Alberti Bass: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 The Alberti Bass
  • 0:45 Pattern of the Alberti Bass
  • 1:31 Role in Music
  • 2:19 History of the Alberti Bass
  • 3:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There are many ways to make a chord more interesting, and one popular option is the Alberti bass. In this lesson, we'll explore this repetitive pattern and see how it can be used to shape the texture of a composition.

The Alberti Bass

If you have a piano, you could play a C chord. You have that option. Sometimes it's super satisfying to play all three notes of the triad together and feel them in harmony. Other times, however, it's a bit boring. But what if you didn't play the notes all at the same time? What if you played them one at a time? What is this, 18th-century Austria?

Actually, broken chords have been a part of Western music in many different eras of history. A broken chord is one that is played in sequence, as opposed to being played all at once. For example, instead of playing the C major triad of CEG, you could break that into three individual notes: C, E, and then G. There are quite a few ways to do this, but one that's been popular in the past is the Alberti bass.

Pattern of the Alberti Bass

So, what exactly is an Alberti bass? For starters, it's a kind of broken chord known as an arpeggio or one that appears in some kind of ascending or descending order. Specifically, the Alberti bass is an arpeggiated broken chord with a very specific pattern of low, high, middle, high, played repetitively by the left-hand on a keyboard or piano composition in eight or sixteenth notes.

In more concrete terms, think back to that C major chord, the triad of CEG. While your right hand is playing some melody corresponding to the C major chord, your left hand is playing the Alberti bass line of low, high, middle, high. In this case, that would be C, G, E, G, over and over until you switch to a new chord, at which time you'd repeat that pattern in the new chord. That's the Alberti bass.

Role in Music

So what exactly does this mean in terms of music? Why would you want to use the Alberti bass line? With its repetitive formula of eighth or sixteenth notes, the Alberti bass creates a rhythmic, flowing motion below the main melody. This can help create a driving force that's still sustainable without feeling aggressive or controlling.

The Alberti bass is specifically useful in creating homophonic texture. In music, texture refers to the relationship between lines (like harmonies and melodies) and how they impact the overall depth, richness, and aesthetic of the composition. A homophonic texture contains a primary melody line, as well as an underlying accompaniment line that's not it's own independent melody, but still has its own drive. The Alberti bass, with its driving repetitive pattern, is a very common accompaniment choice for composers seeking to create homophonic texture.

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