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Music theory
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Gregorian notation
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Gregorian notation

This chapter introduces the basic principles of Gregorian notation and how to write scores in Gregorian notation with Harmony-Melody.
If you do not know this notation, we hope that reading the present chapter will make you want to investigate it.

Here is an example of a gregorian staff made with Harmony-Melody:


Some pieces of gregorian music are provided in the Demos folder ("Gregorian" subfolder).


Gregorian notation was designed primarily to commit to paper the sacred chants of the beginning of the second millennium.

The scale used is, in modern notes: C, D, E, F, G, A. The intervals between these notes are the same as in modern notation.

Notes are written on a 4-line staff. Each staff corresponds to a single singer, so there are no chords on such staves (a normal human being has difficulty in singing several notes at the same time!)

Only note pitch is written, the choir master (or singer) is left free to choose duration. In some cases, however, indications of longer or shorter notes can be given.

Places where the singer can breathe (rests) are written too.
These are equivalent to pauses and rests in modern notation.

Because we are talking about chants, lyrics are almost always associated with the staff.

Each lyrics word (or syllable) matches one or several notes (up to 4).

All notes sung on the same word or syllable are grouped into an entity called a Neume.


The neume is the foundation of Gregorian notation.

A neume is defined by:

  • the notes composing the neume (from one to four)
  • the intervals between these notes (upward or downward)

Each neume has a different name. Notes inside the neume are drawn with a square, a diamond or a bold line.

A neume always starts at the beginning of a syllable.

A neume is always read from left to right (like in modern notation) but from bottom to top when notes are written on the same column.

For example:

Here are three notes in modern notation. Pitch is increased from the first to the second, and increased again from the second to the third.

It is the “Scandicus” neume, drawn like this in gregorian notation:
From 1 to 4 notes can be drawn in the same neume. Thus there can be up to 3 pitch changes (inflexions) in a single neume.

It follows that there are 1+2+4+8, i.e. 15 different neumes. Each one has its own name.

of notes
Inflexions Neume name
1 None Punctum (simple note) or Virga (note with stem)
2 Up (U) Podatus (pes)
2 Down (D) Clivis (flexa)
3 UU Scandicus
3 UD Torculus
3 DU Porrectus
3 DD Climacus
4 UUU Virga praetripuncits
4 UUD Scandus flexus
4 UDU Torculus resipunus
4 UDD Pes subtripunctis
4 DUU Porrectus resupinus
4 DUD Porrectus flexus
4 DDU Climacus resupinus
4 DDD Virga subtripunctis
Here is a neume. Find its name in the array above (answer at the bottom of this page)
Note: Neume names are given only for information. It will not be necessary to know these names to work with Harmony-Melody.

Indicators of note duration

Generally, notes are of equal duration. It is possible, however, to provide information about note duration on the score.
A longer note will be marked with a dot (punctum mora) as in modern notation.
A shorter note (liquescens) will be indicated by a smaller square. Generally this note is located at the end of the neume, and changes its name.


Two accidentals can be found in gregorian notation: flat and natural. Accidentals are notated in the same way as in modern music.


There are two kinds of clef:

C clef:

(C is located on the line marked with the arrow)
F clef:

(F  is located on the line marked with the arrow)

These clefs can be placed on any line of the staff, to indicate which line equates to the  named note.
Key signatures (accidentals just after the clef) are rare but possible: sometimes you will come across one flat as a key signature.


Breath indicators are the equivalent of pauses and rests in modern notation. They are written as a vertical bar.


Custos are little notes written on the staff, at the right hand edge of the paper. They forewarn the singer what the first note on the next line will be. Melody-Harmony generates and displays custos automatically.


General points

All regular editing operations can be applied to a gregorian staff (Cut, Paste, Transpose, Insert, etc.). However, you can only cut & paste entire neumes.


A gregorian tools palette is available in the "Windows" menu. A description of of its elements is provided in the help window.

Creating a gregorian staff

Create a new document and select its type as "Gregorian model".
You can also add a new staff to an existing document, and change its type to "Gregorian".

Selecting the clef

Select the clef change tool and click in the gregorian staff. Select then the C or F clef and the base line of the clef.

Adding a note

Select a note duration in the Gregorian tools palette (dotted punctum, punctum or liquescens) and move over the gregorian staff.
The help line displays:

  • The type of neume located under your mouse pointer (with the included note pitches)
  • The kind of neume you will obtain if you add the note.
If the neume already contains 4 notes, this fact is displayed in the help line; if you try nevertheless to add a new note to a 4-notes neume, an error message is displayed and the note is not added.

To add a note to the beginning of a neume, click before the neume on the right line.
To add a note to the end of a neume, click after the neume on the right line.
To add a note in the middle of a neume, click at the right location in the neume.

Tip: Notes are sometimes graphically very close together within a neume. To be sure to click at the right place, increase the display scale of your document.

Adding a rest

Select a rest in the palette and move over the gregorian staff. Click to insert a rest (breath). Click several times to increase the breath duration.

Deleting a note or a rest

Select the delete tool (lightning bolt) and click on the note (rest) to be deleted. If you click on a neume, only the note that is pointed at will be deleted from the neume.


  • In order to synchronize several gregorian staves (or a gregorian staff with a regular staff), you need to select a time signature for the document. With a 16/4 time signature however, you can write 32 puncta in a single bar.

  • Neume graphical location within the bar is not completely free. You will not be able, for example, to add a punctum just after a 4-note neume: the area used by a neume is always the sum of the corresponding puncta.

  • It is possible to cut and paste between gregorian and modern staves. However, some groups of notes (for example, chords) can generate strange results on a gregorian staff.

Answer to the exercise:

It is a 3-note neume, going up then down, so it is a Torculus.

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