[Smt-talk] Reply to Realizing a figured bass in the curriculum

Phillip Dineen murraydineen at uottawa.ca
Sat Dec 13 06:02:51 PST 2014

Brian. I use figured bass in a number of ways and for several reasons in my class.

First, of course, I ask my students to realize a figured bass. At early levels, I find this more useful than setting a soprano line. It removes the element of deciding what chord goes where (which I handle in a different fashion). And it allows me to concentrate on voice leading.

Secondly, I ask my students to convert a figured bass line into Roman numeral chord symbols. This calls forth a number of skills: handling intervals in light of a key signature, deciding what pitches signalled by the figured bass are Roman numeral chord tones (and which pitches are embellishments thereof), and determining the correct inversion. I usually put a question testing this on my final exam.

With a really good class, I will do more creative things, like ask them to convert a set of Roman numeral chord symbols into a figure bass, and I suppose ultimately convert a score directly into a figured bass. This is particularly useful for teaching the sight reading of chamber and orchestral scores at the keyboard.

Lastly, I teach figured bass because there is so much of it out there. Knowledge of figured bass allows one access to a lot of music and the potential (for keyboardists and guitarists) to make a tidy sum gigging. (It also makes for good conversation about playing off jazz changes.)

Murray Dineen

University of Ottawa

School of Music

murraydineen at uottawa.ca<mailto:murraydineen at uottawa.ca>

From: Smt-talk [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] on behalf of hoffmaba . [hoffmaba at gmail.com]
Sent: 12 December 2014 13:33
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Realizing a figured bass in the curriculum


The past several years I have attempted to make classroom activities and assignments as practical as possible for future performers, educators, and ensemble directors. As a result, I find myself spending less and less time on realizing a figured bass. I still teach its history and its usefulness in modeling voice leading, but I have trouble justifying for myself the skill of turning figured-bass notation into voice leading. I realize this is still a performance practice in very specific performance situations, but as far as I'm aware, not beyond that.

For those who feel that realizing a figured bass is an important part of a musical education, I would welcome any insight you have to offer since I feel uneasy about marginalizing such a widely-used portion of the curriculum. For those that spend little time on realizing a figured bass, I would welcome any thoughts you have as well.

Brian Hoffman

Dr. Brian D. Hoffman
Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Butler University
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