Figured bass is a way of conceiving of harmony from bass up to melody. The bass line is not so much oriented around the notion of chordal ‘roots,’ as in jazz, because the bass line is till considered as a somewhat intedepent ‘line,’ that is, it has a melodic presence. It is not so dissimilar from jazz notation except that the notion of chordal ‘roots’ was not yet so dominant as it is currently. The jazz notion of harmonic substitution can be viewed as a way that a melodic tone can be redefined as a different function; if an ‘e’ was the mediant of C-major, then that same ‘e’ could later on be harmonized as the fifth (the dominant) of A-minor. The idea of Figured Soprano is simply a way of taking this thinking from the top-down and bringing it into greater prominence as a creative gesture. So these exercises are not anything new in their ideation, but they can bring many new ideas, chord progressions and much else. It’s a somewhat neglected area of harmonic study and it’s a lot of fun to play with.

Here are a few examples, all of which are based on the same “melody.” But, in fact, the melody is very simple and obvious since it is only an ascending whole-tone scale. Later in the sequence of exercises, a diminished scale is used.

There is a sound file of these exercises at