Main Periods in Music: Contrasting, Double & Parallel

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  • 0:04 Periods in Music
  • 1:05 Parts of Phrases & Periods
  • 2:48 Parallel Periods
  • 3:46 Contrasting Periods
  • 4:21 Double Periods
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Sometimes when we talk about periods of music, we're looking at history. But not today. In this lesson, we'll look at periods as a compositional element and see how they help resolve musical tension.

Periods in Music

Roses are red; Violets are blue; You're in my head; I'm in love with someone else, so yeah.

Not a very satisfying ending, is it? Apart from just being heartbreaking, it breaks the rhyme and meter structure, and that's very off-putting. When we create poetry, we like it to resolve and complete the patterns established by its tone, meter, and rhyme. Failure to do so is just…unsatisfying.

Music is the same way. When we compose music, we build patterns of chord progressions and motifs of musical themes. A good composition builds up musical tension and then finds satisfying ways to complete or resolve it. One way to do this is with periods. Periods are sections of music that combine two or more phrases in a very satisfying way. Phrases, in this case, are musical motifs or ideas. So, if roses are red and violets are blue, periods and phrases help music conclude.

Parts of Phrases and Periods

In musical composition, a period is a set of two or more phrases that resolve in a very satisfying way. So, first we need to fully grasp the concept of a phrase. A musical phrase is a motif, idea, or theme that ends in a cadence (a set of notes that brings that musical thought to a close). The cadence is what lets you know that that idea is over; it's like the period at the end of a sentence.

A period combines two or more of these phrases and generally does so in a specific way. The first phrase in a period is known as the antecedent phrase. This phrase introduces a musical idea but ends in a cadence, which is more like a semicolon than a period. It doesn't fully resolve the thought. We call this a half cadence.

It's important to also understand that the second phrase of your average two-phrase period is responsible for completing that thought. This is the consequent phrase, and it almost always ends in a perfect authentic cadence. By the name, you should be able to guess that this is a really good cadence. In basically every song you'll ever hear with a tonal center (from rock 'n roll to a classical symphony), the last two chords create a perfect authentic cadence. This is an extremely satisfying way to resolve musical tension.


Take a look at this diagram. This is a basic format of a period, with HC being a half cadence, PAC being a perfect authentic cadence, and IAC being an imperfect authentic cadence. So, when we pull all of this together, we see that a period is a section of music containing multiple phrases where the last cadence is the strongest.

Parallel Periods

Of course, music would be no fun if there were only one way to do this. There are many kinds of periods, but let's focus on the three most common.

First is the parallel period. A parallel period contains two phrases which are nearly identical in every way, except the cadence. So, both antecedent and consequent phrases start off with the same structure and ideas but then resolve with different cadences. The difference could just be the last two chords, or it could also include a measure or two before the end so that the cadences get the set up they need. Either way, both phrases start the same way, which is what really defines the parallel period. If we were to transcribe this, giving each musical phrase a letter, it would be represented as this:


That shows that we have a phrase (phrase a) and then repeat it with a parallel version of the same idea (a'). The two lines at the end indicate the end of the period.

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