The gregorian neuma

The Gregorian notation is made from basic elements called neumes. In order to interpret the Gregorian chant, it is, in a first step, indispensable to be able to break down a melody into neumes ; it is the basic requirement of rhythmic interpretation.

The present article lists the various neumes and their characteristics. A training video will be attached ... Basic notions of Gregorian chant


a. Introduction
The Gregorian chant staff includes 4 lines and 3 spaces which are numbered from bottom to top.
There are two keys :
The C key


The F key

Both keys can be placed on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th line (the lines are numbered from the bottom up).

b. The notes

The single notes are :

The square punctum


The jagged punctum

The apostrophe. In the Vatican edition and in the Roman chant-book (Desclée, n° 800), the apostropha, instead of having its own shape, a large comma, is represented by a square punctum.


The apostropha is never used by itself : two apostrophas are called a distropha.



Three apostrophas are called a tristropha.



The virga


The virga is often doubled, then it is called a bivirga. It is a strong neume.


The quilisma
quilisma.pngThis is a serrated note, preceded and followed by one or several notes. The quilisma is sung by slightly prolonging the preceding note. In itself, the quilisma is intended to facilitate the passage to the next higher note; the fact that the preceding note is extended exceedingly produces the reverse effect : a blocking of the rhythm that prevents the voice from going up. It is somewhat necessary to slide over the serrated note in order for the voice to go up more quickly.

In themselves, all Gregorian notes, whatever their shape, whether they are isolated or grouped into neumes, are equivalent to one single, non-divisible measure. This notion of the precise value of the measure is of the utmost importance, as it constitutes the basis of the rhythm. The sign that can modify the length of the Gregorian note is the mora point : “.” Which doubles the value of the note it affects.


The vertical episema, or ictus indicates the first measure of the rhythm. We will mention it again.

c. Neumes
A neume is a group of two or more notes. Only notes belonging to the same syllable may belong to the same neume.

The 2-note neumes

The Podatus (or pes) :
Two supermiposed notes to be read from bottom to top.

The Clivis :
Two descending notes (square). To be read from top to bottom.

The 3-note neumes

Porrectus :
Three notes, the first two of which are placed at both ends og the broad oblique line. A generally powerful neume.

torculus_2.pngTorculus :
Three notes, in reverse direction from porrectus.


Salicus :
The signs that characterize it :
    * a climbing series of at least three sounds
    * ended by a podatus
    * under shich a vertical episema has been placed.
The interpretation of this is somewhat disputed. Usually, the episemied note is extended. The point is debatable inasmuch as this was of proceeding causes a blocking in the upwards motion of the melody and breaks the rhythm. It would doubtlessly be preferable to just mark time on the ictus, since it is the support point of the rhythm, without extending its duration.


Scandicus : Upwards series of at least three notes other than the salicus. It may assume various forms.


Climacus : Culminating virga followed by at least two descending jagged puncta.



Flexus (flexed) : Thus are named the neumes who, while ending regularly on a high note (porrectus, scandicus), will go down  one more note.

Resupinus (turned back upwards) : Thus are named the neumes who, while ending regularly on a low note (torculus, climacus), will go up one more note.


Subpunctis (followed by puncta below) : Thus are named the neumes who, while ending – or not – on a culminating virga, are followed by descending jagged puncta. If there are two puncta, the neume is said to be subbipunctis ; if there are three, subtripunctis.


Praepunctis (preceded by punctum or puncta) : Thus are named the neumes who are preceded by one (or several) punctum, generally close to the neume.
All these ornamental notes which turn the neume into a flexus, resupinus, subpunctis or praepunctis form an integral part of the neume ; it will be important to remember this about the place of the ictus.

Liquescent notes. They are represented by smaller characters ; they are found between two vowels that form a diphthong : autem, or certain consonants. They are worth a single measure like the other notes, but the voice will sing them softly and lightly.



The pressus : This is the meeting and fusion of two notes, as follows :

Either by a square punctum (or virga) placed ahead of the first note of a neume, on the same degree and the same syllable, or by superposing two neumes, the last note of the first neume being placed on the same degree and the same syllable as the first note of the second neume.

Remark : The distropha and the tristropha do not make a pressus with the neumes and puncta that precede or follow. These are independent neumes.