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Realising Figured Bass - Doubling Guidelines

You will sometimes want to write four-voiced textures and, while seventh chords have four different notes, for triads this will mean doubling one of the three notes. If you want to write authentic sounding baroque keyboard music, there are conventions about which notes to double.

The following guidelines are based on no lesser authority than J. S. Bach’s 1738 Precepts and Principles For Playing the Thorough-Bass or Accompanying in Four Parts (translated by Pamela Poulin for the Clarendon Press in 1994). The large notes in the examples show the figured notes while the small notes show the preferred doubling.

Root position triads
Double the root, although you have to watch out for parallel octaves.
First inversion triads
The third is the most characteristic doubling and the next most preferable is the octave.
Second inversion triads
Double the fifth, which becomes the root in the following chord in the characteristic cadential six-four.
Suspension (4-3)
As with the ordinary root position triad, the root is the most characteristic doubling
Suspension (9-8)
The resolution of the suspension automatically doubles the root, so it is best to add the fifth in the four part texture for the suspended chord.

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