Coda vs. Codetta: Definition & Functions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Understanding how to end a composition is just as important as knowing how to start it. In this lesson, we'll explore the uses of both the coda and the codetta, and see how they're similar and how they are different.

Musical Phrasing

I like music; music is the spice of life.

See what I did there? I used different forms of punctuation to control the movement between ideas. The semicolon separated two related but separate ideas, indicating that one idea was over and we were moving onto another. The period finished the entire sentence. In writing, we use punctuation to separate ideas, but musical composers don't have punctuation marks. What they use instead are musical themes that can be adjusted to control the phrasing and transitions in a composition. Two closely related forms of this are the coda, and the codetta. Think of them as musical punctuation.

The Coda

Let's start by looking at the coda, which is the Italian word for ''tail.'' Not surprisingly, then, a coda is a section in a composition that brings an entire movement or composition to an end. Look at this sentence again:

I like music; music is the spice of life.

In this example, the coda would be the period. It brings the entire piece to a close. However, a large musical composition is a bit more complex than a single sentence, so a better metaphor might be to think of the coda like the concluding paragraph of an essay or the final chapter of a book. It lets you know that the piece is done and brings everything to a pleasing conclusion.

In many modern compositions, the coda will be marked with this symbol

How exactly does the coda accomplish this? Many forms of music, especially symphonic music, involve a few major sections. The introduction presents the main musical themes. The development and recapitulation sections build upon and modify those existing themes. Various harmonies are used to build up repeated themes, developing and resolving musical tension. The coda announces the end of the piece by breaking from main musical themes. It may introduce a new key or new themes, something that indicates a clear change and brings all of the musical tension to a resolution.

Codas can be vey brief - say, only a few measures - or they can be nearly as long as an entire movement. Beethoven, for example, was known to write very long codas that built up extra tension for an even more dramatic resolution. His codas were less of a period and more an exclamation mark.

Beethoven was a composer who started expanding the coda

The Codetta

Codas are used to bring an entire work or movement to an end. There is, however, one important variation: the codetta. Codetta literally means ''little tail.'' It brings a smaller section of the music to an end. If the coda is the period, then the codetta is the semicolon. It's enough to let you know that one idea is over, but also transitions you into the next idea. The codetta is not as definitive or resolute as the coda.

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