• Figured Bass 102: Figuration of Keyboard Style Triads

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    In today’s post, we’ll be learning the figuration of keyboard style triads.

    You’ll learn in this lesson, how music scholars use numbers to notate when a given chord is in root position, first inversion, or second inversion.

    Let’s get started!

    Overview Of The Figuration Of Keyboard Style Triads

    A triad can be broken down into its intervallic components using its root as a reference. The C Major triad can be broken down into:
    C-E:

    a major third.

    C-G:

    …a perfect fifth. The knowledge of these intervals is used by music scholars to produce its figuration.

    The figuration of a chord is a numerical code that represents the interval between its bass note and its upper notes.

    Attention: In figuration, the intervallic components of a triad are determined using the bass note as a reference – not the root. Check out this previous post if you’re interested in finding out the difference between a root note and a bass note.

    Figuration Of Root Position Triads

    C-E-G is the Root Position of the C Major Triad. It can be figured as

    5
    3

    This is because C-G:

    …is a fifth, while C-E:

    …is a third. Consequently, adding the fifth and the third scale tones (in the key of C) produces a five-three chord (aka – “root position triad”.)

    “Please take note…”

    A figuration is not precise on the quality of interval to be used. The quality of interval to be used is left to  the musician’s discretion. If the same five-three figuration is used on D (the second scale step of C), we’ll have:
    D + a fifth (A fifth from D is A)
    D + a third (A third from D is F)
    Altogether, we have D-F-A, which is a product of the third and fifth tones from D using the C major scale. D-F-A is a minor triad, a five-three chord and therefore in its root position.

    In another situation where the fifth and third tones are determined in the key of D major:

    …the quality of third may change.

    D + a fifth (A fifth from D is A)

    D + a third (A third from D is F)

    Altogether, we have D-F♯-Awhich is a product of the third and fifth tones from D using the D major scale. D-F#-A is the D major triad, a five-three chord (aka – “root position chord”.)

    “All root position triads have a five-three figuration”

    Henceforth, feel free to associate root position chords with the term ‘five-three chord’ and vice-versa.

    The triads below are all five-three chords.

    E Major:

    C Minor:

    F Major:

    Eb Major:

    Bb Minor:

    F# Major:

    …and this is because the intervals between the lowest chord tone (the reference) in each case and successive chord tones are a fifth and a third respectively.

    Whenever the intervals between the lowest chord tone and other chord tones are a fifth and a third respectively, the triad is a five-three chord and it’s in root position.

    “In a five-three chord, the bass note is the root note”

    Whenever the figuration of a keyboard style triad is “five-three”, that means that the lowest note (aka – “bass note”) is the root. The triads below are five-three chords….
    E Major:

    C Minor:

    F Major:

    Eb Major:

    Bb Minor:

    F# Major:

    Therefore, their roots are the lowest chord tone in each case.

    Figuration Of First Inversion Triads

    Here’s the first inversion of the C major triad:

    It can be figured as

    6
    3

    Our reference in this case is E (which is the lowest chord-tone). E-C:

    …is a sixth while E-G:

    …is a third. This means that adding a sixth and a third to an E note produces a six-three chord (aka – “first inversion triad”).

    “All first inversion triads have a six-three figuration”

    Henceforth, feel free to associate the first inversion of a chord with the term “six-three chord” and vice-versa.

    Check out these six-three chords below…

    E minor (first inversion):

    C Minor (first inversion):


    F Major (first inversion):


    Eb Major (first inversion):


    A Minor first inversion:

    B Major (first inversion):


    This is because the intervals between the lowest chord tone (the reference) in each case and successive chord tones are a sixth and a third respectively.

    Whenever the intervals between the lowest chord tone and other chord tones are a sixth and a third respectively, the triad is a six-three chord (aka – “first inversion chord”.)

    “In a six-three chord, the melody note is the root”

    Whenever the figuration of a keyboard style triad is “six-three”, that means that the root is the highest chord tone (aka – “melody note”.)

    The triads below are all six-three chords…
    E Major in first inversion:

    C Minor in first inversion:


    F Major in first inversion:


    Eb Major in first inversion:


    Ab Minor in first inversion:


    D Major in first inversion:

    Therefore, their roots are the highest chord tone in each case.

    Figuration Of Second Inversion Triads

    G-C-E is the Second Inversion of the C Major Triad. It can be figured as

    6
    4

    Our reference is G (which is the lowest chord-tone in this case). G-E:


    …is a sixth while G-C:

    …is a fourth. This means that adding a sixth and a third to G note produces a six-four chord (aka – “second inversion chord”).

    Let me re-emphasize that figurations do not carry the quality of an interval to be used. Therefore, the quality of interval to be used is incumbent on the musician or as the situation demands. For example, if the same six-four figuration is used on C (the first scale step of C), we’ll have:

    C + a sixth (A sixth from C is A)

    C + a fourth (A fourth from C is F)

    C-F-A which is a product of scale-step fourth and sixth of the C Major scale.   

    C-F-A is not a root position triad, it’s a six-four chord.

    “All Second Inversion Triads have a six-four figuration”

    Henceforth, if you come across any second inversion chord, feel free to say “its a six-four chord.

    The triads below are all six-four chords.

    E minor second inversion:

    C Minor second inversion:

    F Major second inversion:

    Eb Major second inversion:

    A Minor second inversion:

    B Major second inversion:

    This is because the intervals between the lowest chord tone (the reference) in each case and successive chord tones are a sixth and a fourth respectively. If the intervals between the lowest chord tone and other chord tones are a sixth and a fourth respectively, the triad is a six-four chord and it’s in first inversion.

    In a six-four chord, the root is in-between the bass note and melody note. Whenever the figuration of a keyboard style triad is “six-four”, that means the root is the middle chord tone.

    The triads below are all six-four chords.
    E minor second inversion:

    C Minor second inversion:

    F Major second inversion:

    Eb Major second inversion:

    A Minor second inversion:

    B Major second inversion:

    Therefore, their roots are the middle chord tones.

    Final Words

    The root position chord is figured as the five-three chord, the first inversion chord is figured as the six-three chord, while the second inversion chord is figured as the six-four chord.

    In another post, I’ll be showing you how to determine whether a chord is inverted or in root position using these figurations.

    Thanks for your time.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Scott

    You have an error, up above. The first “F Major” that you list is actually an “F minor – F, Aflat, C”.

    Reply

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