Understanding the figures under a bass line in a piece of Baroque music is a skill which is not just practical. It helps you to understand a great deal about chords and harmony. Most chords are built by having a third (3) and a fifth (5) above the bass note. The bass note may also commonly be repeated in the upper notes of the chord (8). So common is this structure that most composers do not write the combination 3-5(-8) above the bass. Instead they assume that this is the structure of the chord unless they indicate some other figures. In this project you will investigate in a practical way the variety of the figured bass and learn many different ways of structuring chords, too.

Age range: 2-5 No: 6-8 No; 9-11 No; 12-13 maybe;14-15 could work well; 16-17 very useful; 18+ very useful.

Expected prior achievements of students

Since the harmonies here go well beyond the basic tonic-dominant progressions, it is certainly advantageous that students have previously worked with chords, making simple accompaniments. Also, reading the bass clef is a necessary prerequisite. Nonetheless, the slow tempo and uncomplicated 3/4 time allow for a broad ability band to take advantage of this project.

Goals and aims of project

By the end of the project students will :
(a) have the ability to read a chromatic bass line fluently;
(b) understand and apply, using an instrument, the figures of an authentic Baroque bass part;
(c) be able to improvise (albeit with practice and preparation) to music in real time;
(d) have developed a good practical basis for further theoretical and aural work concerned with all types of intervals;
(e) have grasped the essence of perhaps the most important structural concept in music of the Baroque era.

Project materials in text form

Preparatory notes for the teacher.

Click here for the Basso Continuo worksheet (html format)
Click here for the Basso Continuo worksheet (pdf format)

Both files will print much better thanthey look on the screen!

On the MIDI-file (see below) the string parts of the orchestra are presented. Authentically, you should accompany them with an organ, harpsichord or lute (guitar) part which follows the figures, but there is no reason why you should not use any instrument of your choice. There are also three models for the basso continuo, presented in increasing difficulty. You will probably want to “mute” them when you perform.

Tip: use the metronome click at the beginning and set the tempo of the file to a slower beat . You may find it difficult to stay in time otherwise. The volume of the metronome click can often be adjusted in the ‘mixer’ section of your sequencing software.

Project materials in Music (performance) form

Click here to review the MIDI-file: Autumn (basso continuo).  Also, you can right click and save the page or drag the link to your desktop to create a file to import to your sequencer.

  • Project materials in music (notation) form

These are integrated into the worksheets. Click to review or drag it to your desktop to save bass and figures without worksheet text.

  • Suggestions for working with the materials (including essential preparation)

Preparatory notes for the teacher.

  • Further materials

Click here for further practice on naming intervals (pdf format)
Click here for further practice on naming intervals (html document)
The Rise of the Concerto in Italy in the 17th and early18th Centuries (html format). Information sheet with links and illustrations (Also used in “Villagers’ Dance – Autunno 1” project)
The Rise of the Concerto in Italy in the 17th and early18th Centuries (pdf.format with illustrations, no links) (Also used in “Villagers’ Dance – Autunno 1” project)
The Violin (html format). Information sheet with links and illustrations (Also used in “Villagers’ Dance – Autunno 1” project)(Also used in “Villagers’ Dance – Autunno 1” project)
The Violin (pdf.format with illustrations, no links)(Also used in “Villagers’ Dance – Autunno 1” project)

© John Mason