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Why is Gregorian Chant called ‘Gregorian Chant?’ Learn the answer, and discover the specific elements of Gregorian Chant, including its harmonic structures, variations and how it changed throughout the Medieval Period.

Church Domination of the Medieval Period

Now this is a story all about how The music of the church was to be allowed.

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The domination of the Catholic Church grew year after year, Claiming absolute power and taking land by fear.

The Church and the Arts

In Medieval times, 500-1450, The church aligned the arts to serve the liturgy. Powerful and rich, they made most decisions, Dictating the work and paying musicians.


The church made a list of guidelines to follow.

This music, called plainchant, sounded hollow. The unaccompanied church music (sung in unison) Varied just slightly within each region. Still, sacred music was most prevalent, And it’s rumored that the music rules were heaven-sent.

Gregorian Chant

The standardizing elements supposedly Came from a dove who whispered to Pope Gregory.

This sounds crazy, but it’s the only documentation, So, the possible myth has survived for generations.Where it really comes from, we’ll never know. So, the legend lives on as status quo, That he’s the one that regulated the cans and can’ts, And that is why we call it Gregorian Chant.The type of plainchant is sung as one voice. No other accompaniment was a choice.No harmony or instruments, they all sang the same.

This monophonic texture was incredibly tame. It was drawn from other ancient religions, And maybe just copied inflections a smidgen. Each syllable was sung on a single note. This made long free-flowing rhythms for just a small quote.

Organum and Interval Definitions

As time went on, the music seemed dull. One melody is empty but they wanted it full. In the year 900, their dreams came true.

Instead of just one note, they could have two.Organum consisted of two melodic lines Sung in parallel intervals – specifically defined The distance between two pitches on the staff. You just look at the notes as if you’re reading a graph. You can find the interval by counting lines and spaces, Including both notes and the empty places.

Only certain intervals were church-approved, ‘Cause legend said the others made the devil feel moved. On three intervals, the clergy conferred: The fourth, fifth and octave were worthy of the word.The fourth spans the range of four consecutive pitches – Count up 1, 2, 3, 4 – it never switches.

It doesn’t matter if you start with a space or a line, Just count to four, and you’ll be just fine.The fifth is another one that’s commonly found From the bottom, stacked to five, and this is how it sounds. The fifth is easy to see because it matches in places, Both of the pitches rest on lines or spaces.Lastly, the octave is the largest span seen. With the range of eight pitches in between. Perfect for choirs of men and boys, An octave produces this glorious noise.

Development of Organum

The organum started with one voice as a drone. It’s a long note held on a single tone. Above the drone, the melody continued on – Two parts together, in just one song.

In western music, this started polyphony – Two or more musical parts played simultaneously. Soon, both parts moved in intervallic relation, Fourths, fifths and octaves used in different combinations.Later, in Paris (thirteenth century), A composer, named Perotin, added complexity. His compositions melded three voices at a time, And up to four voices when he was in his prime.


To add to the new style, rhythms gradually shifted, And the one note per syllable rule was evicted. Melismas were added to make it less dull; It’s a succession of pitches sung on one syllable.

Known for adding melodic richness, You’ve probably heard it in songs around Christmas.

Lesson Summary

From humble beginnings, church music evolved Over several hundred years; the restricting rules dissolved. Gregorian Chant was monophonic; Everyone contributing with the same sonics. Organum developed, having two melodic lines, But the church still imposed a few confines.Fourth, fifth and octave were the accepted spans. Other intervals were considered banned. The intervals are counted by lines and spaces, Including both notes and the empty spaces.

This polyphonic music was made in two ways: Drones and multiple voices were the craze.Melismas are one syllable sung with multiple pitches in succession. They were added for a holy digression.

After the composer Perotin changed the music quite a bit, Gregorian chant was no longer a hit. That’s it!

Learning Outcomes

Once you have finished this lesson, you should be prepared to:

  • Describe plainchant, Gregorian chant, Organum and Melisma
  • Identify the church-approved intervals for Organums
  • Define monophonic, drone and polyphony

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