How to Learn Gregorian Chants as a Schola
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Let's say your schola knows how to read square notation, can support their voices properly, and demonstrates an eagerness to learn new chants. How does your schola learn these new chants? What are the best group-learning strategies?

    I'll throw out a few strategies, but I'm sure there are more:

    1. Sing the Gloria Patri to the chant's associated psalm tone. This establishes the sound of the chant's mode.
    2. Sing the incipit to the asterisk. Do it until you are totally confident about it.
    3. Then sing one word at a time, repeating as necessary to build confidence. Circle any groups of three. Practice word by word until the end of a grammatical unit, then sing the entire unit as a whole. Pause to reflect on any relationships between text and music.
    4. Take the same approach for the next major grammatical unit.
    5. Then sing the chant as a whole.
    6. Subsequently, focus only on areas of difficulty.
    7. Once the notes and basic communicative approach are in place, sing the chant sincerely as a prayer.

    In subsequent practices, focus only on areas of difficulty and iron them out until everyone is confident. Remember that you have other chants to learn and have to be efficient!

    Our schola has good readers, so we actually don't take the word-by-word approach initially: we just sing the psalm tone, sing the chants through (even the Graduals), pause along the way to iron out any kinks that arise, and then keep singing them through until they gel.

    I'm wondering if there are better ways to learn these more florid chants, actually. How do people break down the long melismas into coherent musical parts? Do you learn them as such? How do you approach those long stretches with their frequent repercussions and repetitions?
  • WGS
    Posts: 295
    First, I like to remind all where the semi-tones are. - "Here's the B-C, and here's the E-F." Then, based on the mode, I point out the dominant tones which provide a centering or focusing for the tune of the chant. - "Now, try to keep that pitch in your mind."

    And I heartily agree to starting with the Gloria Patri especially when learning the Introit but also for other chants that clearly stay in one mode.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 992
    I like the Gloria Patri idea. I also use passages with major and minor thirds (or other problem intervals) as part of the warm-up without the words. For one of my singers, if the interval is sung wrong the first time, it takes dynamite to blast it out of her head.
  • At the Chant Intensive, I really liked Scott's method of also singing the chant counting with rhythmic groups and with solfege prior to putting the words in.