The BASS-ics Of FIGURED BASS For Modern Musicians

The BASS-ics Of FIGURED BASS For Modern Musicians

Tommaso Zillio

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figured bass notation

Do you have trouble with chord inversions?

Yes, they sound amazing, but many people find inversions to be confusing, and just like with anything else in life, the best solution is always avoidance.

Don’t like something? Avoid it. Problem solved.

(I tell, you I'd be a great life coach!)

So how do we avoid inversions? Simple! By using figured bass.

(Wait, what?)

Figured bass is music theory's "old way" to understand what in today's music theory we name "chord inversions"... and if you go and Google it or search YouTube, you will quickly find some poser music teacher whose sole concern is about how many times people view his video somebody telling you that "Figured Bass is useless in modern music".

While it is true that in todays day and age you are unlikely to be handed a score notated with figured bass (it did happen to me... but I was searching for it), the following is also true:

  • If you are confused about chord inversions, I found that figured bass helps greatly in understanding what is going on

  • If you understood your chord inversion perfectly and you are confident in your understanding... figured bass will show you a number of things you did not think about yet and that will make your musical life easier

  • I can not tell you how many time I had the same conversation with great musicians, when they give me this conspiratorial look, lower their voice, and tell me: "actually, they way I think about chords is like figured bass... are you familiar with figured bass?..."

So here we go:

P.S. A good heuristic in today's social media is that if all the "hip" music teachers tell you that something is "useless" (figured bass, scales and modes, music theory itself...), then 1. that thing is not "useless" at all, and 2, it will also provide great insight and clarity. Oh well...

P.P.S. What if you want to solve your problems not by avoiding them, but by actually solving them? In that case, you should check out my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course. This course will teach you everything you need to know about chords and harmony on the guitar, including inversions. Check it out if you want to know more about chords!

Video Transcription

Hello Internet, so nice to see you! Today we have a question on figured bass

"Doesn't the six five chord generally referred to as the first inversion, seven chord similar to four, three as a second inversion, four, two is the third inversion of a seventh chord with regards to figured bass. Thanks."

Wow, that's a lot of numbers. Right. So let me explain how figured bass work very ensured. So that's a bit of a reference video on how you understand figure bass. Now the idea of those people is that they had in Baroque music, they have all those shorthand notation so that they can play the chords behind the music, and they can even improvise, kinda like jazz notation works today, you have all those chord notation like C major seven, a minor seven is at the center, and then you can use them and then you can play them however you want.

Same exact is true for the figured bass is just a kind of a different notation because they put those numbers over a score, the score is typically the bassline. Today, we think everything from the root of the chord, which is the note that is the name of the chord. So from C major seven, we think the root is C, and we build the major seven chord on top, in Figured base, instead, they don't think about the root simply because the idea of root of a chord was not invented or discovered, yet, they are thinking everything from the lowest note, which is the bass.

So it's not correct to talk about the inversion. But those are exactly the modern thing. The thing is that not only we call inversion, but they were not thinking of those as in version for them. They were different chords. So how does it work?

Well, you will typically have a piece of a score, okay, it's typical, you have the bass, the base stuff, okay? If you don't know how to read, don't worry, I'm using only one note. Okay, and you have this bass, and I'm going to put a C note. Yeah, that's a C note, okay. And then either above or below that, they will put some numbers now, if you had nothing. Okay? And by the way, we actually are in the key of C right now, okay?

Because all those notes are always taken in the key unless there is some other indication, if they put nothing on top, this means not just play the Sinhala but play the C triad, so Exactly, C, E, G, okay. Because whenever there is no indication, they assume that they're playing the third and the fifth above the note.

So this will be played these not the third above and the fifth above. I know it sounds strange, follow me, this notation was evolved by different people using a so it's not always perfectly consistent, okay. And then every musician does whatever, whatever they want with that, but there's just the north and nothing, okay? It means try it. In what they will call the root position. If they put a six on top, that will be an interesting one.

Remember, if nothing is specified, they always had the fifth and the third, but the fifth will conflict with the six because that goes by so if you put the six, what you intend is six entry. Okay, just six means six entry, which means they're not. They're not 1/3 above or not one six above. If I take the C note a third above, I have E in the scale and six above I have E. So a third above I have E. I have a sorry about it.

Okay, so I caught up the six that we call it, whatever we call it a six chord, okay, which is confusing for us today will be the root but that the bass, the third and the sixth, the North, the again our C, E. A, C. See, is these not here, then we add eight and a and the c yes, these for us, it's an A minor in first inversion and a minor with a bass of C, the translation to modern term is that if you just have the six that's a first inversion.

Try it with the idea that they for them, it will still be according see. For us there will be a chord in a because we will call these an A minor with a bass of C they will call these a C with a little six on top because that's exactly what it is for them. There's a C at the base and the little six on top.

Okay, so it's kind of a different way of thinking and that's what makes it complex. Okay. So, but accorded the six for them contains the sixth and the third. The next one you need to know is the six four chord. Now the sixth conflict with the five so the There's no five, and the fourth conflict with the three.

So there is no three. Okay, so you take the note affordable and the six double the fourth above is the F. And the six above is the A, tonight F C, F and A, F an F major chord in second inversion, okay, so the chord of the 6464. And if we put in vertical, it's our second inversion

Okay, again, they would call these a C, six, four, because the lowest not the C and the six and the four of them, we will call these an F chord with a base of C, okay? Because we again, we think from the roots, they think from the bass. That's why so confusing. But once you make it past this problem, it's actually fairly easy because this tells you exactly what to play on the guitar will be even easier.

Play that the lowest note and then play the photocopy the six above and you need to know if it's if it's a major six, minor six, just by staying in key, okay. But on the guitar, we have all the intervals laid out on the strings, this will be even easier, there will be a much more natural way of doing it if it were to this way. But we haven't.

Okay, so those are the main monitor if essentially what do we call the triad? So notes chords are three notes, we put nothing is the root position, if you put six is applied in first inversion, and these marks the bass, if you put six fold as a triad in second inversion that marks the bass, not the root.

Can you do other chords, we definitely, of course, you can. Remember, three and five are assumed unless there's a conflict, if you put a seventh you will have the seventh chord that that the seventh, the three and the five. So we'll add the same to the bass, the third, which is the the fifth, which is the G and the seven, again, standing key, not the minor seven, but the seven in case of seven note evolving scale, which is the beam.

So in this case, we will have a C major seven. Okay, depending on what was the note, if it was the G note or to the note, we'll get the minor seven, the dominant seven, everything stays in key. Okay, so for now is just the seven chord built on the note indicated in the key indicated, all the keys are always assumed that you need to know all your keys to understand. So if you have a seven it's simply seven chord in root position.

Okay, simple as that, it starts to get more complex than when we look at what today we call the inversion of the chord, the seventh chord, okay, which again, for them were completely independent chord. The first one is the sixth five. So they write six and five. Why because if they write only six, so we don't play the five because it conflicts. So they write the five that day that there must be both those notes.

And they assume that you also weren't gonna play the third. Now, an important note here, okay, which I already made, but it's important. It's, you don't have to play all the notes, you can play only some of those notes. Those are this is the space of consonant note in that moment. But you can play less exactly like didn't today, jazz music, you can indicate a C major seven and I'm not playing the fifth of that chord because you don't have enough notes and enough fingers to play them, okay, you can play only a few of those notes, okay, but the third is assumed.

And so the chord of the six five will be from the C, three notes and find the E also five, five notes and go up another six notes always from the C. So you will that the note C in G and A. Okay, now those two may be close by. Okay, so if I'm playing something like this, are now playing CG or they can be spaced apart. So I can play C, A and G the higher octave I can put the E in tab see a G or I can put my finger on around the waist.

So C G. Okay. Those numbers here don't indicate the order of notes but just what notes you can play then you can rearrange them however you want as long as you keep the bass as the bass so as the lowest Okay, a six five chord which assumes also the third is what today we will call 657 chord in first inversion. Okay, I think it's a long road to get there for us, but for them is the short road because they are just in key.

So you cannot play here in my left hand plays the bass, my right hand plays the third, the fifth and sixth over that bass. And they were trained in thinking in a kind of interval interval way, just like with the guitar players are, so if you know what is the fifth and what is the 6th. And you just buy both of them and you play a third, maybe at the height of the book, you have the chord immediately. And you can even take it through to the whole to the whole scale as long as for me major and minor six, and all these kinds of things. Okay, so totally doable. Very convenient to know, six, five, okay.

The next one is the four three chord. quite rare actually invoke music, Now comes an interesting thing that they have to the four it's important, the three is there. Because if you don't put it with just play the four two, because the third can conflict with the four at this point, that is where the inconsistency started. They they say I have a train before. And so of course, I'm also going to play a sixth. Now for us this of course, sounds like what a completely out of the blue for them not so much.

Because the moment you put a fork in the chord, in their style, you can always play the six, that's something very typical kind of rock style. Sounds good. So there is a sixth term. Assumed occasionally when they write for students, they write 643. But when you find four, three, you can always put up six, okay, if you do that from the C note, what's going to happen, you go C, third above, you find the E for the boat, the C you find the F and the six above you find the so now you have seen e f A, rearrange those note, f A, C E, that's an F major seven in our modern parlance, okay, in second inversion.

So again, just because we stay in the scale, this call will be made his major seven now but from another note, that would be minor seven or dominant seven. But the fourth record at the end of the day, once you get in the fourth record, it's a seventh chord in second inversion with the fifth at the bass, okay?

Not much used much more use the east the two four chord Okay, now they put they put the two to indicate and both for into conflict with the three so you don't use the three and the six is understood these are six is a four a six is understood. Okay? Again, not really consistent, depending on the exact musician is playing this chord to a four and a six.

From see the two is the second above the fourth F and the sixth A so you have C D F A reason or D F A C, it's a D minor seven. This is a D minor seven chord with the seven in the bass, what today we call a third inversion chord. So the four two chord, okay, and the any circle in this way. So we know for two chord is the seventh chord in third inversion, which means that the seventh or the bass, this is used a lot in the Baroque style. It is less today and frankly, so honestly sounds so good.

I mean think of it as a C major chord note that this is the D minor with the bass of C and it just looks beautiful watercourse, I mean it's just a lot of things. Okay, anyway, now whenever they want to go out of key, they don't tell you the new key, they don't write some strange thing I mean, today we will write a note for both of you and even mark if you will have to keep just write the chord in the new key.

Okay, if you want to be found the key of C and you want to move to the key of D, you will just write the chord and not the major or a major and you will move to the key of D in their style. They don't do that in their style, they will just put sharps and flats on the note that changes. Okay. So one typical thing to do, for instance, would have to have the C note.

Don't put anything here then put another scene out here where you put a two and a sharp four. Okay. So what will be that? There will be a seat matrix prior EEG C, there will be 246 chord. So the two is that the fourth is sharp. So the sharp four of C is F sharp and the six is a. So essentially, these, these happen with a bass have seen these from here, it will typically go to a G chord in first inversion that they would not call it a G chord, they will put a four and six on top because it's a B chord is a G chord in first inversion.

Okay? Again, if you know something about music theory, and you've studied all the chords, I will say that modernly, you're much faster in thinking G chord in first inversion. But if you were studying things this way and applying them directly on the instruments, because this was supposed to be applied directly on the instrument so that you can see the interval.

So all the time, these way of thinking will be much faster for you. If you want to start the day, they will take a bit of time to switch your mindset from the root central thing, thinking from the bass central thinking. By the mean, it's totally doable. And it's really neat could be pretty useful, though nobody uses this notation anymore, even if it's useful, okay, it's kind of foreign to us at this point.

The point is, is now you know what the numbers mean, there are a few more chords, which are not inversion, which could be other things and because after they they have also suspended chords and a number of other things. And they always mark them from the lowest note and the intervals from the bass.

Okay, and they completely ignore the idea that some of the scores and inversion of each other in their style of music, it all those different inversion for them are completely different chords. Okay, even if the notes are the same, it's different than what we think today. For them, the bassline is fixed.

And typically, in Baroque music, they will have a fixed bassline, and they will improvise chords and melody on top. Today, we do something different in music, if you go, if you study jazz, for instance, you have a melody, which is the melody of the song and the chords, the bassline could be improvised. So it doesn't make sense for us to think from the bass because the bassline could be different than the original, because we want to concentrate more on the melody. Okay, advantages and disadvantages are that in the jazz way.

So melody plus chords that you're playing that song, and you know that they're playing that song, that's the melody, that's the chorus. You can arrange them however you want. But it's that song. In the Baroque way, this was not one song. These were any bassline, so there'll be no pattern to improvise several different songs, like the blues progression will be today, you can improvise several different songs on top of it, one of those things would be a whole complete piece of music and then you can by changing the speed, the dynamic, exact timing the chords on top of the melodies, etc. you improvise new music on top of every time. That was the concept of the time.

Okay. Again, for us today, it doesn't make sense because since bass players improvised things that today, we cannot tie them down to a specific bassline. So two different kinds of thinking that both lead to improvisation. That's a little review on how thorough bass or bass or continuous works, okay, there's much more to be said about that.

And the important mindset difference. That's why when I talk about these, I don't like talking about inversion inversion or later invention. That not wrong. Though a number of Baroque musicians like Johan Sebastian Bach and his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote that they didn't like the old idea of inversion in the war. It wasn't misleading.

And it was for that kind of music for us today is kind of a useful concept. Okay, so that's the historically correct fate. Should you learn this? Honestly, it's fun if you want to learn it, and it can open the door to a lot of a lot of interesting music, but you don't have to. Okay. The important point is that it really makes the intervals explicit in and can help you understand him better your fretboard.

That's one thing you can do about that. Another thing to understand better your fretboard is to take my course complete chord mastery boom and putting a sail in writing because it's the internet okay, if you want to learn your harmony on the guitar better I have this course called complete chord mastery.

If you have questions just write me and be happy to answer. And yes, we do also say we also see things as intervals from the bass and from the root. It's useful because it's more the language of the fretboard. And with this thank you very much. This is Tommaso Zillio for and until next time, enjoy.

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