knows a lot about writing, and literature. From the UWC writing center's website:
Cadence: the natural sound pattern created by the spoken word
I'd venture to say that the music theory definition is far more commonly known, especially as evidenced by the fact that wikipedia has only the following definition for the literary term, and an entire page dedicated to the musical term:
(speech) A fall in inflection of a speaker’s voice, such as at the end of a sentence.
A Google search for define: cadence returns similar results. Leave it to grammar-bot to know only the most obscure definition of a word! Damned higher education ;)

© 2008 Jim Robert