# Figured bass help. Am I on the right track with it?

I was wondering if anybody would be able to tell me if I am on the right track for working out figured bass. If not I would love any tips on how to improve this worked example.

• Are we dealing with ABRSM here? That typeface in the picture sure reminds me of their books. – Neil Meyer Feb 16 '17 at 15:29
• I'm not sure if this is a figured bass. Figuring a base to me means you are given a piece and you are tasked with discovering the harmony. It looks like you are doing the opposite. Providing harmony to a figured bass. I would call this just a regular four-part harmony exercise. – Neil Meyer Feb 16 '17 at 15:34
• Sorry I wasn't clear in my post. It is called realising figured bass for the abrsm theory. They give you the bass note and the question is realise the chords indicated. – Dawn Feb 17 '17 at 20:16

You're definitely on the right track! But there are a few comments:

1. In general, there are certain chord tones that have a tendency to resolve a particular way; we call these "tendency tones," and chordal sevenths are one such tendency tone. Note that you double the chordal seventh in the very first chord, which results in parallel octaves leading into the next chord since you (correctly!) resolved the chordal seventh down by step. Better would be a C# in the tenor voice on the first chord to fill out that 42 chord. (Remember that the 42 figured bass has an implied 6 included, as well!)

2. Beat 3 of the first full measure isn't incorrect, but it's a little "leapy" from the chord before and into the chord after it. If you just voice beat 3 as you voice beat 4, you'll be totally fine!

3. As I mentioned in Point 1 above, chordal sevenths must always resolve down by step. Note that you have a chordal seventh (D) on the downbeat of the second full measure; make sure that resolves down to C#, and make sure it does it in the same voice! In other words, if the D is in the soprano, the resolution to C# must be in the soprano, as well.

4. The second half of measure 2 has a seventh above the bass, but no `7` in the figures.

5. Similarly, the last beat of the third full measure is unclear to me. I don't know what is meant by the dash in the figured bass, but you'll want to doublecheck it. As it is, it's not really a triad, so I think something is up there.

6. For the 65 chord at the end, remember that that is shorthand for 653; so instead of doubling the E in the tenor, replace it with a G (the third above the bass). This will take care of the parallel octaves from E to C between the tenor and bass.

7. Lastly, depending on your solution to Point 5, you may need to adjust some of the penultimate measure.

As I said, you're definitely on the right track; these are all very common errors at this stage, so you're doing exactly what you need to do!

Edit: I've decided to include a possible solution here, but notice that I took some liberties with some of my questions. For instance, I kind of suspect the downbeat of the third full measure might have a `7` in the figures just to create a sequence, I expect the `-` at the end of that measure means the F# in the bass is just a passing non-chord tone, and I'm thinking the C# in the next measure might have a `7` in the figures.

• You omit the Tierce de Picardy, it is in a minor key and they really want a raised third in the last chord. – Neil Meyer Feb 16 '17 at 15:32
• Ah, thanks, so I did. I'll fix that soon! – Richard Feb 16 '17 at 15:33
• Point 5 - the "dash" means "continue the chord from the previous note" (i.e. the G chord on the previous beat should be half-notes, and the bass note F# is a passing note). – user19146 Feb 16 '17 at 17:15
• I agree, but the dash in the next measure confused me a bit, since by that definition this latter dash would be incorrect. – Richard Feb 16 '17 at 17:22
• Why is that confusing? Just hold the 6/5 chord for two beats, regardless of what the second bass note is. Since figured bass was originally intended to be an accompaniment, the E that is apparently missing from your "7?" chord might be in the solo part that we can't see. – user19146 Feb 16 '17 at 22:54

I take it you were given the bass line and figures, your job was to fill in the upper parts?

You're on the right track. The chords are mostly right, but you need to improve your part-writing.

In the first chord, a last-inversion F#7, you've doubled the 7th and resolved both of them downward to the D of the following Bm chord. That's the worst kind of consecutive octaves! The G to Em/F# in bar 3 is very odd. I don't know what the dash means either. You've ignored the # in the last chord.

• The dash means that the previous chord is held for the next pulse, you are free to change the inversion and it is usually a good idea to go to another inversion as to not make the piece boring. – Neil Meyer Feb 16 '17 at 15:30
• "but you need to improve your part-writing" - some good rules of thumb: (1) don't ever double notes in 7th chords, (2) try to make the top line move in contrary motion with the bass, and (3) don't double the bass note if it is the third of a major chord (with minor chords, it's not such a big deal). Actually, working out these exercises on paper is usually judged more "strictly" than playing figured bass "live", but those "rules" will mostly keep you out of trouble. – user19146 Feb 16 '17 at 22:39
• Ooops so I I have thank you for letting me know about the #. I didn't know about not doubling notes in a 7th chord thank you. With the contrary motion movement is it typically just the top line then? I would like to give this a go on my next exercise. – Dawn Feb 17 '17 at 21:08
• A 'dominant 7th' type chord (it won't always be the actual dominant of the key) contains two notes with very strong tendencies, a need to resolve in a particular way. In G7 these notes are the F and the B, they very much want to resolve to E and C. If you double them in a 4-part texture, they stand out too much. And when both instances resolve in the same way, you have automatic consecutive octaves! So don't do it. Even if the 7th isn't present, the 3rd of a major chord still has a lot of character, it's not a good idea to give it further prominence by doubling it. – Laurence Payne Feb 18 '17 at 11:25
• Thank you Laurence. I encountered another 7th in the next exercise and followed your rule and I've managed to avoid the consecutives! Thank you ever so much. – Dawn Feb 19 '17 at 15:51