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Basso continuo for classical guitar

Piers Plowman 08 May 09 - 08:25 AM
Deckman 08 May 09 - 11:27 AM
Piers Plowman 08 May 09 - 11:35 AM
Deckman 08 May 09 - 12:15 PM
Don Firth 08 May 09 - 01:12 PM
Piers Plowman 11 May 09 - 03:04 AM
Lox 11 May 09 - 02:07 PM
Lox 11 May 09 - 02:20 PM
Lox 11 May 09 - 07:35 PM
Piers Plowman 13 May 09 - 05:08 AM
Lox 16 May 09 - 07:54 PM
Lox 16 May 09 - 08:18 PM
GUEST,lox 17 May 09 - 09:24 PM
Piers Plowman 18 May 09 - 02:15 PM
GUEST,lox 18 May 09 - 04:17 PM
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Subject: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 08 May 09 - 08:25 AM

After waiting several weeks, I finally got the book I ordered, namely, Peter Croton's _Figured bass on the classical guitar_. Considering the wide range of musical interests among the people who post here, I suppose there will be others here who are interested in Baroque music.

I've had a good look through it and got started practicing the exercises. It looks very good and easy to understand. I believe the leap to playing from a figured bass is less for people who are used to playing from chord symbols than it would be for people who mostly or entirely play from written-out music on staves. It's the same chords, arpeggios, runs and voicings, just a different way of looking at them.

There's a huge repertoire of Baroque music with figured bass, so I really want to learn how to play from it. I have also sometimes felt I was getting stale on the guitar. Playing other instruments helps with this problem, but now I've found something new I really want to practice.

Does anyone here have any experience with figured bass?


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Deckman
Date: 08 May 09 - 11:27 AM

I certainly identify with your feelings of getting "stale" on guitar. I seriously studied, and practised, classical guitar in my youth. Now it's been years since I sat myself down and put myself in that discipline. And I also feel"stale" and know that I need to get back to it. CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 08 May 09 - 11:35 AM

I find that I've been enjoying playing the guitar more now that I've been playing other instruments more and also playing harmonica and guitar at the same time. I started teaching music to three little girls a couple of months ago, and that's also given me a new perspective on music (as well as being lots of fun). It's been a reason for learning a new repertoire: German children's songs, to which I'd never paid much attention before.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Deckman
Date: 08 May 09 - 12:15 PM

YES ... If you find yourself getting stale or bored ... start taking on some students! That will revive you! Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 May 09 - 01:12 PM

The Wikipedia article on Figured Bass has a pretty good explanation of how it is written and how it works. This is very much the way that it was explained in music theory class. As an exercise, the prof had us going through sheet music pencil in hand and adding the numbers below the staff to indicate what chord inversions were being used.

More good stuff HERE.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 11 May 09 - 03:04 AM

Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Deckman - PM
Date: 08 May 09 - 12:15 PM

"YES ... If you find yourself getting stale or bored ... start taking on some students! That will revive you! Bob(deckman)Nelson"

I'd really like to start giving the nearly-eight-year-old guitar lessons, but she hasn't expressed an interest yet and I haven't really had the chance to play the guitar in front of them. I've brought it a couple of times, but we'd done other things or one day they preferred to go out and play in the sunshine (can't imagine why).

Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Don Firth - PM
Date: 08 May 09 - 01:12 PM

"The Wikipedia article on Figured Bass has a pretty good explanation of how it is written and how it works. This is very much the way that it was explained in music theory class. As an exercise, the prof had us going through sheet music pencil in hand and adding the numbers below the staff to indicate what chord inversions were being used.

More good stuff HERE."

Thank you for the links, Don. I'll have a look. One of the points the author particularly wants to make is that figured bass is often incompletely figured because the composers assumed that the players knew the standard harmonizations and therefore didn't bother to write them out.

It's not so difficult to figure out the chords and write them in, but my goal is to be able to improvise an accompaniment the same as I do with modern chord symbols.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Lox
Date: 11 May 09 - 02:07 PM

What are you asking for precisely?

Do you want to know if anyone has experience of playing figured bass and are you looking for pointers, or are you just looking for ways of translating that kind of notation into a more contemporary way of thinking so as to make it easier to understand, recognize etc.


If its the latter then I think you pretty much have the freedom to voice chords as you see fit.

The guitar seems like the perfect instrument to do figured bass on as it is structured vertically already, so even if you didn't recognize a chord straight away you could fashion one at short notice given the intervallic information provided in the figure.

However, I think that all you really need to do is learn what the different figures represent as compared with typical chord symbols.

So for example, if you see that there is no figure under a bass note, you know that it is in root position with its root on the bass note.

One way of writing this could be 5/3 (5 over 3 - excuse limitations of laptop keyboard), but shorthand allows that both of these be omitted as it is assumed that anyone with a basic understanding of chords would know that a chord in root position would be constructed of the root note and the 3rd and the 5th intervals of the chord respectively.

As the 5th of a chord is not an essential ingredient, being solely colouristic with no functional purpose, it is omitted from figured bass in all instances that I can think of.

So in a first inversion triad, where the Bass Note = the 3rd of the chord (in a basic triad this would be spelled 3rd, 5th and root with 3rd in bass), we tend to find that the figured bass is written as just "6".

In fact, to spell it literally, it would be spelled 6/3. This is because the notes abovve the bass note (the 3rd of the chord) are the fifth (an interval of a third above the bass note) and the root (an interval of a sixth above the bass note).

But as the fifth is not essential to the functional quality of the chord, it is left out, so we don't see it written as 6/3 but simply as 6.


Now - chances are that was completely unintelligable, for which I apologize, but I will excuse myself by informing you that I have never tried to give a written explanation for figured bass before.

Hopefully however this helps explain the way that figured bass works.

The most important thing to remember is that the intervals are measured from the Bass Note as distinct from the Root of the chord.


Hence, a root position triad is 5/3 with both intervals ommitted for the sake of shorthand.

a 1st inversion triad is 6/3, with the 5th of the chord omitted, which leaves us with 6

a second inversion triad is 6/4, the bass being the 5th of the chord, the 4 being the interval from there to the root and the 6 being the interval to the 3rd of the chord.

7 is shorthand for 7/5/3, which is a root position tetrad/seventh chord.

6/5 is shorthand for 6/5/3, which is a first inversion tetrad/seventh chord.

4/3 is shorthand for 6/4/3, which is a second inversion tetrad/seventh chord.

And finally, 4/2 is shorthand for 6/4/2, which is a third inversion tetrad/seventh chord.

Nowadays we define notes in a chord according to the interval between them and the root of the chord, so we speak about a first inversion starting on the 3rd of the chord, and a second inversion starting on the 5th etc.

In early baroque days chords, also known as vertical harmony, had not yet been not recognized, so harmony was viewed in terms of intervals between independant lines.

Hence figured bass is not measured off the root note as there was no concept of a root note, there being no concept of a chord having a root, let alone an inversion.

This is important to clarify so we don't confuse the "3rds" and "5ths" of current theory with the intervals described in figured bass.


Everyone confused? I'm not surprised!!


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Lox
Date: 11 May 09 - 02:20 PM

Of course I should probably add that if you see a 6/4 chord, you should not read this as requiring that the chord be voiced exactly as teh spelling suggests.

As long as the bass note is right, the other notes in the chord can be voiced according to the preference of the instrumentalist.

Hence, in a second inversion chord, as long as the "5th" (as understood according to chord theory) is in the bass, then it is correct.

The 3rd and root of the chord do not have to be in any specific order.

So it could be spelled with the 5th in the bass, then the third of the chord, and then the root an octave up.

In this respect there isn't a right or wrong, though to be true to baroque style there are other conventions regarding the movement of lines and the closeness of harmony that would need to be observed.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Lox
Date: 11 May 09 - 07:35 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 13 May 09 - 05:08 AM

Thank you for your postings, Lox. I wasn't ignoring you; I don't have a computer at home and hadn't looked in here since I last posted.


Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Lox - PM
Date: 11 May 09 - 02:07 PM

"What are you asking for precisely?"

Just a bit of conversation with people who are interested in the same things. I also wanted to mention the book, which seems good to me.

Triads in root position usually go unfigured; the players are supposed to know. In addition, there is something called "The Rule of the Octave" which specifies the standard harmonizations of the other intervals in the given scale. The chords are somewhat different depending whether the piece (or the current section) is in a major or a minor key. If I'm not mistaken, there are a couple of other ways of harmonizing a melody which the player can use at his or her discretion, but I haven't gotten that far yet and I only saw this when I was looking through the book.

Croton says things like "This harmonization is what later became known as the second inversion of the dominant seventh chord", i.e., it's a lot like what we know as harmony, but not quite the same thing.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Lox
Date: 16 May 09 - 07:54 PM

"Croton says things like "This harmonization is what later became known as the second inversion of the dominant seventh chord", i.e., it's a lot like what we know as harmony, but not quite the same thing."


That isn't what that quote means, all it means is that when figured bass first emerged there was no concept of chords as wwe know them now.

To understand the mindset you have to go back to the evolution of the western harmonic system beginning pretty muh in medieval times, passing through rennaissance times and into the Baroque era.

This music in the west began with monks singing single melodic lines, and then noticing the effect of having more than one note sounding simultaneously.

this developed into the singing of multiple melodic lines in unison.

They found that some melodic lines worked better together than other melodic lines andd set about trying to figure out why, and discovered that some intervals sounded better than others.

They measured these intervals from the bottom voice otherwise known as the bass note.

By the time the Baroque era had arrived, a pretty comlex system of harmony had developed, which when viewed today can easily be broken down into chords as we understand them today, but it wasnt't until a chap called Rameau wrote a book called "la traite d'harmonie" that western civilization began to think in this way.

Rameau basically observed patterns in harmony and developed the idea of chords in inversion.

So he took, for example, a 6/4 chord with its bass note on G and said that functionally this was the same thing as a stack of 3rds on top of C, but with the moved C up to the top voice.

In other words, instead of viewing it as being one of a number of chord possibilities constructed from G, he observed that it was the same chord as C major, but in second inversion.

so he defined the idea of chords existing within a key.

eg . in the Key of C major there are 7 triads, each with their root on a different note of the scale.

They are the chords of C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor and B diminished.

These chords are built by stacking note up in intervals of a third each.

So the interval from C to E is a third, and the intervall from E to G is a third, so we can construct the chord of C major.

From D we build D, F, A = D minor

etc.

After Rameau, we would see D minor as chord ii in the key of C major.

If we were to have a chord with F in its bass and then A and D above it, we would then call it chord iib in the key of C (still D minor but in first inversion).

If we had one with A in the bass and then D and F above it, we would call it chord iic in the key of C major (the chord of D minor in 2nd inversion)


Before Rameau, we would have seen these three different inversions of the same chord as being related to the bass note, We wouldn't have recognized them as being the same chord at all, but three different harmonization possibilities in the context of three concurrent melodies working together.

In retrospect we can look at scores predating Rameau and we can analyse them using modern chord analysis. The harmonies aren't really any different, but the way we understand them is more evolved.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Lox
Date: 16 May 09 - 08:18 PM

Basically,

In short,

Figured bass represents inversions of chords.


If C is in the bass and there is no figure, then we assume a chord of C major or minor in root position, depending on the key signature.

(If the key is C major, then we know that a root position chord with C in the bass is also C major.

If the key is Bflat Major, with two flats (B and E), then a chord in root position with C in the bass will be C minor, as the note a third above C will be Eflat and the note a fifth above C will be G - C,Eflat,G = C minor.)

Anyway, no figure = root position.

6 = first inversion

6/4 = second inversion.

So a figure of 6 underneath a chord with C in the bass = either A minor or Aflat major in first inversion

and a figure of 6/4 under a chord with C in the bass = F minor or F major in second inversion.


or another way of seeing it is like this.

chord iib = chord ii6

chord iic = chord ii6/4


there is no point including root position here as it would have looked like this.

Chord ii = chord ii


So root position is assumed unless otherwise specified.

This would have made perfect sence at the time as the ear, when given a bass note, naturally wants to create a root position triad unless specifically instructed to listen for an alteration to that.

The question of minor harmony is another matter that should really be considered seperately.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: GUEST,lox
Date: 17 May 09 - 09:24 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 18 May 09 - 02:15 PM

Thank you for the information, Lox. I must admit that I've mostly been playing the trumpet rather than the guitar lately and haven't really got stuck in learning figured bass yet.


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Subject: RE: Basso continuo for classical guitar
From: GUEST,lox
Date: 18 May 09 - 04:17 PM

No probs piers,

For me it is an interesting challenge to answer questions on the subject as it is not something I have ever tried before.

Hopefully, with practise like this, I might learn to do it in a much less mealy mouthed manner.


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