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

Devin Chaloux devin.chaloux at gmail.com
Sun Dec 14 21:30:35 PST 2014

Greetings Brian and list,

I feel like this is a subject that comes up every once in a while with
those of us active on Twitter. My sentiments are similar to yours. In many
ways, I connected with figured bass quickly because I am a pianist.
However, after teaching figured bass for several years now, it seems to be
a laborious practice for many of our students (pianists and non-pianists

Questioning whether figured bass should continue to have a major role in
the undergraduate theory curriculum is absolutely fair. It brings up a slew
of other issues we should consider as we revise the curriculum:

-Is there reason to be teaching keyboard-centric models of theory?
-Does the time spent teaching/practicing figured bass justify itself vs.
using that time for other activities (say improvisation on one's own
-Are there other ways to approach melody harmonization in classical and
non-classical settings?

As I continue to think about these kinds of questions, I have shifted
towards a preference for less figured bass. And when (not if!) the
curriculum moves to incorporate more popular music styles, I am certain
that figured bass will be one of the first casualties of the core
curriculum. I imagine we'll still give it some attention, but any serious
study of figured bass may be relegated to a course in 18th-century


*Devin Chaloux*
Indiana University
Ph.D. in Music Theory (enrolled)
University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
M.M. in Music Theory '12
University of Connecticut
B.M. in Music Theory '10

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
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