Dorico 3.5 figured bass problem

hi all,

i have Dorico 3.5 set to follow my instructions for Figured Bass literally and yet the following happens (piece is in f-minor):


i need a natural sign next to 6 not a sharp. how can i achieve this?

i can get the figure without any accidental but that’s not what is required.



It looks like you have set the “Calculate accidentals” option in Engraving Options to “Relative to key signature”. Set it to “Absolute from bass note”.

Thanks Florian that worked. However I’m a bit confused. Tell me, where does it make sense in either Ab or f that an E# would make sense harmonically? Also, since I have literal interpretation turned on shouldn’t that over-ride Dorico’s internal logic? Still, when I used figurato at this spot, I had no problems.

We don’t know the source you are copying from, but I think you have been caught out by the fact that 18th century conventions for accidentals are not the same as 21st century conventions.

In the 17th/18th century, # and b simply meant “a semitone higher or lower” not absolute pitches as in modern notation. For example, in a score in G major, it was quite common for an F natural note to have a flat sign for the accidental, not a natural sign.

The attachment is a contemporary edition of Vivaldi (published in 1711) - note the C F flats instead of C and F naturals.

So your “6#” just meant “a semitone higher than the note in the key”, i.e. E natural instead of E flat.

But you are in good company getting confused by this. There were some instances in the early editions of Bach where the best bits of his modulations were deleted because people didn’t understand this convention, and thought some of the accidentals in the MS copies were typos!

FWIW the old convention works better from a practical point of view, because there is no need to adjust the accidentals when transposing the music from sharp to flat keys. With the modern interpretation of the accidentals, when transposing from F major to G major flats become naturals and naturals become sharps. With the 18th century interpretation, there is no change.

In the old system you read stacks of figures (e.g. 4# 2) like “chord symbols” which are the same in any key, not as literally meaning a sharp on the fourth note, etc.

thanks Rob.

I had thought as much when i encountered what, to my 21st-century mind, seemed odd. I’m glad I can tweak Dorico figured bass to avoid 18th-century conventions.

FYI my example came from Walter Piston’s 'Harmony".

Unless the modern editions have more information than my copy, Piston’s description of figured bass notation is very minimalist. He didn’t rate it very highly as a teaching aid for harmony anyway.

Maybe it was a typo, or maybe he just “forgot” to limit himself to the subset of FB that he describes in the book.

You certainly can’t make sense of C P E Bach’s well known text on FB unless you understand 18th century accidentals. Otherwise, right at the start when defining major and minor triads, in almost the first music example you are left wondering why on earth C E# G is supposed to be a major triad! (The previous chord was the minor triad C Eb G).

Piston is odd in that he conflates vii° and V(7) and refuses to use upper and lower case Roman numerals to designate Major/Augmented and minor/diminished chords. But after studying Benjamin he does offer some interesting ideas re harmony.

Still, who would you recommend for figured bass study?


AFAIK the Dorico developers used this as their reference source:

The best known contemporary text is probably , which is basically a description of JS Bach’s practices by his best known son. But be warned that its theoretical model of harmony is quite different from current teaching based on the “common practice” period. When it was written, Rameau had just published his own book with the new idea that the “inversions” of a chord were basically the same chord with different bass notes, but CPE Bach (writing only a few year later) ignores that completely. Since Rameau’s book was published in 1744, it didn’t have any significant influence on JS Bach’s thought processes for most of his working life, and it’s possible he never knew Rameau’s book at all.

For CPE Bach, 5-3 6-3 and 6-4 chords are completely different things, not different inversions of the same chord. On the other hand he considers 6-3 chords on every note of the scale as being basically the same thing, for example.

I once annoyed my harmony teacher by “analyzing” every chord in a progression as some form of an incomplete dominant 13th. And why not - the complete chord contains all the notes of the scale :slight_smile:

Just dug out the text I learned from to brush up on this a bit, the Aldwell-Schachter “Harmony and Voice Leading.” Did anyone else use that in college? My second edition is now available used for about $4, LOL.