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

Richard Nelson rxn12 at cim.edu
Fri Dec 12 13:49:12 PST 2014

Dear Brian,

I teach in a core curriculum in which 25% is keyboard harmony, which
includes a healthy dose of figured bass.  I have written and spoken about
the advantages of this scheme, as I see it. I quote from my article in the
College Music Society's *Symposium* (2000):

"In fact, if pressed, some would point out keyboard harmony as the single
most important part of the curriculum. It is here that the student can
synthesize such elements as voice leading, harmonic progression, rhythmic
stability, and improvisation in a fashion that is at once auditory,
tactile, visual, and cognitive. It must be stressed that the issue at hand
here is the inclusion of keyboard as a tool for the study of harmony rather
than the pursuit of the keyboard as an applied instrument."

Keyboard harmony, seen as a *synthesizer* of many elements of the typical
music theory curriculum, provides the student with a vehicle by which
audiation becomes an expectation.  As an example, voice leading, which is
usually carried out in a written context, comes to life as a genuine
musical experience when it is played at the keyboard as one realizes a
figured-bass example.  The student has to hear the connections ahead of
playing them in order to guarantee a satisfying result.

I find the benefits of teaching keyboard harmony to be significant.  That
belief is undergirded by the success which our students experience in all
areas of the core.
Rick Nelson
Professor and Head of Music Theory
Cleveland Institute of Music
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