Friday, November 5, 2004

Figured Bass

No, a figured bass isn't a voluptuous, deep-voiced woman. Or a shapely man. Or a shapely fish, for that matter.

Figured bass is a kind of shorthand that was used by musicians during the Baroque period. It indicated what bass note should be played, but included different numbers to indicate what notes should be played above the bass.

It's a similar to the concept in modern-day pop notion, where you see things like "Bdim7" and "Gsus" written above the lyrics.

So I'm learning figured bass in music theory.

I started out this theory "class" with intervals, rhythm, and key signatures. That part was mostly review ... I mean, if you've played an instrument for any length of time, these concepts will be somewhat familiar to you.

Of course, for the rhythm-challenged such as myself, I hit a few bumps early on. But they were smoothed out soon enough.

(Clarification: I am rhythm-challenged in that I have to stop and think about what a dotted quarter note in 6/8 time means, as opposed to knowing it automatically ... not because I can't clap in time to a song. Because I'm actually pretty good at doing that. And you should see my happy-old-geezer dance or my dance of caffeine-powered joy. I do those dances in perfect time to the beat, baby. Booyah!)

Anyway, once we got through that, we started working on harmony, specifically on learning the many rules for functional harmony and writing four-part harmonies in which all the rules were followed.

That was a bit more challenging, but still not beyond my grasp.

Then it got more difficult when we added inversions.

And more difficult when we added secondary triads. In inversions.

That's when my learning curve screeched to a slow-down (not quite a halt). For a month, I've stayed on the same plane, struggling to get my brain to process all of this. I know it'll process it eventually. Some things just take longer than others.

Vance, being the good teacher that he is, said, "Let's focus on something else for a while."

So we went to nonchord tones and diatonic sevenths. And secondary dominants. So, far, secondary dominants are my favorite concepts I've studied in this little music-theory foray of mine. I even tried my nail-bitten hand at composing last weekend, as a way to better understand secondary dominants. And purty-soundin' music was the result!! Not the most creative or interesting music, but it sure was purty. Which will get me a dime, a cup of coffee, and maybe a CD contract playing background New Age music.

So now I'm studying figured bass because some of the diatonic-seventh and secondary-dominant exercises in the textbook had lots of unfamiliar figured bass symbols, and they confused my pretty blonde head.

All next week I'm going to study figured bass. Hopefully, I'll get to the point where I can just look at the numbers and the bass note and--BAM!--know exactly what chord the composer (my beloved Bach) is talking about. And not confuse the nonchord tones with the chord. That will be lovely.

I think this is going to be fun. I just hope I have time to work on it this weekend. It's supposed to be gorgeous outside tomorrow and Sunday, and the trails are a-callin'. Shh, listen ... can you hear 'em?

1 comment:

oceanskies79 said...

Hi Waterfall, thank you for posting about your experiences with learning and working on music compositions. It often fascinates me to read and have a glimpse of the processes involved in composing a piece of music. May you enjoy the process.

I look forward to listen to one of your compositions. Take your time if you need to, Brahms took about 20 years before he is satisfied enough to share his first symphony.

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