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An Overview of Alberti Bass in Music

Teresa Newman, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Teresa Newman

    Teresa Newman has taught K-12 music and musical theater for over 12 years. They have a Masters in Music Performance, Masters in Education, and Bachelors in Music from Stephen F. Austin State University. They also are the founder, director, instructor, and content creator for Newman Music Academy based in Houston, Texas.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

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

Learn about the Alberti bass definition. Discover where the Alberti bass came from, study how to use the pattern, and identify examples of Alberti bass lines. Updated: 05/19/2022

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Alberti Bass Definition

Western Classical music, especially music composed during the Classical Era (1730-1820 A.D.), is often structured around recognizable and predictable patterns. There is one musical composition pattern that one composer, Domenico Alberti, used so frequently that it became his namesake.

Alberti Bass is a three-note arpeggio pattern, usually found in the left-hand section or bass voice of a keyboard composition. Alberti Bass is an arpeggiated element in which a performer plays a chord's notes in succession rather than all at once. Sometimes this is referred to as a broken chord. Alberti Bass is most strongly associated with keyboard music composed during the Classical Era and continued to be a common composition element through the 18th and 19th centuries. Although Domenico Alberti popularized this pattern, it was also frequently heard in piano sonatas by the most famous composers of the style period, like Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

The pattern itself is simple. Although the Alberti Bass definition describes an arpeggio, the order of notes is crucial since not all arpeggios would be considered an Alberti bass pattern. It is also defined by a forward-moving rhythm, characteristic of most Alberti Bass examples. An arpeggio is an Alberti bass only if the notes are in a chordal pattern, in a specific order, and rhythmic pattern.

Origin of the Alberti Bass

Domenico Alberti holds the honor of popularizing Alberti Bass, but he is not historically considered the inventor of the pattern. Alberti Bass evolved from its predecessor bass line element, Basso Continuo. Basso Continuo of the Baroque Era (1600-1750) was a common practice of notating the bass note of a chord only and allowing the performer to fill in the rest of the harmonies in an improvisational style. Unlike Alberti Bass, the composer would not explicitly write out the notes in a Basso Continuo chord. Performers were free to play the additional notes of the chord in any order and add filler notes for additional texture and harmonic intrigue.

Often considered a ''pre-classical'' composer, Domenico Alberti was a bridge between Basso Continuo and Alberti Bass. His collection of harpsichord sonatas featured the pattern to such an extent that he became known for the sound and influenced 17th-century composers to continue to develop its practical applications.

This type of harmonic expression was quite popular, and Alberti Bass reached its peak during the 1800s. Once the modern piano was invented and became the dominant keyboard instrument among Classical composers, Alberti Bass slowly fell out of fashion. Because the piano could sustain pitches, notes could resonate for much longer than earlier keyboard instruments. The need for active harmony and moving patterns like the Alberti Bass no longer dictated how composers structured bass lines and harmonic accompaniment. Despite this, Alberti Bass continued to be used less frequently as a stylistic element among 19th and 20th-century composers.

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  • 0:04 The Alberti Bass
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  • 1:31 Role in Music
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The Alberti Bass Pattern

An arpeggiated bass pattern is an Alberti Bass pattern when it follows a specific pitch pattern. The most common configuration of this pattern is the lowest-highest-middle-highest. In terms of scale degrees where the bass note of the chord is I (one), the pattern is I-V-III-V. Major chord examples of this arpeggiated Alberti Bass pattern would include:

  • C-G-E-G for a C major chord containing C, E, and G
  • F-C-A-C for an F major chord containing F, A, and C
  • G-D-B-D for a G major chord containing G, B, and D

Less frequently, patterns still labeled as ''Alberti Bass'' would deviate from the standard lowest-highest-middle-highest configuration, making them slightly less effective at forwarding harmonic motion. These configurations, therefore, are not often considered in historical discussion on Alberti Bass.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where did Alberti bass come from?

Alberti Bass evolved from earlier accompaniment styles and patterns such as Basso Continuo, where composers would provide the bass note of a chord and performers would fill in the necessary harmonies. The composer, Domenico Alberti, bridged the two styles, popularizing the practice of Alberti Bass to the point of it becoming his namesake.

How do you use Alberti bass?

Because of the way Alberti Bass patterns to outline all the notes within a particular harmony, is it most often used as the accompaniment voice to the melody line. Since each note of the chord is played separately in a sequence, the listener is able to hear the harmonies more clearly in a forward-moving, active style.

What does Alberti bass mean?

Alberti Bass is a term given to a specific bass pattern found in the left hand of certain compositions. It is most frequently seen in piano sonatas of the 18th century. Alberti Bass is named after the composer Domenico Alberti, who frequently used the pattern in his harpsichord compositions.

What is the pattern for Alberti bass?

The Alberti Bass pattern is a four-note arpeggiated pattern. This means that notes of a chord, most often a three-note triad chord, are played separately. Specifically, in Alberti Bass, the order of notes is played as lowest-highest-middle-highest, wherein the lowest note is the bass note of the chord. For example, a C major chord containing C, E, and G would be performed as C-G-E-G.

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