What does 5/7b mean in figured bass?

If it is just a 7th chord in root position, then why is it not just 7b?

In other places in the same score, 7 or 7b are used to denote a 7th chord.

Here is the example, from Vivaldi's "Filiae maestae Jerusalem" (source):

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4 Answers 4


I wish the IMSLP had another source beside the Martin Straeten version. It could help confirm the meaning. I notice the key is C minor and this notation uses the modern three flats rather than two flats which was common in the Baroque era. Straeten may have modernized some things in the score. Perhaps too he changed bass figures?

Usually a modification of the numeric figure with b, #, + means an alteration from the key signature. In this case both the 6b and 7b refer to the A and that is already a flat from the key signature. So I think this may mean two things:

  1. It simply confirms the flat of the key signature.

  2. If the original score was for a key signature of two flats, it would have been Eb and Bb, in which case these figure would require the flat to mean Ab, because the flat wasn't in the key signature. (I suspect this is the actual case, but we would need to see the original score to confirm.)


About the 5 figure.

As far as I can tell the 5 is redundant. Plain 7 means a root position seventh chord and 7/5 also means a root position seventh chord. The 5 doesn't seem necessary to clear up some possible confusion from the previous chord. Either way a Bb dominant seventh chord should be played.

  • It does not solve my question about the difference between 7b and 5/7b. That was my question - not the flat.
    – Liisi
    Jun 21, 2019 at 13:22
  • 1
    @Liisi, I added an edit.Funny, the flat on 7 is what got my attention! Jun 21, 2019 at 13:48

The 5 is not redundant, and it doesn't mean you have "a four note chord."

The point of the notation is that the 7b 5 intervals from the new bass note are the same notes as the 6b 4 intervals from the previous bass note.

In other words, since the continuo is for organ (which can sustain notes indefinitely), you simply hold those two notes down, and only the bass note moves.

That is exactly the same as what the violins are playing, of course.

What is more interesting about this example is that the second chord played by the strings is actually a 6b 4 2 chord, which then becomes a complete 7 5 3 dominant 7th. But Vivaldi wanted the D played only the viola, not by the organ continuo. Otherwise the figuring would have been 6b 4 2 followed by just 7b.

A typical organ continuo registration might have made the complete 6b 4 2 chord sound muddy, especially if a cloth-eared organist voiced it with the D in the tenor, a second above the bass C!

Re the edition, you can view an alternative professionally published edition here - though I don't agree with the continuo realization: https://www.prestomusic.com/sheet-music/works/52700--vivaldi-introduzione-al-miserere-rv-638-filiae-maestae-jerusalem/browse

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    Do you know why there are no lines connecting the two figures to show that the notes are held while the bass changes? Other than the lack of those lines it does make sense the figure means to not play the third of the chord. Jun 24, 2019 at 4:13
  • Thank you for suggesting this edition! Checked it out and it was very helpful. There, figured bass is realised as follows. In bar 1: C3, G3, C4, Eb4. In bar 2: C3 is still held, the upper 3 notes are released, Ab3, D4, F4 are played instead. All notes are released in the middle of bar 3. In the middle of bar 3: Bb2, Ab3, D4, F4 are played - so, in the opinion of the editor, the common notes are repeated and not held from the previous chord. This edition will probably also be very helpful with understanding parts II and III, where the bass line was written without any numbers.
    – Liisi
    Jun 29, 2019 at 16:49

In traditional figured bass pedagogy, a single figure indicates a non-chord tone or its resolution (e.g. 7-6 for a suspension). Thus to indicate a chord, at least two figures are required, and 7/5 is traditional for root-position 7th chords (6/5, 4/3, and 4/2 for the other inversions).


It means you have a four-note chord in root position.

It means you have what looks like Eb:V7 in root position, the notation is derived from the distance the root the third, fifth and seventh are from the root note. It also looks like the sevenths wants to be flatten for some reason.

In this case, 7/5/3, 7/5 and 7 all mean the same thing a four-note chord in root position.

You can find a thorough explanation of all the names for inversions and how the names where derived in my answer here.

How to memorize seventh chords and inversions on piano?

  • What does E:V7 mean? And why is the third omitted from the notation but the fifth is not?
    – Liisi
    Jun 21, 2019 at 12:19
  • the third is not omitted the violas are playing the D
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 21, 2019 at 12:23
  • please see the link in my answer to see a thorough explanation of the notation.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 21, 2019 at 12:25
  • But why is 3 omitted from figured bass notation here and 5 is not? There has to be some difference between 7b and 5/7b (or only 7b would be used - why have two different notations for something exactly the same in one score).
    – Liisi
    Jun 21, 2019 at 12:25
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    You gave the wrong key! More importantly you didn't really explain why the flat is on the figure which is the whole point of the question. Jun 21, 2019 at 13:16

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