Figurato, a font for figured bass


Figurato is a new specialist font for figured bass notation. It allows for easy input of multiple vertically stacked numbers and accidentals. It can be used in all major commercial desktop notation software, regardless of whether the program supports figured bass notation natively.

The font is available for free on GitHub. Incidentally, Philip Rothman has bundled Figurato with the latest update of the free Norfolk suite of music fonts for Sibelius, too (if you’ve already downloaded the latest Norfolk update, you don’t need to download Figurato separately).

Read on here if you’re interested in a quick outline of the functionality.


Of all the major notation packages, the two open source projects Musescore and Lilypond offer native support for figured bass. Sibelius supports it non-semantically through the Figured bass text style and a special font. Finale and Dorico do not (at least not yet). Understandably so, some of you might say, ’cause who on earth needs figured bass anymore? (Your thoughts exactly? Feel free to skip this post, no hard feelings, and see you around next time.)

Fair enough — most contemporary composers will hardly miss figured bass. But there’s a vibrant community of musicians that perform, study, research and publish baroque music; and for the purposes of music theory classes, even for quick harmonic sketches when composing tonal music those intriguing numbers have their uses as much today as they did 350 years ago. Come to think of it, if we count the absolute numbers there are probably more people today who can read and play figured bass than in the baroque era!

Now, it should be noted that the developers at Steinberg have already promised that Dorico will have a semantic figured bass feature at some point. There is, however, no clear picture as to when it will come.

Another specialist font: why?

All this is not to say that it’s currently impossible to create figured bass notation in these programs — quite the contrary. For instance, in Finale you can enter figured bass notation through the Lyrics tool via the Finale Numerics font, introduced in 2012. But it’s a laborious process and unless the engraver cares to diligently build and arrange the figures one at a time the results are likely to look a bit crude compared to hand-engraved editions of the 19th and 20th century – let alone the magnificent, almost gestural figures in Bach’s own handwriting!

As of now Dorico, Finale and Sibelius all offer several options to create figured bass indications: generic text objects, chord symbols, lyrics, playing techniques… Regardless of which route you choose you always face the challenge to correctly position the individual elements of your figures in relation to each other.

Several rows need to be aligned horizontally; accidentals in adjacent rows are likely to collide if you adjust the leading between the rows in such a way that it looks natural otherwise; and then there are all those slashed and dashed and ticked and otherwise imaginatively modified numbers that indicate alterations… you’ll need a special font for those, right? And wouldn’t it be nice if that font took care of all the positioning hassle too?

How it works

This is where the Figurato font comes in. It contains all (and only) the symbols that are needed for figured bass: numbers, accidentals, dashes, and parentheses and brackets. Modified numbers are accessible as ligatures, the same goes for italic numbers. As figured bass indications are usually set quite small, the contours of all characters have been optimized for good legibility at small print size.

The neat thing about Figurato is something else, though: the font makes extensive and somewhat uncommon use of OpenType positioning features to arrange the elements of figured bass indications automatically. In short: you don’t need to worry about getting numbers and accidentals positioned correctly. Input your figures from top to bottom just like you would picture them in your mind – the rows are detected automatically.

When you add parentheses to your figures, some smart substitutions take place to make sure that the characters are sized and placed correctly. You can put single accidentals, a complete row or even multiple rows in parentheses or brackets.

Lastly, Figurato contains voluminous kerning tables for all sorts of character combinations, so collisions are practically precluded. This affects mostly accidentals in adjacent rows. Some care has been given to parentheses around accidentals or altered numbers too.

If you’d like to try out Figurato for yourself, please refer to the documentation on GitHub for more detailed instructions. Don’t worry, it’s mostly straightforward.


Here comes the fine print: Figurato should work in any modern environment that supports OpenType layout features. Namely the LIGA (ligatures), CALT (contextual alternates) and KERN (kerning) features are needed to parse the input strings and lay them out as sensible figures. The OpenType layout technology was built to deal with one-dimensional plain text though, and figured bass is quite a different beast. Therefore, Figurato uses this technology in a rather unusual way and although it does work in pretty much every software it has been tested with, it can’t be garanteed to work properly with every individual layout engine out there. (I seriously envy the Dorico developers who will have much more powerful tools at their disposal when they tackle figured bass!)

What’s most relevant for us: Figurato works fine with Dorico, Finale and Sibelius. Since it was developed specifically with Dorico’s lyrics popover in mind, this is currently the best environment to put it to quick and easy use, but it’s equally possible to use the font with any other text-oriented feature in any of these programs. Once again, specific instructions may be found on GitHub.

Using Figurato with the lyrics popover in Dorico.

There was a bug in the underlying Qt framework in Dorico 2 on Mac that prevented vertical shifting of characters in any OpenType font from working properly (the Windows version was not affected). This was fixed in Dorico 3. Mac users still on Dorico 2 need to use FiguratoMac, another version of Figurato that circumvents the bug at the cost of slightly limited functionality — a workaround for the workaround to work, so to speak.

There is no need to use FiguratoMac with Sibelius (greater than 2018.11), Finale, or Dorico 3.


I am pretty fluent at reading and playing figured bass, but I would never call myself an expert. That’s why I’m greatly indebted to a few real experts: Ben Byram-Wigfield, chief editor at Ancient Groove Music, and cembalist and conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen have both significantly helped shaping this project with their advice. Abraham Lee from Music Type Foundry gave valuable feedback about glyph design and helped me getting started with Python’s fontforge module.

And last but not least our own Philip Rothman helped testing the font in Sibelius, gave encouraging feedback and wrote the Sibelius-specific part of the documentation. He was even enthusiastic enough to bundle Figurato with his own Norfolk suite of free music fonts for Sibelius! Many thanks to all of you!

I enjoyed creating this curious specimen of a font! And I hope it will be useful for some of you. Do let me know about any issues you encounter! And if you find that the font saves you time with your commercial projects, I’d be grateful for a small donation. Figuring out that positioning logic took a fair amount of coffee!


  1. Waldbaer

    Hey, this looks like a really clever implementation! I’m somewhat sad that I’ll be barely using it (I’m one of this world’s musicians who are not focused on baroque music even though there might be more of these than anytime earlier ;-) ). I’m sure I’ll remember this article, though, at last when I find myself fighting against the scoring apps’ internal ways to put these numericals where they belong.

  2. David MacDonald

    Figurato is great! Very clever use of opentype font features. I’ve been using it this year to create theory class materials in Dorico. Thanks for all your work on it, Florian!

  3. Sergei

    Section “How it works”, first picture, first line with numbers. What a nice font! How can I get similar nice font in Sibelius 7.5? I need just numbers for fingering in piano scores.

    There is “Opus” font in Sibelius 7.5, which I use for fingering, but it’s bolder, than one on the picture, especially number 1 is so fat in “Opus” font! There is another font “Opus Text”, which is not so bold, but it has Italic style by default!

    1. Florian Kretlow

      Hi Sergei, thanks for your comment (and compliment)!
      Why don’t you just use Figurato for your fingerings? I don’t see why it shouldn’t work. Maybe you can even use the stacking functionality for chord fingerings.

      1. Sergei

        Hello Florian, thank you for the answer. If you think it can work for me, then I would like to try it out. I just don’t know, which file I have to download – Figurato.otf or FiguratoB.otf. And then I don’t know, how to import this font in Sibelius.

      2. Sergei

        Well, since I didn’t get an answer, I can’t try it…

        1. Florian Kretlow

          I’m so sorry, Sergei, I completely forgot about this. Thanks for reminding me.

          Try Figurato. The only difference between the two is the vertical alignment of the figures, and that shouldn’t matter for your use case.

          As for how to import the font, are you familiar with how text styles work in Sibelius? I think you can just install the font on your computer and then choose it in the Edit Text Styles dialog.

          1. Sergei

            Hello Florian, thanks for response.
            Before I tried to install it, but unsuccessful. What did I do: I’ve downloaded both Figurato.otf and FiguratoB.otf files on my Windows 7 PC. Then I’ve tried to double click on them. But in both cases I got this message:
            “The requested file C:\Users\my_user_name\Desktop\Figurato.otf is not a valid font file”.
            Here is screenshot:
            So I thought maybe I do something wrong…

  4. Florian Kretlow

    Can you do right-click > Install?

    I have no idea why the font files wouldn’t be valid on Windows 7, but I’ll certainly investigate. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

    1. Sergei

      Yes, I did right-click > install before as well (normally and from Administrator), but had the same issue. Furthermore, my friend tried the same on his computer, and he had the same, as me, that’s why I thought I do something wrong, and maybe I have to import somehow this file into Sibelius etc.

  5. John

    This looks like a great font to use in notation software. I’ve been using Matthew Hindson’s FiguredBassMH font (free via his website) to this point. Figurato looks nice and is simpler for entry. However, I find FiguredBassMH very useful when typing figured bass symbols into a word processor (primarily for creating music theory tests/quizzes/etc).

  6. tata

    in figured bass the flats go before the numbers, never after, the flat and sharp and everything works in the same logic than the staff, would you fix that, this is not jazz.

    1. Florian Kretlow

      Nope, that’s not correct. There are plenty of published scores where the accidentals are placed to the right of the numbers.

  7. rita

    how can I build the sources found in github?

    1. Florian Kretlow

      There’s a build script in the scripts folder, but you need a Python interpreter with the Fontforge module for that. If you encounter problems with that, feel free to raise an issue in the repository and I’ll help you out.

      But if you just need the fonts, you should simply download the latest release. The current builds are also in the redist folder.

  8. Robert Wildling

    Does anybody know how to create the symbols for a chord voicing?
    E.g. in figured bass exercise, sometimes an “8 below a circumflex” is given to indicate, that the student should start out with a chord inversion, which has its octave in the soprano voice.
    (I assume that, if it was a font, it would probably only consist of 3 symbols for 3, 5 and 8 position – unless things like passing or neighbour note etc would be part of the font, too.)

    1. Florian Kretlow

      It’s not possible with Figurato, and as far as I know, Dorico’s FB implementation can’t do this either.
      The ^ only ever appears above the topmost number, right? If so, it may be possible to add this to Figurato with reasonable effort, though I can’t promise I’ll get to it very soon.

  9. Derek Remes

    I’m having trouble getting Figurato to work in Microsoft Word. All the figures/symbols just appear directly over one another. I’ve tried adjusting the line spacing but the problem persists. Any tips?

    1. Florian Kretlow

      Oh well, MS Word… I’m afraid the only thing I can suggest is to make sure that OpenType features are activated (should be somewhere in the character styles dialog). Beyond that, the font has never been officially tested with Word, and it may very well be that Word can’t handle the positioning logic correctly.

    2. Luis Cuypers

      Hi Derek,
      I know this comment is of some age, but I just found it and thought I’d share my help just in case it is still needed. So you want to open the font options in MS Word (Cmd + shift + A on Windows or just use the arrow below the font selection in the Start menu) and go to the Tab “Advanced” There you need three settings to make this work:
      1. Check “Kerning for fonts” and set the number to the right to value 1
      2. In the first dropdown under “OpenType Features” called “Ligatures” select “All”
      3. Just above the Preview field, check the box “Use contextual alternates”

      You should now be able to use the Figurato Font in Word. The only problems still left will be alignement when switching back to your regular text font, and getting to Figured Bass Signatures next to each other.
      I hope this is of some help. The usage of this in Word still has some downsides but it looks cool in my opinion.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *