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Figured Bass Lesson 2: Revision of Chords

Grade 7 Music Theory Q1. Adding a Figured Bass. Lesson 2: Revision of Chords

Everything you learnt about chords at Grade 6 also applies at Grade 7, plus the "harmonic vocabulary" you are expected to know is extended to include chords with an added 7th. We'll study 7th chords in the next lesson; for now, here's a quick refresher on basic chords.

 

5-3: Root Position

• Root position chords have the figure 5-3, but these numbers are usually left out unless the chord is part of a progression which includes a second inversion (6-4) chord.
• 5-3 chords have the root of the triad in the bass (e.g. C-E-G)
• If possible, double the root. It's ok to double the 5th. It's only ok to double the 3rd in a minor chord, or in the specific progression V-VI (both major chords).
• Diminished chords are not normally used in root position.
• Root position chords are always preferred at important cadences.

5-3-chord

1. Example 5-3 chord.
2. The 5-3 chord (shaded) is usually left un-figured in practice.
3. The 5-3 chord is always figured when it appears after a 6-4 chord.

 

6-3: First Inversion

• First inversion chords have the figure 6-3, which is normally abbreviated to 6.
• 6-3 chords have the third of the triad in the bass (e.g. E-G-C)
• In a major or minor chord, any note can be doubled, except the leading note.
• Diminished chords should always be in first inversion, with the bass doubled.

6-3-chord

1. Example 6-3 chord.

2. The 6-3 chord (shaded) is usually figured with just a 6.

 

6-4: Second Inversion

• Second inversion chords are always notated in full with 6-4.
• 6-4 chords have the fifth of the triad in the bass (e.g. G-C-E)
• The bass note (which is the fifth of the triad) must be doubled. No other note can be doubled.
• 6-4 chords can only be used in special circumstances. Most often this means a cadential 6-4, or a passing 6-4. For more on this, see lesson 5 on common progressions.

6-4-chord

1. Example 6-4 chord.

2. 6-4 chord used in a cadential 6-4.

 

Accidentals

Accidentals are added to figures to show that one of the upper parts (soprano, alto or tenor) will need an accidental.

Accidentals next to numbers in the figured bass refer to that interval above the bass.

Here, the interval a 6th above the bass (=F) needs to be sharpened.

6-sharp
Accidentals which appear on their own (without a number) always apply to the third above the bass note.

sharp-alone

The third above the bass is G – so it becomes G#.

 

Illegal Consecutives

A perfect 5th or a perfect octave between any two parts (soprano, alto, tenor or bass) must never be followed by another interval of the same type.

consecutive-5ths

In the first pair of chords, there is a consecutive perfect fifth between the alto and tenor parts (shaded). The second pair of chords shows how this can be corrected – by changing the doubling of the C major chord in this case.

 

Horizontal Line

A horizontal line shows that the same chord still applies.

horizontal-line

The A (bass) and C (soprano) are part of the (unfigured) 5-3 chord (A minor). The horizontal line shows that the D doesn't require a change of chord (it's a non-chord note).

 

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