What Is Coda In Music? (Origins, Definition & Fun Facts)

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  • Find out how coda is defined, and what it is used for
  • How can it help you understand the music?
  • We provide examples to make it easier for you to understand

You may well have heard of the term “coda” in music before. There’s also a good chance you’ve found your way to this article because you haven’t got the faintest clue either.

Regardless of whether you’re a pro or novice with the term coda, we’re here to help.

In this article, we present the exact definition and several examples (belonging to classical music and songs) in which we can find it.

The Origin and Definition of Coda

It is no coincidence that the word “coda” comes from the Latin word “cauda”, which is translated into English as “tail”.

The coda is defined as the last part of a piece or melody, which implies that some addition is made to a standard form or design. 

The Coda in Songs

In a simple strophic song, for example, the coda would be an addition to the melody that appears only after the last verse (or possibly after certain specific verses of a large number). 

In some genres, belonging to “popular music”, the coda is usually called “outro”, this happens in jazz, for example, and many times in songs as well.

For example, we can say that in the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”, the extended ending (“naaaaaaaa naa naa na na na na na na na na na naaaa”) that happens after the verses could be considered a coda.

The Coda in Classical Music

Within the realm of classical music, we can find several examples. In the fugue, the term refers to anything that occurs after the last complete entry of the subject has been heard.

In a minuet (scherzo) and trio movement, the coda is anything that is added to the conclusion of the final statement of the minuet (scherzo) (e.g., Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C op.2 no. 3, Scherzo, measures 105 to the end).

The most important use of the term ‘coda’ is in sonata form, where it refers to anything that occurs after the end of the recapitulation, but not to an expansion within the recapitulation before its original Codetta or closure is reached.

A great example is Mozart’s ‘Prague’ Symphony k504, first movement, bars 270-77 (cf. 123-4) and 288-96 (cf. 135-6). 

Beethoven is often said to be the first to “develop” the coda as a major section of a sonata movement.

Some of his codas are, in fact, very long, due to his love of dramatic excursions out of the initial key, requiring weighty passages to restore it. 

In the first movement of the “Eroica” Symphony, sudden excursions to D and C (measures 557-72) and references to the E minor episode of the development (measures 581-95) produce a coda of 141 measures (from measure 551 to the end).

On the other hand, in the Eighth Symphony, a whole series of interruptions in the last movement produce a coda of 236 bars (from measure 267 to the end), so long that it has led some writers to speak of a “double recapitulation”. 

After Beethoven, the coda became a more or less permanent feature of sonata form, so that, in a sense, the term became a misnomer.

How Can it Help You Understand Music?

In general, knowing all the terms of music theory will help you understand music.

First of all, because you build a common ground on which you can communicate with other musicians, and you can do your job really well if you understand what is being talked about.

In the particular case of the coda, you can think of it as a resource, both in understanding the music you are listening to and in creating it!

It’s not bad to think of a surprise effect – once the verses, stanzas, or main sections of the work have already been developed.

You can present a relatively new idea, which is related to what has just happened, that ends up establishing itself as a perhaps surprising ending.

How Can a Coda Be Marked in a Score?

The symbol used to indicate that it is a coda -even though you may sometimes find very small differences- is as follows:

Generally, it will be at the beginning of the coda, and at the point in the score where you want the piece to continue into the coda, you write “al coda” or “to coda”.

Here is an example of how to use the coda symbol and indicate it in a score:

In this case, when the double bar is reached, it is indicated to return to the “segno” (D.S.) and then go directly to the coda, instead of repeating the last three measures that have already been played.

What is the Difference With The “Codetta”?

Just as coda refers to “tail”, codetta will mean “little tail”

In this sense, as you can guess, the codetta has a similar purpose to the coda but on a smaller scale, since it functions by concluding a section of a work, instead of the work as a whole.

In sonata form, for example, the codetta functions by concluding the exposition and recapitulation sections, following the second theme (already modulated), or the closing theme (if there is one).

Wrapping Up

As we said before, it may not be the most used resource, nor will you find it everywhere, but it is really useful to know more and more about music theory.

In this particular case, a coda is an excellent tool to perform more complex endings or to add a surprise element to your piece.

In turn, it will help you better understand some pieces, such as those of Beethoven and Mozart described above.

Our proposal is that, from now on, when you find yourself listening to music, pay attention to see if you are able to recognize a coda.

Surely, after listening and analyzing carefully the examples presented here, you will have no problems doing it successfully.