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Beginner's Guide to Creating Gregorian Notation

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

If you are a musician, you may have dabbled in music notation software. I learned to do this with musescore, a free program I still use and recommend. If you are a Catholic musician, you may have wondered how to create chant notation, also known as neumes, or square notes, or Gregorian notation or 4 line notation. It would be nice to do this in Musescore, or Finale. Unfortunately, you can't. There is a another way that seems scary at first, but is not that hard. I resisted this method out of fear, or stubborn frustration about needing to learn new skill. Do yourself a favor and give in, like I did. Accept that you have to learn this new method. It turns out it is a better system anyway. It is called Gregorio, or GABC (The G is for Gregorio, the ABC refers to the note names in music). It is a COMPLETELY different method from a notation software, so none of your notation software skills will carry over. You must start from scratch. It is worth learning as a serious Catholic musician. In this blog, I will attempt to break down for you the easiest way to acquire the rudimentary basics of Gregorio that you need to create square note chants for your choirs, cantors, or worship aids.

Gregorio looks like what I imagine website coding looks like. I'm not a software engineer so I don't know exactly. But take this for example. This is what the opening of the Salve Regina looks like in Gregorio:

annotation: Ant
annotation: V
(c4) Sal(c)ve,(e) Re(g)gí(h)na,(g) *(,) má(h)ter(j) mi(i)se(h)ri(g)cór(h)di(g)æ;(g) (;)

Pretty scary, right? This code will turn out to look like this:

Now take a closer look and notice that all you're looking at is a syllable of text followed by a parenthesis which contains the note for that syllable. Besides that, there are some other symbols. The (c4) at the beginning is the clef, the comma is a comma, the * becomes an *, the (,) becomes the quarter stop line, the (;) at the end is the half bar line. Every musical note or symbol has a corresponding keyboard symbol that creates it. Do you have to memorize them? Nope! You will use a cheat sheet to look for the symbol you need for each syllable of text.

Now, let's create a simple Gregorio score together from the familiar Alleluia Chant (mode VI), step by step. Here's what it looks like in modern notation:

1. Go here This is where you will enter your scores. It's not a software program you download, it's a simple website. (After we finish a score, we will turn it into a pdf or image.)

2. Print a copy of this cheat sheet of Gregorio symbols . It is helpful to have a paper copy next to you.

3. Add the title & subtitle of the chant. As soon as you enter anything in code, it will appear on the score below, so you can check your work as you go.

4. Add the mode number next to "annotation." This will make the little roman numeral appear above the first letter of the chant, so you know what mode it is.

5. Start entering the text next to the clef (We are going to keep the c4 for now, as that's the clef I want). For now, let's enter all 3 Alleluias. The first letter will automatically become enormous.

6. Refer to the cheat sheet to put 4 notes in parenthesis for the first Alleluia. You don't need to add the hyphens between syllables. That's automatic. You don't enter anything onto the score below (you can't). You add only to the lines of "code." Understand that the letters we enter for notes do not correspond to pitches with the same name F, G and H of any scale. Obviously, H is not even a pitch. The cheat sheet shows that note names go all the way up to note M. In Gregorio, the letters are merely the symbols used to represent a particular square note on a particular line/space, or a particular symbol. They are not the names of pitches as in regular music notation software. Make sure the punctuation (in this case, the comma) goes before the parenthesis that contain the final note, or it will turn red and leave a hyphen at the end of the word.

7. The 2nd Alleluia starts with 2 notes on the first syllable, so there are simply 2 letters inside the (fg). The final syllable of the 2nd Alleluia also has 2 notes (dc). Those final 2 notes are longer in duration, right? So we can either add dots next to each note like this (d.c.), or (dc..), or you can add a horizontal episema, (d_c_) or (dc__), which is the little line above that means to elongate. Here is where I found those symbols in the cheat sheet:

8. 3rd Alleluia - in this we have an ascending pair and a descending pair of notes. The program automatically stacks the ascending ones properly.

9. Now, it still looks a little cramped, right? Let's fix that by adding some breath marks with a (,) and also add a double barline at the end. (::)

10. The last trick worth knowing is that you can adjust the size of the image with the panel on the right. It's pretty self explanatory. Play with it. I like to adjust the staff size and horizontal spacing to make the bar line occur at the end of the line.

11. Finally, export to a PDF or PNG on the top right! I recommend copying and pasting all the code into a separate place - email or word doc or whatever. Because once it's gone, it's gone. If you want to recreate the score in the future, simply copy and paste the code back into the template.

Good luck! May Jesus Christ be praised in the music you create. Once you become more proficient, you will find more information and additional symbols at this website

Here is the final result with the Gregorio Code for this Alleluia:

title: Alleluia
subtitle: Mode VI
(c4) Al(f)le(g)lu(h)ia,(f) (,) al(gh)le(g)lu(f)ia,(d.c.) (,) al(f)le(gh)lu(gf)ia(f.) (::)
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