Figured bass

Figured bass is a shorthand that uses figures to specify the harmony above the notated bass notes. It is particularly common in Baroque and early Classical music and in the parts of accompanying instruments, such as harpsichords and viols.

Figured bass informs performers about the intended harmony but allows room for interpretation, such as improvised arpeggiated phrases using notes from the chord.

Figures use a combination of Arabic numbers, accidentals, and horizontal hold lines to specify both the intervals above the bass note that make up the chord and its duration. For example, they show where suspensions resolve or when the bass note changes but the chord remains the same.

Figure 1. A basso continuo part with figured bass below the staff

In Dorico Elements, figured bass exists globally at the corresponding rhythmic positions by default because most music that includes figured bass is tonal, meaning players perform notes from the same chord. Therefore, you only have to input figures once, but they can appear above multiple or no staves as required and the figures automatically update according to the notes on each staff. However, in some circumstances it is necessary to specify different chords for different players at the same rhythmic position. In such cases, you can input local figured bass.

Dorico Elements calculates and saves the pitches implied by the figures you enter in relation to the lowest note at that rhythmic position. This semantic understanding of the harmony implied by figures allows Dorico Elements to update the displayed figures on different staves and if you transpose or change the pitch of notes.

When you transpose music that includes figured bass, Dorico Elements also transposes the figures accordingly.

Figured bass in Dorico Elements uses a bold roman font by default.

You can hide or show figured bass in each layout independently and only above the staves of specific players. You can also change whether figured bass appears above or below staves by default in each layout independently. Figures appear as signposts if Dorico Elements either does not normally show them, such as third intervals, or cannot identify the bass note for them, such as on a rest.


Figured bass does not yet include notations commonly used for harmonic analysis, such as Roman numerals. This is planned for future versions.