Getting Top Marks

In order to get full marks for the figured bass question at grade 7, it’s normally necessary to show some initiative. There will be places where a variety of chords will fit, and you’ll need to select the best one. The best one might be one which:

  • Follows a sequence or pattern that occurs somewhere else in the piece or
  • One which uses an added 7th chord instead a plain triad or
  • One which gives the piece more variety overall.

The opening few bars of your piece might have a particular progression that works further on in the piece.

This example, which starts in F major, begins with I-IV7-V7-I.

getting top marks

In the part that you need to figure, which is now in D minor, you might find that the notes allow you to use, chords I-iv-V-I, which is a perfectly acceptable progression. But if you use the same progression as in bars 1-2 instead, you will probably achieve a higher mark.

Chord b can be figured as iv7 in D minor (G-Bb-D and F). There’s no F printed here, but we can tell the continuo player to add one in, and this will give the piece a better sense of continuity. Remember the added 7th will need to fall by step in the next chord to resolve properly, so make sure that’s possible before adding it. In this case, the added F in chord b could fall to an E in chord c, so that will work fine. The A major chord can also be changed, to V7.

By doing this, we’ve both used a pattern or sequence of chords, and also introduced more 7th chords. We haven’t introduced more variety though, as we’ve simply repeated the first four chords. So, it is better to aim for a repeated pattern, or for variety? Repeated individual chords are best avoided, for example, see-sawing between C major and G7. But a repeated progression in a different key is fine and recommended, so V-I in C major followed by V-I in G major or F major for example, is good.