[Smt-talk] Figured bass (was abbreviated labels of 7th chords)

Peter Purin peterpurin at gmail.com
Thu Feb 9 13:33:03 PST 2012

Dear List:
      I, for one, choose to encourage my students to think of Roman
numerals and figured bass as separate systems that give us specific
information about the harmonies and voicings of the harmonies. I want them
to know that if they encounter "6/5" it is not some "magical symbol" that
equals a first inversion seventh chord, but rather that those numbers
represent the intervals heard above the bass. I think it is especially
pertinent when encountering the notation for cadential 6/4's as V 6-4/5-3.
This is what sold me on separating the systems, in that I can better
understand that phenomenom as a dominant prolongation, rather than as a
tonic 6/4 (which I tell my students is an oxymoron, since using the
term tonic implies stability and a second inversion triad is very unstable)
followed by a dominant. Also, separating figured bass certainly helps me
teach suspensions and any other types of strange occurrances of intervals
above what may be considered a particular harmony without being bound by a
single unit of harmony plus figured bass.
      As for how I perceive the notorius 4/2 or 2 aurally- the 4th, being a
harmonic dissonance, is as important to my hearing as the dissonant 2nd.
      As it happens, I also am one of those musicians who understood most
of these things visually/mentally before my ear caught up with my brain, as
I find is true of many of my students as well. I find that my "visual
knowledge" always improves my ear.
      It's great to see so many "chiming in" with their thoughts on a this

     Best regards,
       Peter Purin
       Oklahoma Baptist University

On Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 8:58 AM, <Mark.AnsonCartwright at qc.cuny.edu> wrote:

> Dear readers of this list:
> I always use 4/2, not 2, when doing harmonic analysis in my classes. It
> keeps the students in touch with the kind of figured bass signature they
> will need to recognize when they study scores that have basso continuo. The
> number 2 alone is not something students will routinely find when they do
> score reading of, for example, Bach cantatas.
> I guess the reason this discussion came up is that harmonic analysis, as
> widely practiced, is a hybrid of two labelling systems: Roman numerals and
> figured bass.
> --Mark
> Mark Anson-Cartwright
> Aaron Copland School of Music
> Queens College, CUNY
> Mark.AnsonCartwright at qc.cuny.edu
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Peter Purin
Col. 3:17
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