Adventures in figured bass with Dorico


When Dorico introduces support for a new feature, it doesn’t aim to meet competitors’ offerings or users’ expectations: instead it takes aim at them, and blows them out of the water with the firepower of a battleship. ‘Intelligent’ — that’s no empty boast — figured bass was introduced in version 3.5. Dorico’s insistence on understanding the meaning of music symbols provides some very powerful capabilities.

Let’s dive right in with a real-world task: adding figures to a Bach chorale, Beschränkt, ihr Weisen dieser Welt (BWV 443). The finished project file can be downloaded at the bottom of this page. The only change to Dorico’s default settings I’ve made is lowering the baseline for the figures, to place them a little further away from the staff. Otherwise, it’s ‘out-of-the-box’.

I’m going to assume that you’ve done at least a little homework: you know there’s a popover (Shift-G), into which you can type numbers and other symbols, then move forward with Space or Right Arrow. (Tab to move to the next bar.) We’ll deal with some of the exciting things you can type later. Anyone who used Florian Kretlow’s ‘workaround’ font, Figurato, for entering figured bass with the lyric popover in previous versions of Dorico, will feel right at home (though there are some syntax differences). The advantage now of Dorico’s home-grown feature is that adding figures to beat positions within notes is much easier.

By default, Dorico moves the popover to the next note or the next grid duration, whichever is nearest. For this piece, I’ll start by setting the Grid Duration to a quarter note, then invoke the Figured Bass popover on the first Bass note with Shift-G.

I can enter the first three figures shown here easily, by moving the popover to the third quarter note on D, then type 6; then to the C, three beats later, and type another 6; then three more beats and type 64. Here’s the clever bit: select any of those figures, and Dorico will list the implicit notes in the chord that it represents, in the bottom ‘status bar’.

Even better: we don’t even have to type 6 on a D. We could type Bmin instead, and Dorico would give us the 6 as a figure. Or move to the C and type Amaj.

Yes! Dorico will calculate the figures if you type in the names of a chord. Surely playback of realizations is only a few updates away?

Black flag

Now on the half note, we advance one beat, and enter 53.

Hmm. Instead of a figure, we get one of Dorico’s signposts, which shows objects that don’t display. If we go to Engraving Options > Figured Bass, we discover a wealth of options for how to display particular chord types.

The second of these is Appearance of major or minor triads in root position, which by default is set to Show nothing.

But of course if you’re actually typing in the figure, you want to show something. So I would recommend changing this default to one of the other options. However, for now, we’ll explore other paths that Dorico offers us. Firstly, we could tell Dorico to always display exactly what we’ve typed, ignore the Engraving Options, and not worry about inconsistencies. In Note Input Options (at the bottom of Write menu), there’s a pane for Figured Bass that contains an option to Follow Input Literally.

That’s something that many people will want to do, particularly if they’re copying an existing score. But let’s leave that option alone for now, as Dorico provides two more ways to deal with this. One alternative is to ‘override’ the Engraving Settings for this one figure. To do this: delete the flag (or select it and press Enter), and in its place, type o53 in the popover. The o signifies an override from the Engraving Options, and must be the first character in the popover. Now we’ll get our 53 on the last beat.

Another option is a more structured approach. Dorico can create one pair of figures as a suspension and its resolution. Go back to the 64, and replace it in the popover with the following incantation: 6_5,4_3

I’ve used the underscore, though you can use ~ or ->

These symbols indicate a suspension/resolution pair to Dorico. We now get two figures for the price of one, and no override is needed. We can adjust the position of the resolution to the correct beat position.

Continuation lines

We can then carry on with a 42, another 6, and a similar o5 or resolution. The following bar is also handled easily, with a 7,s for the last figure. Business continues as usual until the 752 in bar 11. Here, the numbers are easy, but we want to add continuation lines. Select the figure, and just like any other object in Dorico, use Shift-Alt-Right arrow to lengthen the line. You can fine-tune the length by changing the grid duration.

In bar 14, the source I’m copying shows a 64 on the G natural. When I type 64, Dorico thinks this is a chord of A major with a 7th in the bass, so it actually gives us 4 over 2, because that’s the default setting in Engraving Options for sevenths in third position. But Bach has his own ideas, with an A# in the melody. No software could be prepared for that, so again, we’d need to override the default with o64 in the popover. (Arguably, showing the raised 2nd in the figure would be useful.)

The remaining figures can be entered with the same techniques or methods. But let’s dive deeper, and see what more Dorico offers us.

Diminishing returns

Let’s say we want to add a sixth with a sharpened third over an F#. (I can hear whirring below the ground in Leipzig.) So we type 6,s but we get a sharpened 6, as well as the sharpened third.

Another of Dorico’s defaults is coming into play. In Note Input Options, the Figured Bass pane has options for the Interpretation of diminished intervals during figured bass input.

The Default is Adjust from next lowest figure, and that’s why Dorico is augmenting our sixth, to avoid the diminished fourth between A# and D. Of course, a sharpened sixth may be more likely in that context, though no default will suit every occasion. Importantly, a simple override will not suffice: overrides affect how the figured is displayed, not how the chord is interpreted. We can either change the input option to Allow Diminished Intervals, or be explicit in our input: type n6,s or u6,s, with u for unaltered. Or indeed, type D#min to name the chord!

Sharp practice

There are two conventions for representing accidentals in figured bass. The first is simply to indicate the appropriate accidental, as one would expect. The other is to use ‘key-agnostic’ figures, in which flats are used to lower sharps in the key signature (rather than naturals), and sharps are used to raise flats in the key signature. Dorico can handle both of these styles.

Let’s say we want a minor chord at the conclusion of the chorale. (That whirring is getting louder.) Enter an n in the popover, to signify a C natural. However, for the key-agnostic style, we would want a flat symbol. If we enter a b in the popover, we get a flat symbol, but note that in the ‘status bar’ in the bottom of the window, Dorico understand this to mean a C flat (and E), not a C natural.

Retype the figure as a natural, go to Engraving Options for Figured Bass, and in the Accidentals section, switch the setting from Absolute from Bass Note to Relative to Key Signature.

Now, we have the flat figure, and Dorico still understand this to be a C natural.

One of the reasons for using key-agnostic figures is that the music can be transposed and the figures don’t need to be altered. However, even with absolute accidentals, Dorico can transpose the music and provide the correct figures, because it knows what chords the figures represent.

So let’s shift this chorale up a semitone into B flat major. Select the entire Flow, and invoke the Transpose dialog from the Write menu. Instantly, not only are the notes all correct, but the figures have been modified. Sharpened thirds on F sharps are now Naturals on G.


As usual, Dorico’s popover offers some powerful control.

  • Numbers: 1 to 9
  • Accidentals:
    • Sharp: s #
    • Flat: f b
    • Natural: n
    • Double Sharp: x ## ds,
    • Double Flat: bb, db
  • Augment/Diminish: + - d
  • Explicitly Unaltered: u
  • Suspension: _ ~ ->
  • Override Engraving Options for this figure: o O !
  • Force Engraving Options for this figure: r R v V ?
  • Hide part of a figure: e.g. <6>, {4}
  • Comma is used to clarify which side of a new line an accidental falls.

Note that because angled brackets are used for hiding figures and as part of the suspension syntax, you could confuse Dorico with a hidden figure suspension. So I’d recommend using underscore or tilde for suspensions. They’re also quicker. Also, note that if you’re following the Engraving Options, then to hide a figure, you have to override, too: o<6>4.


You can change the font used for Figured Bass: there are two choices in the Font Styles menu: Figured Bass Font and Figured Bass Text Font. Use the former to choose another SMuFL-compatible font, and use the latter for any text font. When using a text font, select the Plain Font option in Engraving Options > Figured Bass > Appearance, and don’t forget to turn off the settings for slashes, as those characters won’t be in text fonts.

Here’s Helvetica for a post-modern effect:

Dorico’s Figured Bass feature has a couple of limitations, which no doubt will be addressed in updates. There’s no numbers greater than 9, nor brackets, nor italics. You could even use the Figurato font, now SMuFL-compliant, as the Figured Bass Font, while continuing to use it in the old ‘Lyrics workaround’ for the missing functionality. (See Scoring Notes passim.)

Literally awesome

Dorico’s implementation of Figured Bass follows its core design principle: global rules, automatically applied to symbols whose meaning is understood, with manual adjustment where necessary. Dorico is at its most powerful when you give it instructions to help you, rather than doing it all yourself or, worse, fighting against it.

In the project file, I’ve included one Flow of the chorale with overrides, and one with no overrides, so you can change the Engraving Settings and compare the two. (I’ve ‘frozen’ all the figures in the first Flow with Edit > Figured Bass > Force Current Appearance.) This chorale is a typical but admittedly uncomplicated example, and there are nine figures that need an override from Dorico’s default settings, out of a total of 56. Three are hidden root figures; three are hiding implicit numbers that we would rather have displayed; and three are showing numbers that we would rather have implied. These can all be ‘fixed’ by changing a few Engraving Options. And that is left as an exercise for the reader. It’s likely that with these revised settings, you could complete several other chorales effortlessly.

When I started this article, I had planned to recommend turning on Literal input at the outset, and ignoring all the Engraving Options. However, in the process of describing how it all works, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany, and I now suggest that you should at least try collaborating with Dorico for a bit. Unless you’re working on an edition that must replicate figures verbatim, complete with irregularities and curiosities, players and students are likely to welcome a score with consistent figure styles.

In other notation apps, the user is often the servant that must perform all the manual drudgery, but as Monteverdi was fond of saying, Dorico works best when the user is the master and not the servant.


  1. Derek Williams

    This is wonderful! Thanks, Ben, for this comprehensive walkthrough. Figured Bass has been a regular PITA in the competitors, and I’m looking forward to trying this out ASAP.

  2. Ehler

    Normally I vastly prefer a text explanation to video content (which is part of why I love your site so much), but this is perfect for video content — even though I totally sympathize with how much extra work video is.

    1. Ben Byram-Wigfield

      I may do a video version, if time and technology permits. It might be hard to follow the fine detail in this tutorial, but even if you only grasp the various concepts described in Dorico’s implementation and then have a play with the sample file, then I hope that will have been of some use.

  3. Quetzal

    Thank you Ben! Great explanations. Me too I prefer text with examples and not video :)

  4. Francis Renaud

    Thank you for this great tutorial. Very useful!

    Do you happen to have tried to enter anticipations? I’m struggling with this at the moment. In principle I should be able to drag the red handles backwards but it seems impossible. In general I find those handles very hard to drag. Would this be a bug of something I’m missing?


    Francis Renaud

    1. Francis Renaud

      I finally figured it out.

      My difficulty in dragging the red handles was due to grid value being to long (new to Dorico!)

      What I thought was an anticipation of a 6 figure was in fact a continuation of the previous 53 figure (New to figured bass!)

      Thanks again for this invaluable tutorial!

  5. Brian

    Great tutorial – really VERY useful.
    Have you found a way to force a figure on to the lower line – say there are four equally spaced figures under two bars of tied semibreves; 7/# 6/4 just 5 and just 3; I want the 3 level with the previous # and 4 but can’t find a way to convince Dorico that this is a good idea…

    1. Ben

      The best way to do this is as a suspension/resolution. So, type 64_3. For bonus points, type 64_3,r=1 to set the resolution distance to 1 quarter note.

      Sadly, you can’t have a 5 between them. As said, Florian’s Figurato font is still useful for things that can’t be done. Yet.

      1. Brian Clark

        Great – I just saw this reply! Very helpful.
        Have you mastered figures under rests that are not the result of suspensions? (Telemann uses these…)

        1. Ben

          You can have a figure on a rest: there’s a property on the rest to show a figure, once it’s been entered.

  6. Siebe

    Super nice explanation! Is there a part II?
    It would be so nice if we could use a _ or – or whatever to make an extension line between the figures. I don’t like these long continuous lines and it was not a very common way to write this in 18th C. prints/manuscripts I would say.

  7. Frédéric Platzer

    I think I’m going to switch from Finale to Dorico, mainly because I want to score baroque music with figured bass.
    Does Dorico allow to write things like :
    7 or 7
    + #
    or other things like that ? (I’m testing Dorico SE but I can’t write such marks)


    1. Ben Byram-Wigfield

      Yes, there are Engraving Options for different styles of figure symbols. The latest version also has brackets round figures.

      1. Frédéric Platzer

        Thank you for your answer.

      2. Jawher Matmati

        Yeah no… Yes there are different styles of figured bass in engraving options. NO the + for the 7+ (the french style of notating Dom 7th) IS NOT there. (As often with Dorico if it’s not on the menu you can do much.)

  8. Jawher Matmati


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