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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Figured Bass Lesson 1: About the Grade 7 Figured Bass Question

Grade 7 Music Theory Q1- Adding a Figured Bass. Lesson 1: About the Figured Bass Question

Question 1 in the ABRSM Grade 7 music theory exam asks you to add figures to a given bass line.

  • This lesson gives you a brief outline of the exam question.
  • The following lessons explain in detail what you need to know to tackle this question.
  • The last lesson in this section shows you how to apply that knowledge to answer this question successfully. You can also watch a video of an example question being worked out.

If you follow the advice in these lessons, you should be able to figure a bass line so that it closely matches what is given in the ABRSM's model answers. In brief, this is how the question works – each point below will be explained in full in the following lessons.

  • You will be given a complete bass line and melody line.
  • The notes are written out in "piano" style, i.e. the stems of the notes obey the normal rules for piano music, rather than an SATB stave.
  • A few chords at the beginning will already be figured. Asterisks are then placed under each bass note to show you where you need to add a figured bass.
  • You need to understand how figures work, and the rules of harmony.
  • You need to discover the tonality of the piece: what key is starts in, and what other keys it modulates through.
  • Then you need work out which chords (including the inversion) fit the chord notes.
  • When more than one chord fits, you should pick the most likely chord.
  • The harmonic "vocabulary" which you are expected to use (i.e. which chords) is all the primary triads (I, V, IV), and the secondary triads II, III, VI and VII.
  • In addition, you will probably have to use V7 and possibly II7. Other 7th chords might crop up, but V and II are the most common.
  • You might need to include suspensions.
  • If there is a harmonic sequence, you are advised to follow it.


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