Introduction to Grade 7 Figured Bass

Question 1 in the ABRSM grade 7 music theory exam asks you to add figures to a given bass line.

If you follow the advice in these lessons, you should be able to figure a bass line so that it closely matches the ABRSM’s model answers. Each point below will be explained in full in the following lessons.

  • You will be given a complete bass line and melody line.
  • The notes are written out in “piano” style, i.e. the stems of the notes obey the normal rules for piano music, rather than an SATB stave.
piano style v. SATB style
ABRSM grade 7 figured bass soprano and bass
  • A few chords at the beginning will already be figured. Asterisks are then placed under each bass note to show you where you need to add a figured bass symbol.
  • You need to understand how figures work, and the rules of harmony.
  • You need to discover the tonality of the piece: what key is starts in, and what other keys it modulates through.
  • You should work out which chords (including the inversion) fit the chord notes.
  • When more than one chord fits, you should pick the most likely chord.
  • The harmonic “vocabulary” which you are expected to use (i.e. which chords) comprises all the primary triads (I, V, IV), and the secondary triads II, III, VI and VII.
  • In addition, you will probably have to use V7 and possibly II7. Other 7th chords might crop up, but V and II are the most common.
  • You might need to include suspensions.
  • If there is a harmonic sequence, you are advised to follow it.