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CHAPTER FOUR

Musical
Shorthand
Lead Sheets and
Figured Bass

KEY CONCEPTS IN
THIS CHAPTER
Complex harmonic practices lead to abbreviated
methods of symbolizing them. Throughout history,
systems have arisen to meet the needs of the time,
but two are particularly relevant for todays musician: the lead-sheet and gured-bass notation. The
former is a common way of notating popular music
and jazz, whereas the latter is integral to a working
knowledge of Baroque musicthe music of Vivaldi,
Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries.

LEAD-SHEET NOTATION
A lead sheet provides the melody (and lyrics if
present) on a single staff, with chord symbols above
the staff. A keyboardist or guitarist interprets the
chord symbols and improvises an appropriate
accompaniment based on them. The style is up to
the player, and it can be varied to suit the purposes
of the group.

lead-sheet notation
gured-bass notation

LEAD SHEETS AND FIGURED BASS

Example 4-1 shows lead-sheet notation in its simplest form.

EXAMPLE 4-1 Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager: When I Need You

Note: Chord changes are placed where they occur in the music. A given chord remains
in effect until the next change occurs.

Lead-Sheet Chord Symbols


Lead-sheet symbols show a chords root and quality. Because it has evolved over time,
the system is inconsistent. Performers, composers, and arrangers need to be aware of the
various ways a chord can be symbolized. Example 4-2 shows the more common symbols.

EXAMPLE 4-2
a Triads

b Seventh Chords

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DIATONIC HARMONY

Consult Appendix C for a complete table of lead-sheet chord symbols.

Y BACK TO

BASICS 4.1
Lead-Sheet
Symbols
Triads and
Seventh
Chords

A good way to familiarize yourself with the sound and spelling of the seventh chord types
symbolized in Example 4-2b is to play the chords in the order presented in a variety of
keysfor example, GM7G7Gm7G7Go7. Cycling through the pattern in this way
involves changing only one pitch at a time.
Assignments 1A1E in workbook Chapter 4 can be completed at this time.

Lead-sheet symbols serve well in styles where a bass player walks through the chord
changes in a largely stepwise fashion, or plays alternately the chord roots and fths. In
these styles, its often unnecessary that the notation indicate chord inversions. Yet the
bass line often is the second most important melodic element in a piece. You learned in
Chapter 3 how the bass can subtly alter the character of a given set of harmonies. It can
also rescue a lackluster melody. For these reasons, it is often desirable that chord symbols
reect the bass note.
Example 43 is a solo piano rendering of Example 4-1 that remains reasonably faithful
to the harmonic structure of the song as recorded by Leo Sayer. Notice that the lead
sheet (see Example 4-1) offers an incomplete view of the actual bass line. Yet the bass
line adds much to the song.

Expanded Symbols
EXAMPLE 4-3 Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager: When I Need You

LEAD SHEETS AND FIGURED BASS

The chord symbols added in mm. 2, 4, and 6 help. They show both the chord (left of
the slash) and the bass note when different from the chord root (right of the slash). In this
way the symbol can indicate chord inversion and thus reect more accurately (though
still not completely) the bass line.

EXAMPLE 4-4

ADDED PRACTICE
Show the lead-sheet symbols that would completely describe the chords (chord type and
bass note) at the numbered points in Example 4-5.

EXAMPLE 4-5 Traditional Billy Boy

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DIATONIC HARMONY

Passing Tones

Y BACK TO

BASICS 4.2
Lead Sheet
Symbols
Inverted
Chords

The circled bass notes in Example 4-5 are not members of the harmonies above them
and so they are calledand here is one of the most self-evident terms in all of music
theorynonchord tones (also called nonharmonic tones). Both circled notes pass
between chord tones by step to create the walking bass common in the swing style.
Because they connect the chord tones in a stepwise manner, these notes are called passing
tones (abbreviated PT). Youll learn more about them in Chapter 8.

REVIEW AND REINFORCEMENT


Play the bass line in Example 4-3. Identify the passing tones in mm. 2, 4, and 6.

For assignments on lead-sheet notation, turn to workbook Chapter 4, Assignment 1A1I.

MORE ON CHORD INVERSION: THE NUMBERS GAME


Its ironic. For all their precision, numbers can be hopelessly confusing. Recall from Chapter
3 that every triad, whether major, minor, diminished or augmented, has a root, a third,
and a fth. When a third (3rd) and fth (5th) are placed above a given pitch, that
lowest pitch is called the root. Recall, too, that when we change the chord member that
is on the bottom, we invert the chord.
In the process of inversion, something remains constant and something changes. Remaining
constant are the chord member names: root (R), third (3rd), and fth (5th). No matter
how we rearrange the notes, the chord member names remain unchanged. Following is a
C-major triad in root position. Arrangements are also shown with the 3rd and the 5th
on the bottom. No matter what inversion we use, the chord member names of root,
3rd, and 5th remain:

LEAD SHEETS AND FIGURED BASS

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Notes:
1. Chord members derive their names from the intervals they form above the root. They retain those names
(Root, 3rd, 5th) in all inversions.
2. First inversion places the 3rd of the chord on the bottom of the stack. It doesnt matter where the root
and 5th are placed, so long as they appear above the 3rd.
3. Second inversion places the 5th of the chord on the bottom of the stack. It makes no difference where
the root and 3rd are placed, so long as they appear above the 5th.
Upon inversion, the chord member names remain the same but the intervals they form
against the lowest pitch (which is no longer the root) change. These intervals are shown
beneath the staff for the triad in each of its positions.

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DIATONIC HARMONY

Notes:
1. In rst inversion, the root (C) is a sixth above the lowest pitch, and the 5th (G) is a third above the
lowest pitch.
2. In second inversion, the root (C) is a fourth above the lowest pitch, and the 3rd (E) is a sixth above the
lowest pitch.

As you can see, the chord members get their names from root position and only in root
position are the intervals above the lowest pitch the same as the chord member names.
The numerals appearing beneath the staff in the example above form the basis of another
short-hand notation system known as the gured bass.

FIGURED-BASS NOTATION
Ours is not the only time in the history of music when improvisation has played an
important role. During the Baroque era (c.16001750) a shorthand system of notation,
consisting of a bass line along with numbers below the notes to indicate the intervals to
be added above, provided the information necessary for the harpsichordist, organist,
lutenist, or (mostly in Spain) guitarist to improvise an accompaniment. Similar in concept
to todays lead sheet, the system specied the bass line more precisely. Known as the
continuo, the part was played (realized) by a performer who eshed out the harmonies
according to his or her musical taste and skill. Example 4-6 shows elements of the system.
The bottom staff contains the bass line with its accompanying gures, the part the
keyboardist would have seen. The small staff above it shows one possible waya rather
basic wayto realize this gured bass.

EXAMPLE 4-6 J. S. Bach: Ich steh mit einen Fuss im Grabe (from Cantata 156)

LEAD SHEETS AND FIGURED BASS

Although the points that follow relate gured bass to chord inversion, its important to
know that composers and performers of the time thought in terms of intervals onlynot
chord inversion, a concept unknown to all but the last generation of gured-bass
composers.

Realizing a Figured Bass


1. The numbers indicate intervals to be added in any octave abovenever belowthe
bass notes.

2. The intervals to be added are diatonicthat is, found within the key. Chromatic pitches
are never added or subtracted unless the gure so instructs.
3. A 53 indicates a root-position triad (as shown in 1a). However, this gure was normally
omitted; therefore, a bass note with no numbers beneath it signies root position.
Also see Example 4-6: m. 1, beat 1, and m. 4, beat 3

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DIATONIC HARMONY

4. A 6 (short for 63 ) indicates a rst-inversion triad.


Also see Example 4-6: m. 1, beat 3 and m. 5, beat 1.

5. A 64 indicates a second-inversion triad.

6. An accidental alone always refers to the third above the bass note.

Also see Example 4-6: m. 6, beat 4. (The natural refers to the third above G.)
7. An accidental preceding or following a number indicates a chromatic raising or
lowering of the pitch to which the number refers. Raised pitches are also indicated
by a plus sign or by a diagonal stroke through the number.

LEAD SHEETS AND FIGURED BASS

These gures all mean a raised sixth (along with the diatonic third) above B.

These gures all mean a raised sixth (along with the diatonic third) above C.
8. The gures for seventh chords are the following:

See Example 4-6: m. 3, beat 4; m. 6, beat 3; m. 6, beat 4.


9. A dash beneath a bass note indicates that the chord is unchanged. The bass note is
quite possibly a nonchord tone.

Also see Example 4-6: mm. 3, 4, 5, and 6. In which of these measures is the bass
note a passing tone?
Note that a missing dash in the previous illustration would prompt a harmonization
of the second bass note.

10. A 9, 7, or 4, usually indicates a tone that is not part of the chord. A number showing
the pitch to which it moves (8, 6, or 3) often follows, that is, 98, 76, 43. See
Example 4-6: m. 6.

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DIATONIC HARMONY

CONCEPT CHECK
In the blanks beneath the music in Example 4-7, add gures to the bass line
consistent with the realization shown on the reduced staff.
1. Where a chord is in root position, leave the blank empty.
2. Circled tones indicate places where the bass changes under a chord that
remains unchanged. You need not add gures at these points.
3. For guidance in m. 8, beat 1, and m. 13, beat 3, consult note 10 following Example
4-6.
Your result will be much more heavily gured than Handels original, which was very
sparsely gured.

EXAMPLE 4-7 G. F. Handel: For unto us a Child is born (from Messiah)

LEAD SHEETS AND FIGURED BASS

The gured bass, like lead-sheet notation and all aspects of music, evolved throughout
its period of use, with variations and inconsistencies aplenty. Composers often omitted
all but the most essential gures from the bass line, even forgoing all gures where the
harmony could be easily deduced from the other parts. This left much to the interpretative
powers of the performers, who, steeped in the style, were accustomed to its anomalies.
In fact, an overly gured bass might have been considered condescending.

ADDED PRACTICE
Following is the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria from Chapter 3. Here it is presented in the key
of D in the form of a lead sheet. From the chord symbols, construct a gured bass on the
bass-clef staff beneath the melody. The process has been started for you. At what points
do inversions render the bass line more stepwise than it otherwise would be?

EXAMPLE 4-8 J. S. BachC. Gounod: Ave Maria

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Y BACK TO

BASICS 4.3
Constructing
Chords from a
Figured Bass

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DIATONIC HARMONY

Although an elegant system, gured bass remains forever tethered to Baroque music, and
it is still a prized skill used by musicians specializing in the performance of that music.
However, the gures themselves:

Y BACK TO

BASICS 4.4
Inversion
and Figured
Bass

eventually found a wider use. In tandem with roman numerals, they form the composite
chord symbols that have become standard in harmonic analysis. (The more recent
Nashville system of chord labeling supplants roman numerals with arabic numerals.)
Well learn about roman-numeral symbols in Chapter 5.
For assignments on gured bass notation, turn to workbook Chapter 4, Assignments 2A2D.

CODA
In the time of Bach and Handeland Haydn and Mozartthe ability to improvise
was considered to be an indispensible skill of the accomplished musician. Today,
regrettably, this is not the case. Musicians tend to gravitate early in their studies
toward classical performance and composition, or to jazz and popular styles,
improvisation largely the domain of the latter. This is the price of specialization, and
even a musician such as Wynton Marsalis, who for much of his career straddled
both the classical and jazz worlds, has since found it necessary to abandon classical
performance because to excel in both isin his own wordsjust too hard. Still,
in todays ercely competitive environment, the more versatile a musician you are,
the more likely it is that your musical services will be in demand. You should commit
yourself to becoming as conversant as possible in both jazz and classical styles.

DO YOU KNOW THESE TERMS?


continuo
gured bass
lead sheet

nonchord tone (nonharmonic


tones)
passing tone
realization