Gregorian Chant
The Origins of Written Music

The History of Gregorian Chant
  • Named for Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604).
  • It is believed that Gregory did not write any chants, but instead organized the many different schools of chant into one coherent form by developing the Antiphonary (written music).
  • The Antiphonary is the oldest surviving form of written music.

What does Gregorian Chant look like?

Gregorian Chant uses a four line staff - instead of the modern day five line staff
A Benedictine Monk Named Guido D’Arezzo is believed to have created this staff, although there is some debate over whether or not he actually did it.

The beautiful artwork and decorations found throughout most chants gives them the name: Illuminated Manuscripts. Monks often spent months creating one chant. After all, what else was there to do?

What are all those squiggly bits?
  • Those squiggly bits are called NEUMES.
  • Neumes are like musical notes without stems. The shape of each neume determines the rhythm and pitch of each note.
  • Neumes eventually became modern day notes.

Where is the key signature, the clef, and the time signature?
  • The Clef is there, but the time signature and key signature aren’t.
  • Gregorian Chant uses a clef that looks like the letter C. The clef actually curls around the line that is middle C.
  • Gregorian chant does not use a time signature. It is sung as the words dictate.
  • All Gregorian chant is sung in a certain mode, not a key signature.

What language are they singing in?
  • All of the text is in Latin. The reason for this is that Gregorian Chant is completely based in religion (Christianity).
  • The text is directly from the Bible and sung during religious services. Each chant has a specific function, much like Hymns do.
  • Today, chant is still used in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Why are there only men singing?
  • Women were not allowed to participate in any part of a religious ceremony in 10th Century Europe.

Let’s look a bit closer at NEUMES

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Latin Phrases


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