A.P. Music Theory Lessons
Figured Bass

Figured Bass

Inversions

 

Triads and seventh chords can occur in inversions. This means that other notes besides the root of the chord can be in the bass. Each inversion has a name, as well as a symbol. The specific symbols given to inversions of triads and seventh chords are called figured bass. This can be included with the chord's roman numeral. These symbolic numbers are written as subscripts to the right of roman numerals. The subscripts indicate the intervals above the bass.

 

Inversion and Figured Bass Symbols

Chord Type

Lowest Note

Inversion Name

Figured Bass Symbol

Example in Cmaj

Triad

1 (root)

root position

5

3 typically, no inversion symbol indicates root position

C E G

Triad

3 (third)

first inversion

6

3 typically, only 6 is used, omitting the 3

E G C

Triad

5 (fifth)

second inversion

6

4

G C E

Seventh Chord

1 (root)

root position

7

C E G B

Seventh Chord

3 (third)

first inversion

6

5 indicates distance from the root to the top two notes

E G B C

Seventh Chord

5 (fifth)

second inversion

4

3 indicates distance from the root to middle two notes

G B C E

Seventh Chord

7 (seventh)

third inversion (only exists in 7th chords)

4

2 indicates distance from root to middle two notes

B C E G

 

Notated Example: Triads and Seventh Chords from root position to 3rd inversion in the key of C major:

 

figuredbass2.jpg

See how well you can match a chord with its inversion! Try this activity!

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 

See how well you can identify a triad or seventh chord when the chord tones are listed in their inverted order! Try this Sorting Activity!!!

 Hyperlink to Sorting Activity

Below is an example of a chord progression which has been analyzed using roman numerals with the appropriate figured bass symbols. Notice how, really, it is purely the bass note that indicates what inversion the chord is in - the other chord tones do not have to fall in exact order.

simplechordprog.gif

Chromatic Alterations

Chromatic alterations to chord tones are indicated in the following manner:

# b natural.jpg

 

Usage

 

figuredbassexplanation.GIF