Gregorian Chant - Modes Help
  • donr
    Posts: 971
    I have been doing a lot of reading and searching on the web and Youtube for over a year now on modes (off and on).

    I know that Phoenix is intending to have a chant intensive in Winter this year but I don't want to wait that long.

    Modes confuse me. I am teaching a schola how to sing GC and I want explain modes to them but I'm having difficulties.

    The reason for this confusion is it appears there are two or more differing methods to modes.

    Some people call modes Dorian, Mixalodian, Locirian, etc. calling Do to Do mode 1, and Dorian mode 2.
    However, chant notation mode 1 actually is Dorian.

    I have figured it would be best to stop paying attention to the modern understanding of modes for now.

    However even chant mode literature that I have read have differing opinions on what the modes are.

    Expl 1:
    mode I (re - re);
    mode II (mi - mi); etc.

    Expl 2:
    mode I (re - re) - reciting tone - on la, final re
    mode II (la - la) - reciting tone fa, final re
    mode III (mi - mi) - reciting tone do (because it can't be on ti or te), final on mi

    I am confused, I need help...

    What is the best book to download or buy so I can teach my students the right way to do it?
  • Donr,

    Good question - get a copy of The Parish Book of Chant. Flip through and see what and how many modes are used. You will be surprised.

    There's really no reason to explain them to people.

    But if you feel moved to explain what the modes are really simply put, you could, if you like, go to a piano and play 8 notes, each starting on a different note, so they can hear the modes - the half steps are the important part.

    FIRST, explain that the modes are all about pitches in the scale that are arrival places. Play this scale, whole tone:

    C D E F# G# A# C....since there is no "resting place" It's a rather indifferent scale.


    Start with C, they will be comfortable with that. C D E F G A B C

    Then A - that they will recognize as a minor scale. A B C D E F G A

    Any other one that you play will sound foreign, as the Arrival places are misplaced to the modern ear.

    Does this, in anyway, help you in preparing to teach them? I realize that it does not touch on the naming of the scales - but I think most singers have less interest in understanding the nuts and bolts when they could be learning new melodies!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,083
    The modes are grouped in pairs:

    Mode I and II both use the scale (re - re), the scale called "Dorian".
    Mode III and IV use the scale (mi - mi), called "Phrygian".
    Mode V and VI use the scale (fa - fa), called "Lydian".
    Mode VII and VIII use the scale (sol - sol) called "Mixolydian".

    Within each pair, the modes differ by their range. Mode II pieces have the same scale as mode I, but have a lower range.

    A chart appears in the WIkipedia article at this link:

    In each case, the final node of the mode is marked with 'f':
  • I taught that chart to Diaconate candidates in Massachusetts. If they can get it, anyone can.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood CHGiffen
  • donr
    Posts: 971
    I saw this chart Chonak, thanks.

    This is basically what I explained to schola this morning. I was hoping it was right.

    thank you again.

  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    Yes but so what? So far all I can see is that if you sing an antiphon in one mode, then the psalm tone should be in the same mode so that they both come to an end agreeably.
    Is that it? What else is it for? As you can see I don't really understand this modes thing, and have been hoping that over time it might just dawn on me. Any help offered appreciated.
    Chonak, in the chart you show, you are showing modern notation where each note has a fixed pitch. How does this relate to chant, where do is wherever it is shown, I mean movable do?
    I'm sadly confused and ignorant.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,439
    It is (at least) as helpful as understanding the difference between major and minor in conventional music. You can perform something based on just knowing what all the notes are, or you can perform something with an understanding of how it is structured. It makes a difference.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • donr
    Posts: 971

    Whether in modern or chant notation the "do" remains the same. All of the modes in Chonak's chart are in the key of C. "do" always is on C in this particular example.

    Mode 1 and 2 will usually resolve to "re" (their final) but the chant melody in Mode 1 will usually be sung in the range from "re - re" I think centered around "la" and Mode 2 will usually be sung in the range from "la - la" centered around the note "fa", I believe.

    The next set are Modes 3 and 4. They have a final ending note of "mi". Mode 3 will be based around "mi - mi" and Mode 4 between "ti - ti".

    And so forth from the chart.

    The cool thing is if you'll notice from the chart above, Mode VIII is from "re - re" just like Mode 1, however its final resting note is "so" which is different than Mode 1 which has a final of "re". We really haven't discussed the reciting tone or the "dominant" yet, but from what I understand the dominant note of a chant is the 5th tone above the final in Modes 1, 3, 5 and 7 and is the 3rd tone above the final in Modes 2, 4, 6 and 8, unless the dominant falls on "ti" its moved to the 4th because sometimes in chant "ti is altered to te" and would not be a cool thing to do.

    Someone please correct me if I am incorrect in my understanding of this.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • donr
    Posts: 971
    I also meant to point out that just because a chant range is "re - re" or other, does not mean it can not go beyond that range, it just means that it is generally focused in that range, if that makes any sense.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Its very helpful to think of modes in terms of solfege and not absolute pitch.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,129
    I made these, and have used them as warmups and to help fix the "feel" of the traditional modes, for beginner chanters I have worked with. The melodies are based on some I learned from Susan Hellauer who gave a "Modes by Ear" workshop: for my purposes I made them more "liturgical".
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 541
    Here is a booklet which I made last year in explanation of the eight Gregorian modes. The goal was to put all the information together in one place.
    It is meant to be printed on regular paper using a "booklet" option; the pages of the pdf are half the size of a regular sheet of paper.
    Vale in Domino,
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I was introduced to the modes using the scales in Chonak's example. To be honest, that never really did much for me. I have a musical background, so it all made logical sense, but there was a bit of "who cares?" about it all.

    It didn't start to be interesting until I heard the songs (like in Jonathan's booklet) and saw that the modes strongly communicate emotion. We don't have much of a language for that these days.

    And it got REALLY interesting when I heard the accompaniments that can be used with the modes. And it made me realize how limited we are in modern music to think that major=happy and minor=sad. What a rich range of communication we've lost!
  • Typically, most folks who study and sing chant become intimidated by the whole concept of the eight (or basically four) Church Modes. While I can agree with the comments here, I would like to add that it can become more confusing to think of modes in terms of “scales” (intervallic relationships) with a specific range (or ambitus). It is probably easier to think of the modes in terms of their structure pitches: the Dominant [recitative] and Final [tonic] as well as F and C in all modes because the leading tones which precede them make them strong. Odd numbered Modes have a Dominant which is a Fifth above the Final (except sometimes in Mode 3, because the Fifth is a leading tone [B] and wants to be “pulled up” to the next step C) . Even numbered Modes have a Dominant which is the Third step above the Final (except almost always in Mode 8 because the Third is a leading tone [B] and wants to be “pulled up” to the next step C). Since the Third step in Modes 1 through 4 is a minor third above the Final, those Modes “feel” as though they are in a minor key. Likewise, Modes 5 through 8 give the impression of a major key because the Third step is a major interval from the Final. Unlike major or minor keys, the each mode exudes a recognizable “mood” or ethos as a result of the pitch relationships and characteristic cadences belonging to each. The most important reason for knowing the mode of Antiphon is to be able to determine the correct mode of the accompanying Psalm tone. Very frequently, an Antiphon will not remain in the specified Mode but will modulate throughout the course of the text. (Note the extreme example of the Communion, “Comedite pinquia,” which in four short lines begins in Mixolydian (8th Mode) and moves to Lydian (6th Mode), Phrygian (4th Mode) and Dorian (2nd Mode) before finally ending with a cadential third signaling a return back to the Mixolydian (8th Mode).

    Daniel Saulnier’s "The Modes" (Solesmes Ed.), translated from the French by Edward Schaefer, is probably the most comprehensive and current reference text (beware: it will take several careful readings!). Easier than this, refer to Fr. Columba Kelly’s notes at the following links:
    (p.67 ff) Handouts.SM.2014.pdf

  • Many thanks, Jonathan K-K, for a very succinct yet lucid treatment of the modes. With your permission, I might use it for instruction and 'hand-out' at classes of St Basil's School of Gregorian Chant. 'The modes' do seem to have about them a mystical aura. They really are not all that complicated, yet seem to be thoroughly confusing to neophytes. A part of this, I think, is that we are encountering more and more people in our society who do not even understand the major-minor system, the difference between whole and half tones, or even to sing the do-re-mi's, let alone have more than a cursory familiarity with reading music. Thanks for your useful treatise!
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • Using magnets gives them a visual perspective, if you like.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • donr
    Posts: 971
    These are all very helpful, thank you!
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    Jonathan thanks so much. It is starting to make sense. I went through your booklet, and then went through it again with the St Meinrad psalm tones in the other hand (which I use at home when I do LOTH by myself) again, and it is starting to make sense. At least I could see how the tones fit the schema of modes. not sure I have any semse of the subtleties it is meant to convey as Carl D elaborated, but then I am not experienced enough with chant to have much of a repertoire. I too, if you don't mind will keep your hand-out tucked away, as a teaching resource.
    Thanks everyone for putting in input. MJO, you have a point, so far most of what I have read elsewhere explains these things in term which I don't understand anyway (dominants, tonic etc.) which has left me no better off.

    God bless all you geniuses (genii?) and your patience.
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 541
    Regarding my booklet, feel free to use it.

    Although if you do actually use it with a class, I wouldn't mind if you messaged; that can be encouraging.

  • donr
    Posts: 971
    JonathanKK, I can tell you that I will reference your book and its common sense approach to explaining modes with my schola this Saturday.

    thank you for this great work
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Remember that what we call Music Theory—the kind that is taught in most schools—is an attempt to explain all Western music of all time periods using one standard framework. Our time is the only time in history when musicians were expected to perform music of all style periods. Medieval singers sang medieval music. Baroque singers sang baroque music. In Mozart's day, singers weren't also performing Ockeghem and Gregorian chant, Bach and Perotin.

    When we talk about the 7 modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian) we are talking about different expressions of the diatonic scale. That is, the set of notes that are arranged in a set order of whole and half steps. Some will think of Lydian mode, for example, as fa sol la ti do re mi fa. Others consider it in relation to a fixed do: do re me fa# sol la ti do. Either way, we're speaking of a certain order of whole and half steps that is unique to that mode and that give it a characteristic flavor. But that is not the way that medieval singers of chant would have thought about the concept of mode.

    The 4 pairs of church modes—the ones used for Gregorian chant—do not refer to a special order of whole and half steps per se. It is not a scale in which melodies are composed. Rather, it is a way to classify the ancient chants by their final (the last note of the chant) in order to pair an antiphon with the correct psalm tone formula for the verses. The mode designations and the psalm tones have changed throughout history for a number of chants and are not as fixed as we may be led to believe by "modern" chant books (modern in this case being 1908, for the Graduale).

    While it is true that as you become more familiar with the chant repertory, you will notice certain similarities among chants of the same mode, there is really no reason to teach modes to a beginning schola (or even to an advanced one, unless you are planning to edit your own book of chant). The mode designation does not give you any additional information that is necessary for performing the chant. Given the number of questions I have seen about modes (and the number of articles, diagrams, and charts), I would suggest avoiding the topic altogether in a schola rehearsal. What is important is a knowledge of solfege and the ability to sing whole steps and half steps in their proper place (between mi and fa, ti and do, and occasionally between la and ti-b or te).
  • Pelucid!
  • BGP
    Posts: 215
    Thank you Incantu. I agree entirely. I always tell people that if they ever need to know what mode a chant is in, that it is printed in the book. I don’t see how modal theory changes much, if anything, as far as how one actually sings a given chant.

    I find it humorous to picture one of the ancient cantors, centuries before the invention of notation, sitting down with a pen and saying “ok I’m going to compose a gradual, what dominate should I use?”.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,103
    Actually, the mode does indeed change the way that one sings a chant (or, at least, it should). It is almost certainly the case that the ancient chants were not sung to anything approaching equal temperament - but, rather, to some sort of just intonation (with simple ratios among the frequencies of the different notes of the mode) ... and these ratios are not fixed from one mode to another.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,174
    I have found it extremely helpful to talk a little about the modes, especially the 'funny ones' : III & IV especially (the modes on MI), but also VII & VIII (the modes on SOL). I have found it helpful to remind the choir : "Don't forget this is a MI mode - with the funny ending - SOL-FA-MI, the half-step is above the final."
  • BGP
    Posts: 215
    CHGiffen- very intriguing, I suspect that most people who are concerned about understanding the modes aren’t making those adjustments, do you care to elaborate?

    Now, something I had intended to never mention in this forum is that in addition to being involved with church music I have also been involved with bagpipe music (to those who hate the pipes please be nice and hear me out). There are in fact some parallels here as regards tone. Pipe music is modal, and tuned with just intonation (getting and staying in tune is difficult and contributes to the negative feelings of some toward the instrument). My understanding of just intonation comes from this background and is that of pitches being in harmony. Specifically in the case of the bagpipes each note must resonate with the drone pitch. If the pitch of any note is off there is discord and if it is close but not all the way in harmony, there is an audible waver (called a ‘beating” wawawawawa). The Drone note is the melodic foundation of course.

    How tuning adjustments would work with GC I have no idea, I think modern musicians think of these things in terms of key.

    In chant there are of course certain pitches that predominate a melody. While I am certainly no scholar and open to correction I suspect the ancient singers took these into account (and composed using them) intuitively by feel not by consulting mode charts, or spending much effort conciously thinking about them. My understanding which may be wrong is that in the west the modes were borrowed from the Greeks and imposed on the chant repertory later after most of the proper of the Mass was composed.
  • Bagpipes are thrilling!
    Pipe on, and
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,891
    In some Eastern churches, the modes are a set of melodies. A Mode I Sunday has a particular set of tunes with Mode II having another set. Some of the modes are more major sounding than others so scale differences are involved. To the singers and congregation, not much analysis goes on. If it is a Mode I Sunday, everyone knows what melodies to sing.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    @CHGiffen, are you suggesting that re-la would be intoned differently in mode I (where la is a fifth above the final) than in mode VI (where it would be a third)?

    I would be happy if I had a choir who could justly intone a perfect fifth in any mode! And given the number of times that the manuscripts have "s(ursum)" written for unison or for descending pitches, the ambiguity from source to source of pitches that have a half-step relationship, and the frequent occurrence of initio debilis neumes beginning in unison with the previous pitch (not to mention the numerous changes of pitch on liquescents), I doubt medieval singers had as universally excellent intonation practices as we might like to think. However, I do not disagree that the medieval concept of pitch might have been very different from what our ears are used to.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    I would be happy if I had a choir who could justly intone a perfect fifth in any mode!

    LOL! Fourths are my own personal bugaboo, and there are a number of them in this Sunday's offertory. Any tips for mastering them? (It does help that most of them end on the dominant, but a couple of them don't.)
  • Fourths I have down, because I realized that Jerome Kern's All the Things You Are is constructed using them, so just sing it every morning. Now descending fourths...haven't found a song for that.

    (Stacked fourths, for more modern music: the Star Trek fanfare.)

    Anyway, this discussion has actually been very useful--and should illustrate to the original questioner why teaching them to a choir might not be necessary. I have been in classes where some people sang the final while everyone sang the melody. That makes it pop out.

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,103
    Descending fourths? Here are a couple:

    "Shave and" in "Shave and a haircut, two bits."

    "Born free..."

  • I know this is a rather old thread, but I only joined the forum a couple months ago. I was Googling to find a way to explain the differences between the modes to a friend of mine. She is a very good pianist and an aspiring organist, but is new to the concept of the church modes. Jonathan's booklet is exactly what I was looking for. It is both detailed and yet short enough to be easily read. Thank you for providing that resource.
    Thanked by 1JonathanKK