Figured Bass Notation: The Basics

In figured bass notation, an F written on the
bass clef automatically "implies" the harmonies shown here on the treble clef.
The normal harmony was a perfect diatonic triad built on the bass note, as shown here in
the first measure. Numerical figures indicate alterations of the normal triad: a
"6" meant that the fifth interval above the root would be replaced by the sixth.
(See measure 2.) Adding a "4" to this figuration meant that the third interval
(C) should be replaced by the fourth (D). (See measure 3.) Chromatic alterations could be
indicated by adding marks such as a slash through the upper portion of a "6" to
show that the sixth interval was to be raised by a half step. That's the system, in a nutshell, but what is amazing is the complexity of the
instantaneous compositions that musicians could create over this simple framework. One can
get a pretty clear idea of the art's complexities by viewing the next few multimedia
pages. They show (and play aloud) famous examples of thorough-bass accompaniment drawn
from Johann David Heinichen's |
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