Figured bass, also known as basso continuo, is a music notation system commonly used during the Baroque period. It employs a series of numbers and symbols to indicate the intervals between the harmonies in a musical piece. Typically consisting of a bassline and a set of figures, it directs performers to play the chords and harmonies above the bassline according to the given numbers. Performers must use these figures to supplement the harmonies and create a complete musical sound. Figured bass was popular during the Baroque era because it allowed performers to play chords in their own way, without being constrained by established harmonies.
The numbers and symbols in figured bass represent the pitch and interval that should be played in the harmony. For example, the number "6" indicates that the performer should play a note six degrees above the bassline note. Similarly, the figures "4 3" indicate that the performer should first play a note four degrees above the bassline note, followed by a note three degrees above it. These figures and symbols can be combined with musical notation on the score to help performers quickly supplement the chords.
Although figured bass was widely used during the Baroque era, it was gradually replaced by chord symbols in later periods, as they were simpler and more precise. However, figured bass is still widely used in modern music theory education as it helps students learn the fundamentals of harmony.
Writer: Frankie Chan