Ir a la Página Inicial
The Rhythm
Latin pronuntiation

Gregorian Chant in



Manuscript: "A Child was born for us and the Son has been given to us"

In the 11th century the repertoire of chants in the Church covered already the feast of each day and of each event of the Liturgy. The sacred texts had its own characteristic and variety of forms: Introits, Antiphons, Graduals, Hallelujahs, Offertories, Communions, Sequences, etc. to which it should be added those parts of the Liturgy called "Ordinary": Kyries, Glorias, Creeds, etc.

All this had to be entrusted to the memory of singers who did not have any musical help, except some marks on the text indicating simply when the melody rose or descended just as is shown in the above manuscript. Of course, the conservation of the chants entrusted only to the good memory did that they were in danger to disappear.

Initially the musical notation served like an aid-to-the-memory for whom already had an idea about how should sound. It not was intended that notation was "scientifically" precise. The concept that a melody can be sung reading correctly the score (without the need of having listened previously) is something relatively very new.

The oldest examples of musical notation in Western Europe were a kind of writings more as annotations for the texts that were sung.

On the other side, the purpose of notation was more that of indicating the expressive character to stand out the subtleties of the vocal expression than that of indicating the height of the melodic notes (at present a great deal of investigation is going on by musicologists specialized in Medieval music) .

Guido D'ArezzoFortunately a benedictin monk named Guido d' Arezzo (Italy 990 - 1050) found the solution. From the hymn of the Eves of St John the Baptist feast d'Arezzo organized what would be later the scale: UT queant laxis (C) REsonare fibris (D) MIra gestorum (E) FAmuli tuorum (F), SOLve polluti (G) LAbii reatum (A), Sancte Ioannes (SI —B—). See the score of the hymne.

He invented the stave of four lines; of them, a yellow line would be UT (subsequently became DO —C— ) and a red line would indicate FA (F); this would give origin later to the notion of the clefs.


The height of the sounds is indicated by the location of the notes in a stave of four lines, with the possibility to use lower and upper additional lines.

The clefs are of DO (C) and of FA (F) which can be in the second, third or fourth line.

The possible extension is:

Simple notes

Here is presented, in its order, the primitive notation, the actual Gregorian notation and its equivalent one in modern notation.

virga.gif (389 bytes)

punctumcuadr.gif (382 bytes)

punctuminclina.gif (383 bytes)

Virga=Stick; Punctum quadratum=square point, Punctum inclinatum=inclined point.

Simple neumes

pes.gif (596 bytes)

clivis.gif (626 bytes)

torculus.gif (717 bytes)

porrectus.gif (641 bytes)

climacus.gif (616 bytes)

scandicus.gif (801 bytes)

salicus.gif (1202 bytes)

Pes, Podatus of the Latin foot; Torculus, of the latin torquere=to twist, by its broken form; Porrectus, of the Latin porrigere=to extend, by the extended form of its lines; Climacus, of climax=stair; Scandicus, of scandere=to rise; Salicus of salire=to jump.

Compound neumes

  • Those that are formed by joining simple neumes for a single syllable

Neuma Compuesto.gif

  • Those that carry more notes before or later and are called thus:

    Flexus: when are complemented with descending notes


Resupini: when are complemented with ascending notes

Praepunctis or subpunctis if they are notes included before or after:

Special neumes

  • The neumes that have the last one or two last notes of smaller size receive the name of licuescens or semivowels; the purpose of these notes is to call the attention on the correct pronunciation of the text. Pes, Clivis, and Climacus licuescens are called also epiphonus, cephalicus and ancus, respectively. The smallest size of the lisquescens note does not imply at all modification in time duration.


  • The ones that contain pressus, (of the Latin premo=to press, to stop), that is to say the coincidence in height of the final note of a neume with the initial note of another in a same syllable. It is given also among a punctum and a neume.
pressus.gif (606 bytes)
  • The ones that contain quilisma (of Greek külío=to revolve, to roll) a jagged note, serve to join two notes separated by an interval of third. It is never presented alone. The note that precedes to quilisma is lengthened moderately but must not be duplicated in length.


Decorative neumes

  • The strophicus (of Greek strophao=to rotate) is a punctum quadratum and might appear in three forms:

  • The oriscus (of Greek óros=limit or height, hill) is a punctum quadratum placed at the end of a neume.

  • Bivirga and Trivirga are formed by the union of two or three virgas respectively. (Virga=Stick. Bivirga and Trivirga=two or three sticks respectively)

bivirga.gif (205 bytes)


  • The horizontal episema is placed on one or more notes and signifies expressive and light extension of those sounds: is a horizontal line. The note with ictus in the salicus should be prolonged as if had episema. The episema extends a little the note but it does not duplicate it.
    It should not be confused with the vertical episema that almost always is placed under the note and marks the binary or ternary steps (see the chapter devoted to Rhythm).

  • Distropha and Tristropha should be executed in flexible and light form. It is mandatory the repercussion in the first note of each one of them and in the first note of the neume that continues them if it is at the same height.
  • When the third note of a tristropha carries ictus, it can be executed with repercussion. The oriscus is always of smooth character. The two notes of the pressus should be executed like a clear, strong, and double sound (The distropha, the tristropha and the oriscus never form pressus).
  • Bivirga and trivirga should be executed like the strophicus, but its repercussion is more notorious.
    The scandicus with the melodic form D-A-B should be executed like a salicus.

Examples of repercussion:

4. SIGNS OF PAUSE (bars).

The signs of pause, originated by the structure of the text, are:

a) Minimum dividing line, that separates the clauses or smaller parts in which the text is divided; it does not imply to breath.

b) Smaller dividing line, that separates the members of phrase. These are not more than clauses of greater amplitude; it implies to breath almost always.

c) Greater dividing line that separates the phrases: Equals to a silence of simple duration of a note and obliges to breathe.

d) Double dividing line, that indicates greater conclusive or also final sense of the composition. It equals to a simple silence of a note, at times prolonged a little more .



The custos is a sign that goes at the end of each stave. This is not sung, instead it serves as a visual cue to the pitch of the first note on the next line. Also it is used when inside a same musical piece there is a change of clef.

B Flat:

In Gregorian Chant the only accidental is B flat (rarely) which is indicated by a B Flat sign. The Flat affects not only the note B that carries it but to the others that appear later and it is canceled by the change of word, by any dividing line or by the natural sign. The B Flat at the foot of the clef remains during all the piece and is canceled only by the natural sign.

The Liber Usualis provides a cue for singing the "Gloria Patri" after the introit verse. "Euouae" indicates the vowels of the syllables of "saeculorum Amen", which ends the "Gloria Patri".


See MARTINEZ SOQUES, Fernando. Método de Canto Gregoriano, Capítulos VI y VII. Ed. Pedagógica. Barcelona, 1943.





Theory and Technic | Canticum Novum | Didactic Concerts | Links
History | Characteristics | Notation | Modes | Rhythm | Chironomy | The psalmody |
| Latin pronuntiation | Translations & scores|

Este sitio en Español

EMAIL: Escríbanos


Empowered by
© Canticum Novum - Schola Cantorum Bogotensis
Bogotá/Colombia - 2002
Theory and Technics E-mail