[Smt-talk] Figured Bass In The Modern World

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Sun Dec 14 16:37:52 PST 2014

Carson, Saying that suspensions and pedal points are voice leading is like saying that the letters "s" and "p" are language. Jazz chord notation conveys virtually NO voice leading. (So the 3rd is in the bass. Rah rah.) In jazz performance, voice leading is left up to the improviser. I teach counterpoint and figured bass to jazz composers and arrangers (some of them successful professionals) because they know they need it. Perhaps the figured bass you studied was the vertical fill-in-the-note variety? In that case, you are right--you wasted your time. If you choose to live in ignorance and call your state enlightenment, fine. But please stop trying to abolish something valuable for the rest of contemporary practice that you may know nothing about. 

Donna Doyle

Aaron Copland School of Music
Queens College--CUNY
Flushing, NY 11367

> On Dec 14, 2014, at 1:14 PM, CARSON FARLEY <ccfarley at embarqmail.com> wrote:
> I would argue that there is indeed a modern form of figured bass in existence and widely used by musicians today - it's called Jazz.  Jazz musicians voice chords, harmonize melodic content and improvise complex harmonic successions in an improvisitory manner when reading chord symbols.  Modern chord symbols are capable of conveying much of the same information as in figured bass: inversions, interval content, suspensions, pedal points, etc.  I have known Baroque keyboardists that use figured bass in their work, but they tend to be specialists in that area of music.  But how many professional musicians are actually called upon to use figured bass in the modern world?  I believe that a more modern language is not only more accessible, but makes more sense for the modern musician unless of course one wishes to specialize in historical academic forms relative to their work and interests.  Just because figured bass existed at a certain time in musical history does not mean that it is still relevant - there are important things to be learned from it in passing for the musician in general - namely awareness of inversions in any vertical harmonic context.  This kind of information is vital for composers and anyone who improvises such as jazz musicians.  As a composer, cellist, and music theory student I was drilled in figured bass exercises.  But I have to admit I gleaned what was relevant from it for my own work and understanding and have never really used it nor care to.  I prefer a more modern language like the chord symbols used in Jazz.   
> Carson Farley
> University of Washington Alumnus
> Composer, cellist, theorist
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