Surfin’ With Mozart – by Mike Overly

March 25, 2015

SurfAlberti bass is a particular kind of accompaniment figure in music, often used in the Classical era, sometimes the Romantic era and sometimes in the Surf era!

It was named after Domenico Alberti (1710–1740), who used it extensively, although he was not the first to use it. Alberti bass is a kind of broken chord or arpeggiated accompaniment, where the notes of the chord are presented in the order lowest, highest, middle, highest. This pattern is generally repeated in an ostinato fashion. The broken chord pattern create a smooth, sustained, flowing sound. Alberti bass is usually found in the left hand of pieces for keyboard instruments, especially the beginning of Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K 545, but, is also found in songs for other instruments, such as the iconic opening guitar part of Pipeline.

Let’s begin with the opening Allegro movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K 545. It is written in sonata form in the tonic key of C major. The familiar opening theme is accompanied by an Alberti bass, played in the left hand. A bridge passage composed of scales follows, arriving at a cadence in the dominant G major, the key in which the second theme is then played. A codetta follows to conclude the exposition, then the exposition is repeated. The development starts in G minor and modulates through several keys. The recapitulation begins in the subdominant key of F major. This practice of beginning a recapitulation in the subdominant was rare at the time this sonata was written.

The following is a performance of Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K 545 by Daniel Barenboim. <>

And here is the sheet music so you can follow along.


Pipeline, recorded in 1962 by The Chantays, is a famous example of 20th-century American popular instrumental surf music. It is notable for using Alberti bass arpeggios in E minor. The song, originally called Liberty’s Whip, was renamed after the band members saw a surfing movie showing scenes of the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. The tune, fitting in with the popular surfing craze of the time, swiftly rose up the Billboard Pop charts, reaching #4, and becoming a classic hit of its time. The track’s distinctive sound was largely due to the fact that the 45-rpm was released only in monaural, but the track was recorded in wide stereo. This resulted in the bass guitar, electric piano and rhythm guitar being out front in the mix, while the lead guitar and drums were buried in the track.

The following is a performance of Pipeline. <>

And here is the sheet music so you can follow along.

Pipline Sheetmusic

’til next time, have some Alberti Bass fun Surfin’ with Mozart… I’ll be listening!


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