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Figured bass is musical notation in which numerals and symbols appear above or below (or next to) a bass note. The numerals and symbols (often accidentals) indicate intervals, chords, and non-chord tones that a musician playing piano, harpsichord, organ, or lute (or other instruments capable of playing chords) should play in relation to the bass note. Figured bass is closely associated with basso continuo: a historically improvised accompaniment used in almost all genres of music in the Baroque period of Classical music (c. 1600–1750), though rarely in modern music. Figured bass is also known as thoroughbass.
Other systems for denoting or representing chords include  plain staff notation, used in classical music; Roman numerals, commonly used in harmonic analysis;  chord letters, sometimes used in modern musicology; the Nashville Number System; and various chord names and symbols used in jazz and popular music (e.g., C Major or simply C; D minor, Dm, or D−; G7, etc.).
Basso continuo parts, most common in the Baroque era (1600–1750), provided the harmonic structure of the music by supplying a bassline and a chord progression. The phrase is often shortened to continuo, and the instrumentalists playing the continuo part are called the continuo group.
The makeup of the continuo group is often left to the discretion of the performers (or, for a larger performance, the conductor), and practice varied enormously within the Baroque period. At least one instrument capable of playing chords must be included, such as a piano, harpsichord, organ, lute, theorbo, guitar, regal, or harp. In addition,[ citation needed ] any number of instruments that play in the bass register may be included, such as cello, double bass, bass viol, or bassoon. The most common combination, at least in modern performances, is harpsichord and cello for instrumental works and secular vocal works, such as operas, and organ and cello for sacred music. A double bass may be added, particularly when accompanying a lower-pitched solo voice (e.g., a bass singer).
Typically performers match the instrument families used in the full ensemble: including bassoon when the work includes oboes or other winds, but restricting it to cello and/or[ citation needed ] double bass if only strings are involved. Harps, lutes, and other handheld instruments are more typical of early 17th-century music. Sometimes instruments are specified by the composer: in L'Orfeo (1607) Monteverdi calls for an exceptionally varied instrumentation, with multiple harpsichords and lutes with a bass violin in the pastoral scenes followed by lamenting to the accompaniment of organo di legno and chitarrone , while Charon stands watch to the sound of a regal.
The keyboard (or other chord-playing instrument) player realizes (adds in an improvised fashion) a continuo part by playing, in addition to the notated bass line, notes above it to complete chords, either determined ahead of time or improvised in performance. The figured bass notation, described below, is a guide, but performers are also expected to use their musical judgment and the other instruments or voices (notably the lead melody and any accidentals that might be present in it) as a guide. Experienced players sometimes incorporate motives found in the other instrumental parts into their improvised chordal accompaniment. Modern editions of such music usually supply a realized keyboard part, fully written out in staff notation for a player, in place of improvisation. With the rise in historically informed performance, however, the number of performers who are able to improvise their parts from the figures, as Baroque players would have done, has increased.[ citation needed ]
Basso continuo, though an essential structural and identifying element of the Baroque period, rapidly declined in the classical period (up to around 1800).  A late example is C. P. E. Bach's Concerto in D minor for flute, strings and basso continuo (1747). Examples of its use in the 19th century are rarer, but they do exist: masses by Anton Bruckner, Beethoven, and Franz Schubert, for example, have a basso continuo part that was for an organist.[ citation needed ]
A part notated with figured bass consists of a bass line notated with notes on a musical staff plus added numbers and accidentals (or in some cases (back)slashes added to a number) beneath the staff to indicate what intervals above the bass notes should be played, and therefore which inversions of which chords are to be played.
The phrase tasto solo indicates that only the bass line (without any upper chords) is to be played for a short period, usually until the next figure is encountered. This instructs the chord-playing instrumentalist not to play any improvised chords for a period. The reason tasto solo had to be specified was because it was an accepted convention that if no figures were present in a section of otherwise figured bass line, the chord-playing performer would either assume that it was a root-position triad, or deduce from the harmonic motion that another figure was implied. For example, if a continuo part in the key of C begins with a C bass note in the first measure, which descends to a B♮ in the second measure, even if there were no figures, the chord-playing instrumentalist would deduce that this was most likely a first inversion dominant chord (spelled B–D–G, from bottom note of the chord to the top).
Composers were inconsistent in the usages described below. Especially in the 17th century, the numbers were omitted whenever the composer thought the chord was obvious. Early composers such as Claudio Monteverdi often specified the octave by the use of compound intervals such as 10, 11, and 15.
2 or 2
Contemporary figured bass abbreviations for triads and seventh chords are shown in the table to the right.
The numbers indicate the number of scale steps above the given bass-line that a note should be played.  For example:
Here, the bass note is a C, and the numbers 4 and 6 indicate that notes a fourth and a sixth above it should be played, that is an F and an A. In other words, the second inversion of an F major chord can be realized as:
In cases where the numbers 3 or 5 would normally be understood, these are usually left out. For example:
has the same meaning as
and can be realized as
although the performer may choose which octave to play the notes in and will often elaborate them in some way, such as by playing them as arpeggios rather than as block chords, or by adding improvised ornaments, depending on the tempo and texture of the music.
Sometimes, other numbers are omitted: a 2 on its own or 4
2 indicates , for example. From the figured bass-writer's perspective, this bass note is obviously a third inversion seventh chord, so the sixth interval is viewed as an interval that the player should automatically infer. In many cases entire figures can be left out, usually where the chord is obvious from the progression or the melody.
Sometimes the chord changes but the bass note itself is held. In these cases the figures for the new chord are written wherever in the bar they are meant to occur.
When the bass note changes but the notes in the chord above it are to be held, a line is drawn next to the figure or figures, for as long as the chord is to be held, to indicate this:
Note that when the bass moves the chord intervals have effectively changed, in this case from 6
3 to 7
4, but no additional numbers are written.
When an accidental is shown on its own without a number, it applies to the note a third above the lowest note; most commonly, this is the third of the chord.  Otherwise, if a number is shown, the accidental affects the said interval.  For example, this, showing the widespread default meaning of an accidental without number as applying to the third above the bass:
Sometimes the accidental is placed after the number rather than before it.
Alternatively, a cross placed next to a number indicates that the pitch of that note should be raised (augmented) by a semitone (so that if it is normally a flat it becomes a natural, and if it is normally a natural it becomes a sharp). A different way to indicate this is to draw a backslash through the number itself.  The following three notations, therefore, all indicate the same thing:
More rarely, a "forward" slash through a number indicates that a pitch is to be lowered (diminished) by a semitone: 
When sharps or flats are used with key signatures, they may have a slightly different meaning, especially in 17th-century music. A sharp might be used to cancel a flat in the key signature, or vice versa, instead of a natural sign.
In the 20th and 21st century, figured bass is also sometimes used by classical musicians as a shorthand way of indicating chords when a composer is sketching out ideas for a new piece or when a music student is analyzing the harmony of a notated piece of music (e.g., a Bach chorale or a Chopin piano prelude). Figured bass is not generally used in modern musical compositions, except for neo-Baroque pieces.
In the 2000s, outside of professional Baroque ensembles that specialize in the performance practice of the Baroque era, the most common use of figured bass notation is to indicate the inversion in a harmonic analysis or composer's sketch context, however, often without the staff notation, using letter note names followed with the figure. For instance, if a piano piece had a C major triad in the right hand (C–E–G), with the bass note a G with the left hand, this would be a second inversion C major chord, which would be written G6
4. If this same C major triad had an E in the bass, it would be a first inversion chord, which would be written E6
3 or E6 (this is different from the jazz notation, where a C6 means the added sixth chord C–E–G–A, i.e., a C major with an added 6th degree). The symbols can also be used with Roman numerals in analyzing functional harmony, a usage called figured Roman; see chord symbol.
A form of figured bass is used in notation of accordion music; another simplified form is used to notate guitar chords.[ citation needed ]
The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1750 and 1820.
Music is generally defined as the art of arranging sound to create some combination of form, harmony, melody, rhythm or otherwise expressive content. Exact definitions of music vary considerably around the world, though it is an aspect of all human societies, a cultural universal. While scholars agree that music is defined by a few specific elements, there is no consensus on their precise definitions. The creation of music is commonly divided into musical composition, musical improvisation, and musical performance, though the topic itself extends into academic disciplines, criticism, philosophy, and psychology. Music may be performed or improvised using a vast range of instruments, including the human voice.
Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent aurally perceived music played with instruments or sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced symbols, including notation for durations of absence of sound such as rests.
A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch. For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C; that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B♭, so these are referred to as B♭ instruments. Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. The instruments do not transpose the music; rather, their music is written at a transposed pitch. Where chords are indicated for improvisation they are also written in the appropriate transposed form.
Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of musical notation that uses musical symbols to indicate the pitches, rhythms, or chords of a song or instrumental musical piece. Like its analogs – printed books or pamphlets in English, Arabic, or other languages – the medium of sheet music typically is paper. However, access to musical notation since the 1980s has included the presentation of musical notation on computer screens and the development of scorewriter computer programs that can notate a song or piece electronically, and, in some cases, "play back" the notated music using a synthesizer or virtual instruments.
Articles related to music include:
A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and other types of broken chords, may also be considered as chords in the right musical context.
The theorbo is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox. Like a lute, a theorbo has a curved-back sound box with a wooden top, typically with a sound hole, and a neck extending out from the soundbox. As with the lute, the player plucks or strums the strings with one hand while "fretting" the strings with the other hand; pressing the strings in different places on the neck produces different pitches (notes), thus enabling the performer to play chords, basslines and melodies.
Bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as blues, jazz, funk, dub and electronic, traditional, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.
Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.
Basso continuo parts, almost universal in the Baroque era (1600–1750), provided the harmonic structure of the music by supplying a bassline and a chord progression. The phrase is often shortened to continuo, and the instrumentalists playing the continuo part are called the continuo group.
The archlute is a European plucked string instrument developed around 1600 as a compromise between the very large theorbo, the size and re-entrant tuning of which made for difficulties in the performance of solo music, and the Renaissance tenor lute, which lacked the bass range of the theorbo. Essentially a tenor lute with the theorbo's neck-extension, the archlute lacks the power in the tenor and the bass that the theorbo's large body and typically greater string length provide.
Unfigured bass, less commonly known as under-figured bass, is a kind of musical notation used during the Baroque music era in Western Classical music in which a basso continuo performer playing a chordal instrument improvises a chordal accompaniment from a notated bass line which lacks the guidance of figures indicating which harmonies should be played above the bass note. Figured bass parts have numbers or accidentals above the bass line which indicate which intervals above the bass should be played in the chord. However, not all basso continuo parts from the Baroque period were figured.
In music theory, an inversion is a type of change to intervals, chords, voices, and melodies. In each of these cases, "inversion" has a distinct but related meaning. The concept of inversion also plays an important role in musical set theory.
The Sonata in E major for flute and basso continuo is a sonata for transverse flute and figured bass composed by J. S. Bach in the 1740s. It was written as the result of a visit in 1741 to the court of Frederick the Great in Potsdam, where Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel had been appointed principal harpsichordist to the king the previous year. It was dedicated to Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf, the king's valet and private secretary, who, like the king, was an amateur flautist.
In music theory, Roman numeral analysis is a type of musical analysis in which chords are represented by Roman numerals. In some cases, Roman numerals denote scale degrees themselves. More commonly, however, they represent the chord whose root note is that scale degree. For instance, III denotes either the third scale degree or, more commonly, the chord built on it. Typically, uppercase Roman numerals are used to represent major chords, while lowercase Roman numerals are used to represent minor chords. However, some music theorists use upper-case Roman numerals for all chords, regardless of chord quality.
Baroque music refers to the period or dominant style of Western classical music composed from about 1600 to 1750. The Baroque style followed the Renaissance period, and was followed in turn by the Classical period after a short transition, the galant style. The Baroque period is divided into three major phases: early, middle, and late. Overlapping in time, they are conventionally dated from 1580 to 1650, from 1630 to 1700, and from 1680 to 1750. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. The term "baroque" comes from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning "misshapen pearl". The works of George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach are considered the pinnacle of the Baroque period. Other key composers of the Baroque era include Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Pachelbel, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, François Couperin, Johann Hermann Schein, Heinrich Schütz, Samuel Scheidt, Dieterich Buxtehude, and others.
Musicians use various kinds of chord names and symbols in different contexts to represent musical chords. In most genres of popular music, including jazz, pop, and rock, a chord name and its corresponding symbol typically indicate one or more of the following:
Abbreviations in music are of two kinds, namely, abbreviations of terms related to musical expression, and the true musical abbreviations by the help of which certain passages, chords, etc., may be notated in a shortened form, to the greater convenience of both composer and performer. Abbreviations of the first kind are like most abbreviations in language; they consist for the most part of the initial letter or first syllable of the word employed—as for instance, p or f for the dynamic markings piano and forte, cresc. for crescendo, Ob. for oboe, Fag. for bassoon. This article is about abbreviations used in music notation.
Realization is the art of creating music, typically an accompaniment, from a figured bass, whether by improvisation in real time, or as a detained exercise in writing. It is most commonly associated with Baroque music.