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In typesetting figured bass for modern readers, what is the preferred way of indicating a raised sixth?

I'm under the impression that the backslash approach is considered archaic, but unsure about whether to prefer natural/sharp symbols vs. a generic + sign. Basically, I'm trying to find out which convention would be most commonly seen, and thus understood, by people who read this style of notation (and I'm not concerned with preserving the stylistic features of any particular time/place).

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    Seeing as figured bass is in and of itself kind of archaic, it seems strange to worry about this too much. I would say that as long as the font size is big enough to see it clearly, I greatly prefer the slash. But, if the preference is for accidentals, I would use whatever is proper for the key (generally standard among composers of the day). However, if raised six is being referred to generically, outside of any particular key, then sharp would be appropriate. A plus wouldn't be confusing, but I haven't seen it in practice with 6. This is only my opinion though, so I won't post as an answer. – Pat Muchmore Feb 15 '16 at 17:25
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    A plus sign is very specific. It means an augmented chord. Really that has nothing to do with a raised sixth. – Neil Meyer Feb 15 '16 at 18:05
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    @NeilMeyer so the content here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figured_bass#Accidentals is wrong? – Dave Feb 15 '16 at 18:38
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    @NeilMeyer I don't think there's any danger of the + looking like augmented in the context of figured bass, the meaning would be perfectly clear. However, the only interval I've seen plus used with on a regular basis is 4, but then it comes after the the number--like a vertical line through an extended crossbar from the 4. At any rate, I think the real answer here is that there wasn't a standard at the time, and there doesn't really seem to be one now. – Pat Muchmore Feb 16 '16 at 3:37
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    I have disagreed with Wikipedia on several occasions but hey what can I tell a journal that is written by anyone with an internet connection. They clearly got me beat on the credentials. – Neil Meyer Feb 16 '16 at 6:59
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I've checked three sources.

  1. C.P.E. Bach's Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a public domain English translation (you might be able to find one in a university library), so I checked the first edition German version on IMSLP (which I can't actually read). As far as I can tell from a quick skim of it, he appears to use the slashed-6 quite frequently. Now, you might argue that this is not modern typography -- which is true. But consider that C.P.E. Bach's work is (1) regarded as essentially the definitive treatise on continuo realization by modern scholars, as well as (2) the fact that he was writing at the very end of the Baroque (it was first published in 1753), so continuo styles had pretty much evolved as far as they were going to. In light of this, I think that following his conventions would be at least a safe choice.

  2. My modern Dover edition of Handel's Messiah. This used a 6♮ to raise what would otherwise be a flatted note (e.g. B♭ in the key of F). However, in sharp movements (e.g. in D), the slashed-6 was used to raise what would otherwise be natural.

  3. My modern Dover edition of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos & Orchestral Suites, which only has figures on the 5th concerto (in D, for the non-solo sections) and the 1st two Orchestral Suites (in C and D). These consistently use a slashed-6 to indicate sharped sixths. However, I did find one instance of a 6♮ in the 1st Orchestral Suite. This was an interesting case, because it was actually a cautionary accidental. The key signature was C, but the previous measure had a B♭ in the bass part, so the measure in question had a D with a cautionary natural next to the six. At any rate, this matches the use of 6♮ in Handel to raise a flatted note.

In no case did I ever see either a 6+ or a 6♯, so from this limited sample (two modern Dover scores), it appears slashed-6 is the preferred way to go... at least if you have a way to support the symbol in your software.

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The raised sixth in figured bass is indicated today by a six with a slash through it.

If you're editing old music for modern readers, you should consult as many recent, authoritative editions as you can to make sure you are following modern conventions. The slashed sixth is the practice of the Neue Bach Ausgabe (new Bach edition) published by Baerenreiter. The same convention is followed in the widely used music-theory textbook, Aldwell and Schachter's Harmony and Voice Leading.

Older editions, such as the 19th-century editions of Bach reprinted by Dover, and the original manuscripts and prints, will generally not be as consistent.

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