2.7.3 Figured bass

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Figured bass notation can be displayed.


Introduction to figured bass

LilyPond has support for figured bass, also called thorough bass or basso continuo.

<<
  \new Voice { \clef bass dis4 c d ais g fis}
  \new FiguredBass {
    \figuremode {
      <6>4 <7\+>8 <6+ [_!]> <6>4 <6 5 [3+]> |
      <_>4 <6 5/>4
    }
  }
>>

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The support for figured bass consists of two parts: there is an input mode, introduced by \figuremode, that accepts entry of bass figures, and there is a context named FiguredBass that takes care of displaying BassFigure objects. Figured bass can also be displayed in Staff contexts.

\figures { … } is a shortcut notation for \new FiguredBass \figuremode { … }.

Although the support for figured bass may superficially resemble chord support, it is much simpler. \figuremode mode simply stores the figures and the FiguredBass context prints them as entered. There is no conversion to pitches.

See also

Music Glossary: figured bass.

Snippets: Chords.


Entering figured bass

\figuremode is used to switch the input mode to figure mode. See Input modes, for more information on different input modes.

In figure mode, a group of bass figures is delimited by ‘<’ and ‘>’. The duration is entered after the ‘>’.

\new FiguredBass {
  \figuremode {
    <6 4>2
  }
}

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Accidentals (including naturals) may be used for modifying scale steps. These are entered by appending ‘+’ (for sharps), ‘-’ (for flats) or ‘!’ (for naturals) after the number. For double accidentals the modifier is applied twice. For the modification of the third step the number is often omitted, which can be achieved by using ‘_’ instead of a number.

\figures {
  <7! 6+ 4-> <5++> <3--> <_+> <7 _!>
}

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If used without accidental, ‘_’ creates an empty figure which nevertheless takes up space. This can be used for controlling the stacking of bass figures.

<<
  {
    \clef bass
    g2 c4
  }
  \figures {
    <_ 5 4>4 <8 _ 3>8 <7>
  }
>>

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Augmented and diminished steps can be indicated.

\figures {
  <6\+ 5/> <7/>
}

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A backward slash through a figure is also available.

\figures {
  <5> <5\\>
}

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For some figures, special backward slash glyphs are provided.

\figures {
  <8 6\\> <9 7\\> <9\\ 7>
}

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Brackets can be added around accidentals, figures, and consecutive groups of figures.

\figures {
  <9[-] 8 [7-] 5 [4[!] 2+]>
}

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Any text markup can be inserted as a figure.

\figures {
  <\markup { \fontsize #-5 \number 6 \teeny \super (1) } 5>
}

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Continuation lines can be used to indicate repeated figures.

<<
  {
    \clef bass
    e4 d c b,
    e4 d c b,
  }
  \figures {
    \bassFigureExtendersOn
    <6 4>4 <6 3> <7 3> <7 3>
    \bassFigureExtendersOff
    <6 4>4 <6 3> <7 3> <7 3>
  }
>>

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In this case, the extender lines replace existing figures, unless the continuation lines have been explicitly terminated with \!.

<<
  \figures {
    \bassFigureExtendersOn
    <6 4>4 <6 4> <6\! 4\!> <6 4>
  }
  {
    \clef bass
    d4 d c c
  }
>>

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The table below summarizes the figure modifiers available.

modifier

purpose

example

+, -, !

accidentals

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\+, /

augmented and diminished steps

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\\

raised by a semitone

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\!

end of continuation line

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Predefined commands

\bassFigureExtendersOn, \bassFigureExtendersOff.

Selected Snippets

Changing the positions of figured bass alterations

Accidentals and plus signs can appear before or after the numbers, depending on the figuredBassAlterationDirection and figuredBassPlusDirection properties.

If plus signs appear after the number, specially designed glyphs are provided for some figures.

\figures {
  <5\+> <5+ 4\+> <6 4- 2\+> r
  \set figuredBassAlterationDirection = #RIGHT
  <5\+> <5+ 4\+> <6 4- 2\+> r
  \set figuredBassPlusDirection = #RIGHT
  <5\+> <5+ 4\+> <6 4- 2\+> r
  \set figuredBassAlterationDirection = #LEFT
  <5\+> <5+ 4\+> <6 4- 2\+> r
}

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Adjusting figured bass alteration glyphs

In figured bass, specially designed glyphs for 6\\, 7\\, and 9\\ are used by default. Similarly, specially designed glyphs for symbols 2\+, 4\+, and 5\+ are used by default if plus signs appear after the number.

To change that, pass an alist to figuredBassPlusStrokedAlist and set the glyph in question to #f (or omit it).

\figures {
  \set figuredBassPlusDirection = #RIGHT
  <6\\> <7\\> <9\\> r
  <2\+> <4\+> <5\+> r

  \set figuredBassPlusStrokedAlist =
    #'((2 . "figbass.twoplus")
       ;; (4 . "figbass.fourplus")
       ;; (5 . "figbass.fiveplus")
       (6 . "figbass.sixstroked")
       ;; (7 . "figbass.sevenstroked")
       ;; (9 . "figbass.ninestroked")
      )
  <6\\> <7\\> <9\\> r
  <2\+> <4\+> <5\+> r
}

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See also

Snippets: Chords.

Internals Reference: BassFigure, BassFigureAlignment, BassFigureLine, BassFigureBracket, BassFigureContinuation, FiguredBass.


Displaying figured bass

Figured bass can be displayed using the FiguredBass context, or in most staff contexts.

When displayed in a FiguredBass context, the vertical location of the figures is independent of the notes on the staff.

<<
  \relative {
    c''4 c'8 r8 c,4 c'
  }
  \new FiguredBass {
    \figuremode {
      <4>4 <10 6>8 s8
      <6 4>4 <6 4>
    }
  }
>>

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In the example above, the FiguredBass context must be explicitly instantiated to avoid creating a second (empty) staff.

Figured bass can also be added to Staff contexts directly. In this case, the vertical position of the figures is adjusted automatically.

<<
  \new Staff = "myStaff"
  \figuremode {
    <4>4 <10 6>8 s8
    <6 4>4 <6 4>
  }
  %% Put notes on same Staff as figures
  \context Staff = "myStaff" {
    \clef bass
    c4 c'8 r8 c4 c'
  }
>>

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When added in a Staff context, figured bass can be displayed above or below the staff.

<<
  \new Staff = "myStaff"
  \figuremode {
    <4>4 <10 6>8 s8
    \bassFigureStaffAlignmentDown
    <6 4>4 <6 4>
  }
  %% Put notes on same Staff as figures
  \context Staff = "myStaff" {
    \clef bass
    c4 c'8 r8 c4 c'
  }
>>

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The horizontal alignment of numbers in a figured bass stack that have more than a single digit can be controlled with the context property figuredBassLargeNumberAlignment.

<<
  \new Voice {
    \clef bass
    r2 d | d d | a2
  }
  \new FiguredBass \figuremode {
    s2 <10+ 8> |
    \set figuredBassLargeNumberAlignment = #RIGHT
    <11 9>2
    \set figuredBassLargeNumberAlignment = #LEFT
    <10+ 9>2 |
    <_+>2
  }
>>

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The vertical distance of figured bass elements can be controlled with subproperties minimum-distance and padding of staff-staff-spacing.

<<
  { \clef bass g,2 c, }
  \figures {
    \once \override BassFigureLine
                    .staff-staff-spacing.minimum-distance = 3
    <7 _-> <7- _->
  }
>>

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Predefined commands

\bassFigureStaffAlignmentDown, \bassFigureStaffAlignmentUp, \bassFigureStaffAlignmentNeutral.

See also

Snippets: Chords.

Internals Reference: BassFigure, BassFigureAlignment, BassFigureLine, BassFigureBracket, BassFigureContinuation, FiguredBass.

Known issues and warnings

To ensure that continuation lines work properly, it is safest to use the same rhythm in the figure line as in the bass line.

<<
  {
    \clef bass
    \repeat unfold 4 { f16. g32 } f8. es16 d8 es
  }
  \figures {
    \bassFigureExtendersOn
    % The extenders are correct here,
    % with the same rhythm as the bass.
    \repeat unfold 4 { <6 4->16. <6 4->32 }
    <5>8. r16 <6>8 <6\! 5->
  }
>>
<<
  {
    \clef bass
    \repeat unfold 4 { f16. g32 } f8. es16 d8 es
  }
  \figures {
    \bassFigureExtendersOn
    % The extenders are incorrect here,
    % even though the timing is the same.
    <6 4->4 <6 4->4
    <5>8. r16 <6>8 <6\! 5->
  }
>>

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LilyPond — Notation Reference v2.23.11 (development-branch).