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The system of partimenti, which was used extensively in Naples in the eighteenth century, is a formulaic approach to composition through improvisation based on a simple set of rules. Many teachers whose names are little known today wrote developed individual approaches, but the main elements are consistent across them all. Partimento theory is applicable only to tonal music.

Preparation: The Elements of Tonal Music

Scales and Modes

The student should learn to recognize the difference between major and minor scales.


The student should learn the names of the most common intervals--major, minor, augmented and diminished.

Consonance and dissonance

The student should become familiar with the sounds of consonant and dissonant intervals.

Composition based the Rule of the Octave

The core of partimento theory is the Rule of the Octave--the means by which one can build a new composition from the tones of the octave. This octave is positioned in the lowest voice to provide harmonic support for the work. New compositions have no required length.

Analysis based on the Rule of the Octave

Those accustomed to improvising will not find partimento theory revolutionary. Many of its interesting uses are in musical analysis. Numerous researchers are exploring the role that this approach played in classical music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.