St Elmo’s Fire & the Deceptive Cadence

The 1980’s were notoriously ludicrous for many good reasons, committing a lot of serious crimes in music; the horrendous Sax solos pushing the limit of how far you can take a pentatonic scale and make the simple sound incredibly lazy, the snare sound (and electronic drums in general I suppose), and unnecessary modulation such as the famous Truck driver gear change.

The Truck driver modulation, or Truck driver Gear Change is rife in a lot of 1980’s pop power ballads such as Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi where the song modulates to a new key either a whole tone or a semitone higher, in the chorus immediately after the bridge for literally no apparent reason at all.

For Shame, Bon Jovi. For Shame

Deceptive Cadence, What exactly is it?

The Deceptive Cadence has a slightly lesser common use in Pop music, wherein it usually signals a different type of Modulation or key change and involves a Dominant chord being immediately succeeded by a chord other than the tonic.
The Deceptive name is given due to the relationship between the Dominant and the Tonic. The Dominant chord is the farthest diatonic chord away from both octaves and has a very agile or vigorous tonal quality to it.
It always wants to go somewhere.

The expected resolve from the V Chord is naturally always going to be the Tonic due to how frequently we hear those chords together in music.
In Blues music; the 12 bar turnaround usually holds a Dominant chord on the 12th bar (such as E7 then resolving on B7 on the first Bar of the form) and in Jazz; 2,5,1’s are exceptionally common e.g Dm, G7 and C. The G7 chord is the Dominant or Fifth chord in the key of Cmaj. (Oh, check out the chord progression in songs like Lullaby of Birdland. 2,5,1’s in abundance!!)

The Deceptive Cadence then is when the V chord doesnt resolve on a I and instead moves to a chord other than the Tonic which then becomes the new or temporary Tonic. More often than not it’s the VI (submediant chord). An example of that would be D, G7 to Am7 in the key of C Major.

I really have to come up with examples in keys other than C major or my professors will weep thinking they’ve taught me nothing.

Ok but, Where exactly does the 1985 movie St.Elmo’s fire come into it? 

Well, it doesn’t really. The bit that does is the well known and loved Theme song St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)  Written by John Parr & David Foster (who is coincidentally the king of Truck driver Gear Changes)
St. Elmo’s Fire contains what is pretty much a combination of a Deceptive cadence and a Common chord (diatonic common chord) modulation.


The song starts in the key of A major. Once the verse kicks in, the Chords are A for one bar, then C#m and D.

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)

The E Chord in the Pre Chorus is our Dominant chord; the fifth of A major and aurally the ear expects it to resolve on an A chord again but instead it modulates to F# to complete the Deceptive cadence.

Ears: “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!??”


“He shouldn’t have deceived me but i’m just so relieved Lenny’s ok”

When returning to the Verse then, the progression returns to an E which then resolves on the A in the first bar of the next Verse.

Thanks for reading, hope you guys enjoyed it as always and if there’s anything you want me to talk about next or if you come up with other examples of a Deceptive cadence being used in pop music please hit me up in the comments or via our beautiful Contacts page.




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