The source is p.95 in...

Plain-Song (Helmore, Thomas) https://imslp.org/wiki/Plain-Song_(Helmore%2C_Thomas)

...and the particular sharp is this one highlighted in yellow...

enter image description here

It confusing, because all the other accidentals under the score match up with an accidental in the chord above, and IF the sharp means play a D major chord, that would raise the second degree in Phrygian, which seems to un-do the Phrygian-ness of the music. (It sounds nice to me either way D major or minor.)


I didn't mention musica ficta specifically, but I think this should be added.


In the Renaissance accidentals were not written in the notation, but in performance they were used and the practice was called musica ficta. Modern notation shows where those accidentals go above notes not on the staff.

This accidental below the note looks similar to the modern notation for musica ficta. The confusing things is how some of those accidentals are given both on the staff and below. This particular sharp is not on the staff, only below.

If I treat it like a kind of modern notation of musica ficta, I would apply the sharp.

Figured bass


It probably is more obvious to say the accidentals below the staff are in the same place as the figured bass symbols. A sharp alone in figured bass means to play a major third.

  • The truly confusing thing is that the sharp coincides with an F natural in the melody.
    – phoog
    Mar 27, 2020 at 5:54
  • 1
    Oddly written anyway - repeated accidentals in the same bar. And why underneath when there's room in the traditional place.
    – Tim
    Mar 27, 2020 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


I suspect it's a typo, and the # sign in basso continuo was supposed to be under the consecutive chord, the last one in the first system.

Accidental under the bass note means the chord contains a note third above the bass note and it has that accidental w.r.t. diatonic note.

The notation as it is contradicts itself. In the marked chord the top note is F, which is diatonic in E-phrygian, while raised third from the bass note D is F#. There shouldn't be # mark below the chord. In the consecutive chord the bass note is E, above which there is a non diatonic third G#. There is a missing # sign below the chord.

  • This must be the correct answer. Every other accidental in the figured bass corresponds with an accidental in an upper part, except for these two chords.
    – phoog
    Mar 27, 2020 at 5:56
  • Any chance someone has a different edition? When available, that's a good way to check out oddities like this Mar 27, 2020 at 13:54
  • I'm not sure I follow you. Are you saying the typo is the sharp should have been on the last chord rather that second to last chord? Mar 27, 2020 at 15:45
  • @MichaelCurtis - Yes--as far as I can tell, that is what user1079505 means.
    – Dekkadeci
    Mar 28, 2020 at 12:53
  • 1
    I rewrote the answer, I hope it is more clear now. It's been a while since I studied basso continuo, so perhaps you should review some textbooks about it. Yes, the sharp should be under the last chord. The sharp corresponds to an accidental in the chord, but not any accidental, but specifically note that is third above the bass note. Mar 28, 2020 at 17:15

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