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An overview of the basics

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robust criticisms of traditional harmonic theory, the basics of this aspect of


his analytical method will be reasonably familiar to most students. His
approach to counterpoint, however, draws on a particular method for teaching
students to write counterpoint, which might be somewhat less familiar. The
practicalities of these harmonic and contrapuntal ideas, so central to
Schenkerian thought, are briefly discussed below.
Harmony and figured bass

We shall see later in this book that Schenkers ideas on large-scale harmony
are quite radical; the practicalities of the basic harmonic labeling that
Schenkerians use, however, will be familiar enough. The system used in this
book involves a standard combination of Roman numerals and figured bass.
Example 2.4 gives some examples of Roman numerals and figured bass in
practice. A letter followed by a colon denotes the relevant key, with minor
keys in lower case; Roman numerals (all in upper case) indicate the chord
within that key. At its simplest, the addition of figured bass to the Roman

Figured bass is a shorthand method of indicating harmonies that was widely


used in the Baroque era to allow keyboardists (and other continuo players)
to improvise an accompanying part above a given bass line. Arabic numbers
written beneath the staff indicate what intervals above the bass note should
be played. Figured bass is commonly used by analysts to show details of
harmony and voice-leading.
The only real complication is that the full figuring (i.e. figures for all the
intervals above the bass) is abbreviated in order to avoid cluttering the score.
Therefore, if no numbers are written, a continuo player will presume that
they are to play a fifth and a third above the bassa root position triad
(see example). The number 6 below the staff tells the player to keep the
third but replace the fifth with a sixth above the bass, forming a first inversion
triad. A second inversion triad is indicated by telling the player to replace
the fifth and third of the default root position chord with a sixth and fourth
above the bass. As well as indicating triads and sevenths in their various
inversions, figured bass is also used to show suspensions within a chord,
such as 4 resolving to 3, as in the last measure below.