Helping modern notation readers become comfortable with neumes
  • Claire H
    Posts: 335
    I know I am not alone in this experience: those who don't read music at all (or think they don't) find chant notation fairly easy to absorb (at least for simple melodies), while adults who already read treble or bass clef/modern notation get themselves all tied up in knots asking where A is, how do I figure out the rhythm, etc.

    I find myself having to give the basic moveable Do lesson over and over again, in addition to explaining that the rhythm of plainchant is derived from the text (moving towards and emphasizing the important syllables). The group as a whole has made progress in grasping these concepts. However, sometimes I feel like a broken record, because every time a new person gets involved, along come the same questions, looks of confusion, and attempts to apply the absolute pitch concept of treble clef. I cheerily point out that chant notation is actually simpler and easier, but that for one who reads standard notation, the latter *seems* harder just because it's not what we learned first. Additionally, often those who memorized letter names of lines and spaces by mnemonics have failed to learn two key concepts: that it's all just sequential (line-space-line-space either up or down)* and that the placement of a clef is what gives those lines and spaces their names in the first place!

    After feeling like I did not do a particularly stellar job talking about this during tonight's rehearsal, I am looking for some fresh ideas and insights. I am familiar with Noel's book "If you can sing Joy to the World, you can learn to read and sing Gregorian Chant" and plan to start incorporating some of it's elements. I've also been thinking about putting together a basic choral singer's handbook for my folks, so that when anyone new gets involved, I can hand them something succinct and digestible, saying "Read through this, and then let's meet to discuss any questions you have". There are plenty of useful resources out there, but volunteers become overwhelmed so easily. Hey, now that my brain wheels are churning, I wish there was a YouTube crash course on this topic, since fewer and fewer people actually read to learn these days...(my pastor laments this all the time).

    *Has anyone else noticed this? Amazingly, a lot of individuals who at some point got drilled into them "the spaces spell FACE" and "Every good boy does fine" were never shown or made the connection that the staff is simply the 7-letter music alphabet in a repeating sequence (!).
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • WGS
    Posts: 220
    First, you need to know what the reference point is - C or F - doh or fah. That determines where the semitones/half steps are.

    Then, there are only two basic patterns - lah-ti-doh or Three Blind Mice - whether up or down in pitch - and with a movable doh, the pitch or tonality is whatever is convenient.

    And the mode does not matter. Just get the semitones in the right place.
  • JesJes
    Posts: 475
    I tend to pick a "line note" when the doh clef is on a line and a "Space note for doh" when it's the fa clef.

    E.g. Doh is on the top line I choose Doh is D or Bb and then I read it like leger lines like in modern notation treble clef.
  • I wish there was a YouTube crash course on this topic -


    Didn't Fr. Perrone have a YouTube series on this way back? Or was that exclusive to Church Militant subscribers? I don't recall how in-depth he was on the subject . . .

    since fewer and fewer people actually read to learn these days


    Paging Neil Postman!
  • TCJ
    Posts: 605
    With my choir, I found that they picked up the rhythm of the text best when I started having them speak through the text together, then sing it on one note. That allows them to get a feel for how it should sound. While they aren't perfect (some of them still like to revert to singing notes instead of words) it has helped immensely.

    I also do a short solfege practice with the choir every week before we do anything else.