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

Conor Cook conor.p.cook at gmail.com
Mon Dec 15 06:47:32 PST 2014

What was (were) the model(s) for teaching musicianship, theory, and composition in previous centuries?  Were they more individualized, as instrument and voice lessons are now?  Or were there also large classes dedicated to the study of harmony and counterpoint, etc.?  If the former, when did this model shift to classroom instruction, and would theory be better served by a return to some manner of individualized instruction as the norm?


Conor Cook
Sacred Music
LaSalle Catholic Parishes
LaSalle, IL USA
MA Music Theory, University of Minnesota, 2014
MMus Composing for Film and TV, Kingston University London, 2010
BM Theory/Comp, St. Olaf College, 2009

> On Dec 15, 2014, at 5:35 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
>> Il giorno 15/dic/2014, alle ore 06:30, Devin Chaloux <devin.chaloux at gmail.com> ha scritto:
>> 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 combined).
>> 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 instrument)?
>> -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 counterpoint.
>> Best,
>> 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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> Giorgio Sanguinetti
> via Giuseppe Avezzana, 6
> 00195 Roma
> giorgio_sanguinetti at fastwebnet.it
> tel. 06 32110265
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