Music Theory Question about Figured Bass

April 22, 2005 at 04:18 PM · I have a music theory question for anyone currently studying it.

Say you are doing an exercise where you are given the melody and bass lines and you are to "figure the bass" as in filling in notation indicating appropriate harmonies as suggested by the given notes. THis is easy enough I suppose when three notes are given to indicate which chord is being used, but what if say you are in D minor and the chord you must identify has a melody note of d and bass note b flat. THe anwer says the chord they wanted indicated is 6/5...a chord of notes GBDF. How?!?!? do you know they wanted to imply the G and F based on the two given notes? I hope I have explained my example enough so you understand what I am asking... So basically, how do you know what complete harmonies they want given only two notes when those notes could belong to any number of different chords...what ways do you know what they really want?

Replies (7)

April 22, 2005 at 06:57 PM · Mostly, you have to look at what precedes and follows. When in doubt, you should start with the notion that the chord at issue is some form of a I, IV or V chord (or their minor equivalents), since these are normally the basic chords in a musical progression. You have a D and a B flat. GBDF is a IV. BDF is a VI. The IV is the most likely, although you have to look at what precedes and follows to see if that makes sense. The 6/5 tells you it is the first inversion of that G7 chord (B flat being the lowest note in the chord). I hope that helps. I am currently studying the same type of theory.

April 22, 2005 at 06:35 PM · I think things like 6/5 is meant to be some kind of suspension, if you are doing baroque type figured bass. To do with this kind of chords, you need to take into account what's happening before, since you won't expect any suspension without any preparation note, at least in baroque music. So I think the 6/5 you have here indicates a suspension on the melodic line against the bass note Bb. Was the melodic line having a note tied over or a long note while the bass has changed from the previous chord to this Bb?

Forgot all my theory... *sigh*

April 22, 2005 at 07:05 PM · you figure the notes from the bass....thats why its figured bass. :)

April 22, 2005 at 07:09 PM · You take your two known notes and write out all the possible chords they could belong to. Take a look at the surrounding chords. Find the cleanest possible solution that leads the voices smoothly and doesn't break any rules. You can find the chord by porcess of elimination this way, but if you just look at the one chord, it's sometimes hard to determine which choice is best.

I haven't done figured bass in years, but from what I remember, it was similar to working crossword puzzles. You look at whole phrases instead of one chord at a time, filling in the definite answers and looking at how the others relate to each other in order to settle on answers that work for the benefit of the whole line of music, not just one chord at a time. If you have a good ear, sometimes sitting at a piano will inspire the correct answers.

April 22, 2005 at 08:06 PM · if you have 6/5 written above the bass it means there's a 6th and a 5th above the bass note. If the bass note is Bb you'd have Bb, F, and G. The 3rd is assumed if it's not somewhere this case the D (the 3rd) is in the melody.

If you have a bass note with no figured bass numbers written above it, that means its the bass is the root of the chord and you need to fill in the 3rd and 5th.

April 22, 2005 at 10:57 PM · yea, you need to look at the notes around it. Are there any other notes close by that can tell you what the chord is?

Don't try to put a chord for every note change as it will tell you nothing. Instead, a macroanalysis using Ochm's Razor (everything that isn't neccessary is omitted) will provide you with a better idea of what is happening. Usually One per bar, maybe two.

April 23, 2005 at 05:43 AM · Thank you very much! That helped me understand better. :)


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