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

Michaelsen, Garrett Garrett_Michaelsen at uml.edu
Mon Dec 15 06:32:15 PST 2014

During the SMT Improvisation Interest Group meeting last month, we had a great discussion about using improvisation in theory pedagogy. During that session, I had an idea for a theory curriculum that brings this thread on figured bass together with Tim Chennette’s thread on broadening the repertoire:

Imagine a theory curriculum based around improvisation that is rooted in historical performance practices. The first semester would consist of improvised vocal Renaissance polyphony à la Peter Schubert, which would get students singing and teach them fundamentals, intervals, and counterpoint. The second semester would shift to Baroque figured bass improvisation à la Max Guido and Mike Callahan, now emphasizing keyboard skills and chords. The third semester would cover 18th and 19th century schemata à la Giorgio Sanguinetti and Bob Gjerdingen, adding in issues of phrase structure and larger form. Finally, the fourth semester would deal with jazz and pop improvisation à la countless contemporary pedagogues, bringing in an expanded harmonic palette and modal/nonfunctional methods of pitch organization.

I think this curriculum would end up covering most of the typical topics of music theory, but imagine how much more rooted in students’ ears and fingers they would be.

Garrett Michaelsen
Lecturer in Musicianship and Musicology
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
garrett_michaelsen at uml.edu

> On Dec 15, 2014, at 6:35 AM, Giorgio Sanguinetti <giorgio_sanguinetti at fastwebnet.it> wrote:
> Dear Devin, Dear list: 
> this discussion about continuo, figured bass and related issues drives me to spend a few words about the research on partimenti my colleagues and I have been doing for many years. 
> Figured, or unfigured bass (often called partimento) has been a major tool for teaching composition through improvisation at the keyboard during the 18th and 19th centuries in most parts of Europe. During the second half of the 19th century it disappeared, mostly replaced by vertical harmony (roman numerals- or function-based). There is today a growing interest in reviving partimento as a viable teaching tool in the current day curriculum, both in Europe and in North America. 
> During the last few years, several works went out on partimenti and related issues, including Robert Gjerdingen’s Music in the Galant style, my monograph The Art of Partimento, and more recently Lieven Strobbe’s Tonal Tools for keyboard players. From my experience, I can tell that teaching harmony and counterpoint using partimenti is very rewarding, from both the student’s and the teacher’s angle. 
> All the best, 
> Giorgio Sanguinetti

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