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

Salley, Keith ksalley at su.edu
Fri Dec 12 13:23:37 PST 2014

That is an interesting question Brian!

As I've mostly taught post-tonal theory and ear training for the past
decade, I can't weigh in too much in a practical way.
There are many who find figured-bass realization to be a very enriching
experience. I have certainly had that feeling. Then again, there are others
who do not find the experience very enriching but presumably do find
enrichment in other experiences (e.g., reading down/re-harmonizing a lead

One unfortunate thing about our use of figured bass in the theory classroom
is that it is too often simply a way of coding a part-writing exercise,
where students must realize the figures--on paper though, and not at the
keyboard--and then finally 'decode' the example by providing the Roman
numerals. To me, this doesn't represent the best of figured bass in terms
of its utility or in terms of the musically enriching experience it can
impart. Often, there is a big difference between the successions of figures
we encounter in theory texts (particularly in later chapters) and those we
encounter in scores from the 18th century.

So, I suppose it has its uses, as well as its misuses. The trick would be
to find how and where it is appropriate (indicating harmonic inversions,
suspensions, régle d'octave, etc.)

Thanks for letting me chime in. Hope it moves things forward somewhat.

On Fri, Dec 12, 2014 at 1:33 PM, hoffmaba . <hoffmaba at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello,
> 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.
> Best,
> Brian Hoffman
> --
> Dr. Brian D. Hoffman
> Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory
> Butler University
> _______________________________________________
> Smt-talk mailing list
> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org

Keith Salley
Associate Professor of Music
Coordinator of Music Theory
The Shenandoah Conservatory
Shenandoah University
Winchester, VA
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20141212/f066cd92/attachment-0002.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list