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Unfigured bass

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Unfigured bass, less commonly known as under-figured bass, is a kind of musical notation where the performer improvises an accompaniment from a given bass line which lacks the guidance of figures (see Wikipedia:figured bass).[1]


From the earliest days of Wikipedia:thoroughbass, Wikipedia:composers and copyists have been chastized for providing bass (WP) parts without any figures to guide performers. Despite perennial complaints, however, unfigured basses persisted right through the Wikipedia:eighteenth century. Though it is speculated that unfigured basses would not have existed if it were not for the suggestion of harmonies in bass lines of the time.[1]


In the early baroque period published parts were as likely to be unfigured as figured, leading to unusual clashes of Wikipedia:harmony on a first reading. In an effort to perform a piece the first time without such harmonic clashes, various methods were devised and used to anticipate the harmonic structure and progression of a piece.[1] Among these are:

  • Specific chords might be placed over a given Wikipedia:solmization syllable, or an easily identified note, such as a sharped note.
  • Specific chords might be applied to various patterns of bass intervals.
  • Model bass lines with chords might be learned by rote to be used whenever applicable.
  • Or specific chords might be placed over particular scale degrees.[1]


Many music masters in the Wikipedia:Baroque period educated students in the art of playing unfigured bass accompaniment fluently. Many pieces such as Partimenti were written for this purpose. [2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lester, Joel (1994), Compositional Theory in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 69.
  2. Sanguinetti, Giorgio (2012), The Art of Partimento: History, Theory, and Practice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 175.

See alsoEdit

Wikipedia:Category:Musical notation Wikipedia:Category:Accompaniment

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