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So, I recently saw a practice problem that said "analysis". It was in FM, 4/4 time. In the bass clef were the notes F, D, A, Bb, and then two half notes; C and F. Respectively, they had the numbers 1,6,6,7,7, and 4-3 underneath them. What am I supposed to do? I think I have to fill in the empty treble clef. Thank you!

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  • What the "1" a Roman numeral?
    – Aaron
    Dec 9, 2021 at 4:07
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    A picture would be very helpful!
    – nuggethead
    Dec 9, 2021 at 14:52

1 Answer 1

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The numbers are called "figures" and they specify the intervals that should appear above the lowest notes.

Figures themselves comprise a sort of musical language, and the notations are not always consistent from one composer or theorist to another. However, there are some basic conventions that are fairly reliable.

  1. Chord quality is not considered. Figures stay within the key signature.
  2. Root position triads do not receive a figure. (5/3 is assumed.)
  3. First inversion triads just specify the sixth above the root. (The third is assumed.)
  4. Second inversion triads given both intervals, the sixth and the fourth.
  5. Seventh chords, from root position to third inversion are given as 7 (short for 7/5/3); 6/5 (short for 6/5/3); 6/4/3 (sometimes just 4/3); and 6/4/2 (sometimes just 4/2 or 2).
  6. Alterations to the key signature vary. For example, in a key signature with flats, a raised third might appear as ♯3, ♮3, or 3 with a slash through it.
  7. A moving part, such as in a suspension and resolution, is specified according to the intervals above the bass. For example 4-3 above a stationary bass.

Some related questions that might be of interest:

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  • Thank you! But, how do I know if I should do a M,m,Augmented, or Diminished interval?
    – William
    Dec 9, 2021 at 1:20
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    The figures are relative to the key signature. Any alteration will be indicated by a sharp or flat alongside the figure — sometimes a slash is used instead of a sharp. Sharp doesn't literally mean "sharp" it means "raise a half-step from the key signature." Similarly for flats.
    – Aaron
    Dec 9, 2021 at 1:25
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    It's coming from an old system of indicating chords with just one bass note plus some numbers, figured bass. The numbers don't usually show every interval; there's a system of which intervals are assumed and which have to be indicated. This should have been explained by something before you got to this exercise, and is too big a topic for here, but here's a crash course: Dec 9, 2021 at 1:28
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    1) When you see a note in the bass clef, build a chord on top of it. Obey the key signature. 2) With no numbers, the chord is in root position. So if you're in F major and see an F, it would be an F major chord, and if you see a D it would be a D minor chord. 3) A 6 means there's a 6th above the bass. There's also a 3rd, but that can be understood and omitted. The chord is in first inversion; e.g. if there's an F with a 6, the notes above it are A and D. A 6 and a 4 means 2nd inversion, etc. The 7 would make it a seventh chord. The "4-3" is a suspension. Dec 9, 2021 at 1:34
  • Thank you!!! That was an excellent crash course. I think I may have figured it out, if you wouldn't mind giving you opinion: The D with a six below it will have a B in the treble clef!
    – William
    Dec 9, 2021 at 1:40

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