I hear many people saying that notating Gregorian chant like this is problematic. Why would anyone say that it is problematic to notate this chant like this instead of using the standard notation for Gregorian chant?

Where is the problem?

Agnus Dei Mass 17. The score looks like something like modern notation but without note stems, and measure are shown with short dashed through the top line of the staff rather than full bars.

2 Answers 2


This notation has no concept of main and side notes, of the central tones of a phrase and its subdivision and suggests a rigidity of note length and weight not matching the fluid character of chant.

Notation is always an abstraction of a performance. Square notation abstracts in different categories to modern notation. I find it easier to create a performance matching my understanding of chant using square notation.


That is an extremely simple example with no accidentals. That system was applied in the Swedish Catholic hymn book with unfortunate results.

  1. Standard notation results in a loss of information and the difference is clearly audible.

  2. Gregorian notation provides a graphic representation of the phrasing in a very clear way.

  3. Four lines are easier to read than five and can be made larger without taking up more space. This is an important consideration especially in poorly lit situations and for older singers.

  4. Gregorian notation gives relative pitch. Choirs choose the pitch to suit themselves and the celebrant.

  5. It is unnecessary. The complete body of Gregorian chant is available on line, copyright-free. The entire exercise of transcribing chant into standard notation is a waste of time.

  6. Many singers in church choirs cannot read standard musical notation anyway. The pictorial representation of Gregorian notation is easier to understand. Gregorian notation is quite a good way of introducing singers to standard notation.

Mass 17 Agnus Gregorian notation

Above is the same piece of music in Gregorian notation (Agnus Dei Mass 17). Someone who cannot read standard notation will not find Gregorian chant notation any more difficult. Anyone who has only used standard notation should not have any difficulty in making the transition. Anyone singing in a Catholic choir will eventually have to learn the Gregorian notation. If you are familiar with Gregorian notation, transcription to five line is just a confusing irritation. This innovation is pointless and degrades the quality of the performance.

  • 1
    Do you at least see the benefit of standard notation for many, many people who can get the gist of the melody without needing to study Gregorian notation? Mar 5 at 18:00
  • 1
    I hear you, @MichaelCurtis but I have to agree with this answer. As someone with a solid background in standard notation, Gregorian chant notation is not difficult to learn.
    – nuggethead
    Mar 6 at 20:44
  • I wonder how you arrived at your conclusions in point 6. How broadly have you surveyed church choir singers? Also, how specifically is Gregorian notation easier or more pictorial than standard?
    – Theodore
    Mar 7 at 15:33
  • Also, regarding point 1: I agree that the specific example of standard notation given in the question has lost information, as also pointed out in the earlier answer by @user62910, but certainly a more careful effort with standard notation could retain it.
    – Theodore
    Mar 7 at 15:43
  • I sang in Catholic church choirs and as solo cantor in England and Sweden for about 45 years. Gregorian chant places the note groups directly over the syllables.The current settings and notation system was developed by the monks of Solemnes in the 19th and 20th centuries, following the tradition established by Guido d'Arezzo. If they had thought it was worth dropping they would have done so. As a matter of fact, Liber Usualis was available in standard notation, but not that show in the example; the notes are grouped in beams and the standard length note is indicated by a quaver.
    – Physiocrat
    Mar 8 at 8:23

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