Choosing Psalm Tones
  • JMJ_coder
    Posts: 19
    Are there any rules or guidelines on which tones to choose for which psalms? For example, is there anything that says, Psalm 43 is always to be sung on Tone III? Or only Tone II or Tone IV is to be used during Christmas?

    Are certain psalms assigned to certain tones? Does the liturgical season make a difference? How does the antiphon figure in (does it dictate the tone, does it's tone vary)? Does going from Latin to English play any role in deciding? Or is it just use whatever you want?

    Any help would be appreciated?
  • The psalm tone is chosen to match the mode of the antiphon.
  • JMJ_coder
    Posts: 19
    Ah, I see. Thank you.

    Now, I guess, my question remains and just substitutes antiphon for psalm. [s/psalm/antiphon/g]

    How do I determine the tone of the antiphon?
  • The really short answer is that most chant books give the mode of the antiphon in Roman numerals. The medium-length answer is that you determine the mode of the antiphon by listening to the pattern of intervals around the last note (called the 'final') and the range of the antiphon melody. Considering the final as the first scale degree...

    If the half-step is between the second and third scale degrees, it's either Dorian (Mode I) or Hypodorian (Mode II).

    If the half-step is between the first and second scale degrees, it's either Phrygian (Mode III) or Hypophrygian (Mode IV).

    If there's a half step below the final (and the third of the scale is major), then it's either Lydian (Mode V) or Hypolydian (Mode VI). (Note that in Lydian, there can be a half-step between the third and fourth scale degrees or between the fourth and fifth.)

    If the half-step is between the third and fourth scale degrees and there's a whole step below the final, it's either Mixolydian (Mode VII) or Hypomixolydian (Mode VIII).

    You can also use a flow chart approach. First, determine the quality of the third scale degree--is is major or minor?

    If the third is minor, then consider the second scale degree. If it's a whole step above the final, you're in Dorian/Hypodorian. If it's a half step, you're in Phyrgian/Hypophrygian.

    If the third is major, examine the note below the final. If it's a half step, you're in Lydian/Hypolydian; a whole step, Mixolydian/Hypomixolydian.

    If there are no sharps or flats, then you can use a shortcut:
    Final D -> Dorian or Hypodorian
    Final E -> Phrygian or Hypophrygian
    Final F -> Lydian or Hypolydian
    Final G -> Mixolydian or Hypomixolydian

    Sitting at the keyboard and playing scales on the white keys starting on each of these notes in turn is a good way to start internalizing the sound of each mode, especially if you sing along. Dorian/Hypdorian also appears with a final on A, or with a final on G (using b-flats). Phrygian/Hypophrygian sometimes appears with a final on A (using b-flats).

    Once you've narrowed it down to a pair of modes, you choose whether to use the authentic (odd numbered: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, or Mixolydian) or plagal (even numbered: Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, Hypomixolydian) member of that pair based on the range of the antiphon.

    If the antiphon melody goes above the sixth scale degree, use the odd-numbered member of the pair. If it descends more than a step below the final (without going more than a sixth above), use the even-numbered member. If the melody has such a wide range that it goes more than a sixth above and more than a step below the final, you'll usually use the odd-numbered mode; if it has a narrow range and doesn't go above the sixth or more than a step below the final, you can usually use the odd-numbered mode but you may find that the even-numbered one works better.

    Sometimes the Tonus Peregrinus is used with a Dorian antiphon. I don't know how to decide whether to use it. (If you're singing the Psalm 'In exitu Israel' and the antiphon is Dorian, you might as well use the Tonus Peregrinus.)
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Antiphons and hymns which are supposed to be in a certain tone ought to say what tone they're in at the beginning.

    As for when which tones tend to be used, I'm not sure there is a definite pattern anywhere, except the ordinary time rotation of tones in the Orthodox church. We would start with tone one, and each new Great Vespers/Sunday do the propers and the troparia in the next tone, cycling through them. Outside of Ordinary time, or on special feast days, the propers and troparia are assigned a specific tone.

    In the Western church, I don't think there is such a cycle, because it seems that their propers for the whole year are through-composed.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Are certain psalms assigned to certain tones? Does the liturgical season make a difference? How does the antiphon figure in (does it dictate the tone, does it's tone vary)? Does going from Latin to English play any role in deciding? Or is it just use whatever you want?

    To answer your questions: no, not as a rule, see the answers above, not necessarily (there are no "rules" for English psalmody), and yes pretty much.

    The same psalm will be found in the Graduale in different modes, so there is no one mode for a specific psalm. You will find all of the modes used in every season, so there is no specific rule there either. You will, however, find that the Tracts (which replace the Alleluia during Lent) are either in mode II or mode VIII. Those modes, however, are used in other genres and seasons as well.

    Although some of the modes have a certain relationship to our modern major and minor, it would be inconsistent with the Gregorian repertoire to choose only "major" modes for psalms of praise and "minor" modes for lamentations when singing in English. For example, the graduale Haec dies for Easter Sunday (Ps. 118, "This is the day the Lord has made") is in mode II, a "minor" sounding mode to our ear.

    Personally, if I were to sit down and compose antiphons for the psalms, I would probably follow the ordering of tones in the Mundelein Psalter, just because it exists and someone has already done all the work for me. That is to say one could sing a newly composed antiphon (melismatic chant, polyphony, etc.) with the verses that have already been pointed for that psalm tone. Many composers and songwriters have written antiphons which follow the ordering of modes in the Gelineau psalter for the same reason.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,569
    Hymns Psalms and Spiritual Canticles (Ted Marier's hymnal) has an index of the tones he used to set the Lectionary psalms and canticles. If anyone's interested in a redaction of that, let me know. The hymnal's in my car for now....
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    CMAA Flash-mob task!
    Ten people spending less than ten minutes working on a spreadsheet
    will quickly produce interesting visual results for all to enjoy.
    The Columns are labeled: Liturgy, IN, GR, TR, AL, OF, CO.
    The Rows are labeled: one for each Liturgy
    In the cells you enter the mode number (1...8); when you tab out, the background color will change.
    (1=red, 2=orange, 3=yellow, 4=green, 5=blue, 6=purple, 7=brown, 8=grey)
    If there are multi-year (A,B,C) issues to resolve, enter x (color will remain white); I will devise a solution for these.

    Here is the Gregorian Missal (25 MB, right-click and download) as your reference ...

    Here is the spreadsheet ...

    Okay, lets go!
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    Thanks to the admin that edited the post to make the spreadsheet URL clickable.
    Thanks to the volunteers who updated cells.
    Our Ordinary Form (OF) mode summary (first draft) is completed.

    Any impressions to share about the results you see at this point?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    It looks like Mode 1 is the predominant mode of Advent;
    2, that of Christmas;
    Lent has a lot of modes 2 and 8;
    Easter, of 6 and 4;
    Early Ordinary Time (the weeks after Epiphany) has 5 and 4;
    Late Ordinary Time (after Pentecost) has 5 and 2.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    How to represent the propers that vary according to year cycle (A,B,C) or options ...
    Leave the "x" and use the NOTES column to elaborate?
    Make spreadsheet orthogonal by triple columns (INa, INb, INc, ...) and propagate values/colors?
    Other representations?

    The initial color scheme was quickly chosen to distinguish modes.
    Would a revised color scheme be more useful?
    Should mode and hypo-mode have related colors,
    and what would be good color pairs and reasons for use (given limited choices)?
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 330
    the knowledge base of this forum never ceases to amaze me....nor the enthusiasm.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I know! That was amazing how fast that was accomplished.

    I think it's really interesting that certain tones tend to group in certain seasons. I always had a hunch it was so, but since all the tones get a little representation everywhere, I wasn't sure.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    Good ideas, eft. It probably wouldn't hurt to use related colors, in pairs: say, dark for authentic modes, light for plagal. That would probably make some relationships more visible.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    You folks are great!
    Thanks to the volunteers (Google was indicating as many as five concurrent viewers/editors)
    who have investigated each "x" and provided info in the NOTES column.
    I must admit it is heartening to see other info appear before your eyes while updating a different cell.

    I never paid so close attention to the Gregorian Missal chant headings until this spreadsheet idea.
    I assumed the title/heading of a "moment" of the Mass was set
    (IN, K, G, (R1), GR, (R2), TR/AL, (G), C, OF, S, A, CO).

    I am not sure how best to represent in the spreadsheet the variance from this ...

    e.g., spreadsheet headings (GR, TR)
    versus PalmPassion and GoodFriday data (Reading One followed by Tract, Reading Two followed by Gradual).

    e.g., spreadsheet headings (GR, AL)
    versus Easter Season data (Reading One followed by Alleluia, Reading Two followed by Alleluia).
  • I've modified the spreadsheet to give a better color-coded representation of the authentic and plagal modes.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • JMJ_coder
    Posts: 19
    Thank you for all the helpful and useful information.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,514
    I see there are conflicting bits of data, some times indicated by x instead of 0. Can these be shown half one color, half another?
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    0 = the particular item does not exist (no mode to indicate)
    x = Gregorian Missal indicates Proper has multiple options ("or" for one year),
    or different option for different years (specific for A,B,C); the NOTES column explains the content.

    The first pass through the data was to quickly answer the first posted questions.
    The current representation is the second pass through the data,
    thoroughly presenting all data, though not orthogonally.
    Eventually we can get there.

    The Google Docs cell-coloring feature is not fancy;
    the first match is the one that gets used for the entire cell.
    I am continuing to investigate other coloring possibilities.

    I am still waiting for at least one affirmative response to my questions about
    converting presentation of data to be three columns (one per year) for each Proper.
    chonak, did you give that affirmative?

    I am happy to enhance the spreadsheet, but want to avoid a major unilateral modification.
  • Can we have three different sheets, corresponding to cycles A, B and C? Or is that too complicated?
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    While creating the doc to be populated, I had considered several sheets,
    but that would have complicated the data entry,
    and prevented the at-a-glance sense of mode use
    (that remains my reason for favoring A,B,C columns for each heading).

    I thought the exceptional cases would be fewer than they turned out to be (see lots of A,B,C notes).
    I knew that we would still have to account for the "or" problem (but there are fewer of these).

    Maybe each cell could also have the incipit text.

    I am also thinking of a longer-term vision/purpose.
    Google data visualization. :-)

    The CMAA membership is developing a "Mode-zaic"
    (name coined by off-forum composer/organist/friend with initials AMC).
    Imagine ...
    a wall poster ...
    a laminated heavy-card-stock reference tool ...

    We gotta think some more! Comments, anyone?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    To my eye, the color choices still don't really help me see the four different pairs of modes. Have you considered, for instance, making authentic and plagal modes the same color, but with different numbers? Or perhaps one a solid and the other just outlined or "cornered" in the same color.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    I've added more columns to the table, to show the "A", "B", and "C" variations, according to the following rules:
    (1) If the rule in the Gregorian Missal was explicit, I applied it.
    (2) If there were options among chants, but they had the same mode, I filled in that mode.
    (3) Where there was a free choice among alternatives, I chose the first.
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 269
    Does anyone know how I can print this? I tried it, but could only get a part of it to show up on the screen. Is there a PDF version available? AWESOME work, BTW.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    From the spreadsheet, you can use the "File" menu to download the spreadsheet in the form of a PDF file (or various other forms) and view the file locally on your own PC.
  • Hello everyone. I've been in love with this site and forum for some time now but this is my first post. Very grateful and quite happy to have a network of resources as readily available and vibrant as this one.

    I have a question about psalm tones: Where can I find them in print? I have a Roman Gradual and I assumed I could find the 8 tones in there somewhere but the closest thing I can find are the 8 Gloria Patri tones. I know the Gloria Patri tones are based on the psalm tones (at least in terms of modes) but I am looking for a chart like the ones I've seen in PDF format all over the place online.

    I know I can easily just print out the PDF for these, but I'm just curious where those charts come from if not the Roman Gradual itself?
  • Andrew Motyka
    Posts: 935

    I don't believe the actual psalm tones are in the GR, although the Gloria Patri tones are pretty good as a guide; they won't include options for different endings, incipits, or flexes, though.

    The only place I'm ever seen a comprehensive tone guide in a book is in the Liber Usualis. I think there's a PDF of the whole thing somewhere on MusicaSacra, but I could be mistaken. It's right near the beginning. Other than that, I don't know where else to find the tones, either. Good question!
  • OK - now that this thread has been brought up again (and I'm actually reading through this for the first time), I have a really dumb question. I've known all the basic modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, etc.). I've never heard of the "hypo" modes. What is different in the "hypo" counterparts - Dorian vs. Hypodorian, Phrygian vs. Hypophrygian, etc.?
    Thanx much.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    The 1934 (and still available) Antiphonale Monasticum has a guide to the psalm tones also (p. 1208-1227).
  • Andrew Motyka
    Posts: 935
    I've never heard of the "hypo" modes. What is different in the "hypo" counterparts - Dorian vs. Hypodorian, Phrygian vs. Hypophrygian, etc.?

    There are two differences between the "hypo" (plagal, or even-numbered) modes and the authentic (odd-numbered) modes: range and dominant. For example, Mode I (Dorian) has its final on Re, dominant (the reciting tone for the psalms) on La, and its range is roughly from Re to Re. The melody sits primarily above the final. Mode II (Hypodorian) also has its final on Re, but its dominant is on Fa and its range is roughly from La to La. The melody sits both above and below the final.

    Simply stated, there is no difference in the notes between an authentic mode and its plagal (hypo) counterpart, but the range and dominant is different for each.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,849
    Susan Treacy's A plain and easy introduction to Gregorian chant is very good with psalm tones. the LU download is at
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,601
    Susan Treacy's book IS A MUST HAVE!
  • CGM
    Posts: 559
    Here's the question that I thought this thread was going to be answering, and if it did, then I somehow missed it:

    What's the relationship between the Modes and the Psalm Tones? Is Mode I employed in Tone I, does Mode IV corresponds to Tone IV, etc?

    In other words, I was going to use the mode of a given Sunday's Gradual as the source for which tone to use when chanting that Sunday's Responsorial Psalm. Since the modes are determined based on their final note and range, but the psalm tones have multiple termination options, they don't seem to me to match up readily. But perhaps there's some aspect of modal theory that I'm unaware of that's in play here? (Quite possibly...)
  • The psalm tones cannot strictly be said to be "in" their corresponding modes, and most of them don't have a sufficient range to be assigned a mode anyway. Also, as you notice, they generally don't end on the final of the mode. Even so, yes, a Mode I antiphon takes the Mode I psalm tone, Mode 2 antiphon takes the Mode 2 psalm tone, etc. The psalm tones were developed to generally match the range and feel of their corresponding modes. As to the various terminations, they exist to end the psalm in a way conducive to beginning the antiphon again -- either because they bring you back to the note where you will be starting the antiphon, or, more commonly, because (and the fit is not always perfect) they cover the same few notes or a little pattern that will appear at the beginning of the antiphon. (Thus the terminations are irrelevant to Graduals, since these are not intended to be sung Antiphon - Verse(s) - Antiphon with a psalm tone).

    Of course, if you are not singing the Gradual at all and are singing the Responsorial Psalm to a psalm tone instead, there is no particular musical reason to use the tone matching the mode of what the Gradual would have been.
    Thanked by 1CGM
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,824
    this site might be of interest to you:
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    "Of course, if you are not singing the Gradual at all and are singing the Responsorial Psalm to a psalm tone instead, there is no particular musical reason to use the tone matching the mode of what the Gradual would have been."

    I think CGM is not so much looking for a musical reason as (s)he is looking for an easy way to select the modes, with a nod to continuity with the other liturgical books in the OF, as well as with the past. Of course, I may be wrong, but that's how I'm reading the comment.
  • CGM
    Posts: 559
    Dear francis,

    Thanks for the link. An earlier commenter had elucidated the difference between modes and "hypo"modes, but it was good to hear it illustrated in some way. (I wonder where the aeolian, locrian, and ionian modes came from. I was taught as a kid that they were all "church modes," but as an adult church musician, I don't see those three appearing as church modes at all...)

    Dear Ben,

    Yes, you did a pretty good job of decoding my unstated motivation. Basically, I figure that if the Church chose a particular mode for a particular place in the Mass on a particular day, then I might as well use the same mode at the same place in the same day's liturgy, even if the text (the Gradual) is replaced by another text (the Responsorial Psalm). At some level, this is backwards, inasmuch as the melodies are designed to illuminate the texts, but on the other hand, since the same texts show up with different melodies and different modes (again, as an earlier post noted), using this method of "letting the church pick your mode for you" at least provides some measure of historical/liturgical continuity (even as the Church herself has swapped out the text!). As you say, continuity, respect for the past, and yes, ease of judgment call...
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,824

    Let me know what you find out... wiki has quite a bit about the modes.

    This is another of my studies:
  • Oh sure, that's as good a way to pick the mode as any. Just go wild one day and use the Tonus Peregrinus, won't you?
  • In addtion to Liber Usualis, the eight psalm tones may be found, with all their respective endings, in the back of St Dunstan's Psalter, published by Lancelot Andrewe's Press. This is a Miles Coverdale Psalter with each psalm pointed for singing to a different psalm tone. This book also has the New and Old Testament canticles set to psalm tones, the four Marian Antiphons in English that can be sung to their traditional plainchant tunes, and the Englished Te Deum set to its traditional plainchant melody and its accompanying versicles-reponses and prayer... for those who would like to incorporate a solemn Te Deum after mass on ocassions of great thanksgiving. We do this at Walsingham.
  • redsox1
    Posts: 202
    If I missed this in the posts above, forgive me, but another good resource is "A Gregorian Chant Handbook" by William Tortolano, published by GIA. It's very handy to have in your library.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    You might look at this as well. A listing of all the psalm tones:
  • Here is a link to a chart of the Office psalm tones as found in the new Antiphonale from Solesmes. (Monasticum I, II, III, 2005-2009; Romanum II, 2009)
    Thanked by 1GerardH
  • I am bringing the thread back again because I'm considering a composition project for my student schola where we would set daily RPs for Lent according to the modes.

    So far, this thread has given a lot of information on what the modes are, and where to find them, but very little criteria on how to choose them: if there are or were rules or guidelines, or if there are emotional connotations, or seasonal uses (which have been documented on the thread from the GR), etc.

    As of now, with the information I've been able to find (really not find), I can with the information I have come to the following conclusion: there are no rules for how to choose the mode for an antiphon, psalm, RP, etc. If anyone has any information on that, please let me know, but right now, it appears that no guidelines or rules exist.
  • Was there ever an EF version of the spread sheet?

    If it's already up, I can't find it. (Mind you, I seem to be able not to navigate much which has to do with computers...)
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,012
    The article on Wikipedia headed Mode (music) shows that there have been plenty of opinions over the millenia about the emotional content of the modes, and a table half way down relates some of them to church modes, for what its worth.
  • RevAMG
    Posts: 156
    David Clayton at The Way of Beauty has a chart allocating modes and tones to each of the psalms following the Sarum Psalter (i.e., the use of the churches of Salisbury and York).
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Can someone give a brief explanation of the meaning of the abbreviations being used in this thread, i.e. "Liturgy, IN, GR, TR, AL, OF, CO." and "(IN, K, G, (R1), GR, (R2), TR/AL, (G), C, OF, S, A, CO)." for me? I am fairly new to this concept of the chanting the psalms with specific modes and am trying to learn more about it. I'd love to utilize the spreadsheet posted on this thread, but I am ignorant about how to interpret it at this point.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,012
    IN, K, G, (R1), GR, (R2), TR/AL, (G), C, OF, S, A, CO
    INtroit, Kyrie, Gloria,-, GRadual,-, TRact/ALleluia,-,Credo, OFfertory, Sanctus, Agnus dei, COmmunion
    All chants to be found in the Graduale Romanum (or the Kyriale), the official book of chant, a copy can be found on this website under music PDFs.
    K, G, C, S, A are called the Ordinary chants, and are relatively simple,
    IN, GR, TR/AL, OF, CO are the Proper chants, which vary for the feast.
    The same labelling system applies in English except that GR and TR are often called the responsorial psalms which probably gives R1 and R2.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,012
    The Introit (Entrance antiphon), Responsorial psalm, and Communion antiphon are required, and therefor given in the Missal to be spoken if not sung. Alleluia is to be sung, but if not sung should be omitted*. The Offertory is not required, and does not appear in the Missal. NB these rules are not always obeyed.
    * It is unclear whether this means just the word 'Alleluia' or applies to the verse as well!