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Figured Bass

SchenkerGUIDE: Guide and Introduction to Schenkerian Analysis logo

This page is from the old version of SchenkerGUIDE click here to visit the new site

(also you could try these pages from TonalityGUIDE.com: 'Using figured bass in analysis' or 'Realizing continuo parts with figured bass')

Figured bass was originally a way of clarifying the harmony for continuo keyboard players who only had a bass line to read from. The numbers, written below the stave, show the interval(s) above the bass of enough notes from the chord for the keyboard player to know unequivocally which harmony is meant. They are used in Schenkerian analysis to clarify the harmony if necessary in the absence of inner parts.

(five) an absence of a figure usually implies a root position triad - 5 is only written if there is doubt
seven indicates a major or minor seventh chord
six(-three) indicates a first inversion chord - the three is not usually written
six-five indicates a first inversion seventh chord
six-four indicates a second inversion chord
six-four-two indicates a second inversion seventh chord
four - three indicates a 4 - 3 suspension over the bass

Numbers between the staves as in the example below mean something slightly different. They clarify the succession of intervals between the outer two voices. They are only used on a Schenkerian analysis to draw attention to these interval successions if they are particularly significant