Here I have given my best shot at trying to write figured bass symbols for chords containing descending lines built on ^4 and also ^#4. I would appreciate if someone with experience in figured bass can tell me if my work is correct or what can be improved. enter image description here

  • Bars 2-3 contain a descending chromatic line in the soprano but essentially this is a subdominant harmony that reaches a ii65 over a stationary bass before moving to V.
  • Bars 7-8 is the same idea but over ^2. Since it is a minor chord the descending line creates a mM7th to keep the chromatic idea consistent. This line leads to III/vi.
  • Bars 12-13 have chromatic lines in the soprano but now against a chromatic #4 in the bass leading to V. This raising of ^4 creates Dim 7th chords of varying qualities and a V65/V to the cadence.
  • Bars 17 - 18 use a chromatically raised scale degree ^2 which makes the need to raise ^4 as well else you lose the minor 3rd. Various dimished 7ths result once again ending on III/vi as the goal.
  • 2
    @AndyBonner You should leave that as an answer, since it is the answer.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 11 at 15:00

1 Answer 1


You've got the right idea: The fact that the printed bass note is altered doesn't change how the figured bass works; if you give no number, then it's in root position and the other two pitches follow the key signature. That is, in this key of three sharps, a D with no figures would be a D major chord, but a D# with no figures would be diminished. And so forth as usual, if one of the non-printed notes is altered—give the D# a #5 and it's minor, etc.

By the way, as far as I know, for a 7th chord in root position you don't need to mention the 5 or 3 as long as they're unaltered.

  • Andy thanks, you are right but the 5 is helpful in that it differentiates between 7th chords that are fully voiced and ones that have a doubled root and omitted 5th. This may be helpful in some cases. Just having a 7 for a 7th chord leaves the option up to the figured bass player and is less specific.
    – armani
    Commented Jun 12 at 8:06
  • @armani "leaves the option up to the figured bass player"—That's kind of the point of figured bass, and why it was used instead of full notation. Voicing is up to the performer. Though as mentioned in another recent question, I guess music theory quote-unquote "figured bass" isn't the same thing. Regardless, it's still convention in harmonic analysis to leave out the 5 unless there's something interesting to say about voice leading like a suspension. Commented Jun 12 at 14:00
  • The figured bass symbols for 7th chords with and without a 5 are used throughout my textbook Harmony & Vocie Leading, 5th Edition and I have found that having them has been useful when realizing figured bass so I will continue to use them. Thank you!
    – armani
    Commented Jun 13 at 7:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.