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The Rhythm
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Gregorian Chant in



Christians copied from Hebrews the habit of singing whole psalms.

This chant was carried out in recited and alternate form between a soloist and the choir or between two choirs.

The structure of psalmody is syllabic: It means that to each syllable of the text it corresponds a sound of the melody.

This gender was honored in Rome from starting of the 5th Century, when the whole town intervened in the interpretation.

“From the beginning of the Church, the early Christians adopted the Jewish psalter as their own.

They saw the figure of Christ portrayed in many of the psalms: as a royal descendant of King David and as the expected Messiah; as the Man of Sorrows bearing the sins of humanity; as the truly innocent and righteous man pursued by the wicked; and above all as the only-begotten Son of God.

With their expressions of hope, trust in God and praise for all His gifts to us, as well as anguish and desolation, the psalms are readily entered into by the practicing Christian.

The 150 psalms in the psalter have thus been seen by Christians throughout the centuries as a compendium of prayers and meditations encompassing the entire range of Christian belief.

We can understand, therefore, why the Christian monastic communities which sprang up from the 3rd century onwards likewise adopted the psalter as their prayer book” (1)


NOTE: The present article is taken entirely and translated from MARTÍNEZ SOQUES, FERNANDO. Método de canto gregoriano. Ed. Pedagogica, Barcelona, 1943. pages. 227-246

Psalmody is meant to be the chant of the psalms and canticles of the Church.

Verses and hemistiches: The psalms are composed of verses and each verse is made up of two hemistiches, separated to each other by an asterisk (*). If the first hemistich has a considerable extension, it admits the flexa that is indicated by a cross ().

Parátum cor ejus speráre in Dómino, confirmátum est cor ejus * non commovébitur donec despíciat inimicos suos.

Díxit Dóminus Dómino meo: * sede a dextris meis.

Each of the eight modes has their special formula that is repeated in each verse. The psalm must be sung in the same mode of the antiphon that accompanies him.

A complete psalmodic formula consists of:

  • intonation (initium)
  • tenor (dominant)
  • cadences:
    • the flexa (in the first hemistich),
    • the median (at the middle of the verse, mediatio) and
    • termination (at the end of the verse, terminatio).

    Intonation: It is the small section at the beginning of the psalm that joins the antiphon with the tenor or recitative. It consists of two, three or four notes, isolated or forming neumes, corresponding to two or three syllables. The intonation is sung only in the first verse of the psalm. The other verses begin in the tenor.

However, in Magnificat, Benedictus and Nunc dimittis canticles, each verse begins with the intonation although for the verses Quod parasti of the Nunc dimittis, Requiem aeternam and Et lux of deceased office, for being too brief, intonation is not made.

When several psalms are sung with a single antiphon, the intonation will be given at the beginning of each one of them, whenever they finish with the Gloria Patri.

Intonation for the eight modes:

      Intonations of two syllables
      1st and
      6th mode
      3rd mode
      4th mode
      7th mode


      Intonations of three syllables

      2nd mode
      5th mode
      8th mode

The first verse of Magnificat has special intonation in the 2nd and 8th modes.

Formulas for terminations: The different intonations of the antiphons have given place to the diverse final cadences in each mode, in order to facilitate the intonation of the antiphon, when psalm ends.

The termination of each particular case is indicated in two ways:

a) placing next to the modal number of the antiphon a letter that indicates the final note of the termination: A, B, C, E, F, G


Uppercase letters are used when the last note of the termination is at the same time the final in the mode; otherwise lower-cases are used.

When several terminations have the same end, the letters take, in their right superior part, indexes that distinguish them: g, g2, g3, g4.



In this example, the 7 indicates the mode to which belongs the antiphon and the letter c the own termination in this particular case. Also, being letter c in lower-case, it tells us that the final note of the termination is C, and different from the fundamental in the seventh mode.

1 D2

In this new example it is indicated that it belongs to the first mode and that the final note of the termination is D, the one which, in turn, is fundamental for this mode. The number 2, placed in the right superior part, indicates which of the terminations, ended up in D, has to be used.

b) Which is the own termination, in each case, is indicated likewise by the vocals euouae —abbreviation of saeculorum. Amen—, at the end of each antiphon with the melody characteristic of the final cadence.

In this example you can see the conclusion of the antiphon Tu gloria showing the final cadence of its corresponding psalm:



Classification of cadences according to the accent: They can be of one accent or of two.

Cadences of one accent are those in whose melodic formula the last main or secondary accent are adapted.

Cadences of two accents are those in whose melodic formula the last two main or secondary accents are adapted ().

Both the medians and the terminations can be of one accent or of two. The flexa is always of one accent.

NOTE: The interval corresponding to the flexa is of one tone; only when the dominant or tenor is immediately on the semitone, the interval is of one tone and a half. That is to say, with dominant a or d, the flexa has a one tone interval; and with dominant c or f is of one tone and a half.

      Flexa of one tone

      Flexa of one tone and a half

Pragmatic rules to distinguish the cadences of one accent and of two accents: The cadence of one accent that is the shortest has for foundation the paroxytone word, for example lége (' •); and it necessarily consists of two essentials notes: the first one accented —melodic accent—; and the second one unstressed.

The accent can go preceded of one or more preparation notes:

      Without preparation notes
      4 g
      With a preparation note
      2 D
      With two preparation notes
      8 G
      With three preparation notes
      4 A

The first preparation note is always inferior to the tenor, except the median —named solemn— of the fifth mode, and that of the paschal mode.

The cadence of two accents has like foundation the double paroxytone word, for example córde meo.

It always includes four essentials notes: two accented, followed each of them by one unstressed.

All cadence of two accents needs four notes different from the tenor; of those, the first —melodic accent—, is upper than the tenor. This cadence never has preparation notes.

Rules to distinguish the two classes of cadences:

  • All the cadences of four notes are of two accents whose first note is upper than the tenor.
  • They are of one accent:
    • All the cadences of two notes
    • All the longer cadences whose first note is lower than the tenor

The proparoxytone words in the cadences: When the cadences have proparoxytone words, a note that corresponds usually (there are some exceptions) to the penultimate syllable of this class of words is added, for each accent. This syllable is represented previously by the white note. The note of this penultimate syllable of the proparoxytone words is usually after the accent.

In the cadences whose penultimate place goes occupied by a clivis, the white note —which is before this neume— corresponds to the accented syllable and the clivis corresponds to the penultimate one.

The added note, in this last case, is named as premature note of accent.

The penultimate syllable of the proparoxytone word is sung to the unison with the following one.

Exceptions of this rule (it is executed to the unison with the previous one) are: the last accent in the 7th mode and, in general, all last accent that proceeds for interval of a descending semitone.

The premature note of the accent follows the general rule.

Adaptation of the hemistiches of few syllables: When the text is too short and there are more notes than syllables in the cadences, have in mind the following rules:

a) The median: it begins in the tenor knitting together the necessary number of notes in the first syllable of the text, so that the cadence turns out steady.

    b) Termination: only the number of notes corresponding to the number of syllables are used, making always coincide the accent of the text with the last melodic accent:

How to sing the cadences:

When you go from the tenor to the cadences it should be controlled lightly the movement so that it can be considered that the tenor has been written as reciting and the cadences as singing.

This slight movement change, practiced with discretion, gives to the psalmody a special charm and a pleasant variety. Relieve the accents, elevating them with grace and reinforcing the voice a little in the accented syllables. It should be avoided to give bigger intensity to the last syllable of the cadences as well as the precipitation of the previous syllables.

NOTE: In many chant books, the syllables corresponding to the accents of the cadences, are written in bold characters while the preparation syllables are in italic characters.

The pauses of the cadences: In the case of the flexa, the complete value should be given to the note with point (two simple times) and it should be tried not to make pause. The pause of the median will be that of a simple time as it corresponds to the value of the biggest dividing line.

Tessitura: In the chant of the psalms of the Divine Office, it is convenient that the dominant in all the modes be at the same melodic level.

The election of the tessitura or melodic level depends on the singers.

The A of the pitch is frequently the melodic grade adapted for the recitative note of the psalms.

As for the antiphon that accompanies the psalm, their dominant note must coincide with the elected note for the tenor of the psalm, and with relationship to this dominant is elected the tone. This operation will be repeated whenever, finished a psalm and repeated its antiphon, a new antiphon must begin.

Example: Domínica ad Vésperas

7 c2

In this case, if A is the note of the recitative of the psalm, given with the diapason, in her the dominant D shall be sung in the seventh mode to which belongs the 1st antiphon of vespers and, therefore, its corresponding psalm.

From the conventional D you will descend to the B —first note of the melody— and, begun the antiphon, the psalm will be intoned. Repeated the antiphon, after concluding the psalm, the same operation will be made for the following antiphon Magna opera Dómini, considering in this case the A of the pitch as a C —the dominant note in the third mode, in which this antiphon is written—.




First mode


Second mode


Third mode


Fourth mode


Fourth mode, dominant D
(It is the fourth called “transposed” mode)


Fifth mode


Sixth mode


Seventh mode


Eighth mode

G *

“Peregrinus” Tone

First verse

For the other verses


Tone “in directum”


Solemn or adorned Medians

1st and 6th

2nd and 8th


Exercises: The following exercises will consist respectively on the chant of the psalms 111 and 112 in 3rd and 4th modes of Dominica ad vesperas.

Please Indicate in them the intonation, the tenor, the flexa, the median and the termination.

Discover if the cadences are of one or of two accents, if they have preparation notes, etc.

Psalmus 111

2. Potens in terra erit semen éjus: * generatio rectórum beneditur.

3. Glória et divitiæ ín dómo éjus: * et justitia éjus mánet in sæculum culi.

4. Exórtum est in ténebris lúmen rectis: * Miséricors, et miserátur, et justus.

5. Jucundus homo qui miserétur et cómmodat, dispónet sermónes suos in jucio: * quia in ætérnum non commobitur.

6. In memória aetérna érit justus: * ab auditióne mala non tibit.

7. Paratum cor éjus speráre in Dómino, confirmátum est cor éjus: * non commovébitur donec despíciat inimícos suos.

8. Dispérsit, dédit paupéribus: justítia éjus manet in sæculum culi: * cornu ejus exaltábitur en glória.

9. Glória Patri, et lio, * et Spirítui Sancto.

10. Sicut érat in princípio et nunc, et sémper, * et in sæcula sæculorum Amen.


Psalmus 112

2. Sit nómen Dómini benectum, * ex hoc nunc, et usque in culum.

3. A solis ortu usque ad ocsum, * laudábile nomen mini.

4. Excélsus super omnes gentes minus, * et super cælos glória ejus.

5. Quis sicut Dóminus Deus noster, qui in altis bitat, * et humilia réspicit in caelo et in terra?

9. Glória Patri, et lio, * et Spitui Sancto.

10. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, * et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

(1) The Monastery of Christ in the Desert http://www.christdesert.org/noframes/chant/psalms.html

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