by Sr Fidelis
Reading chant notation (square notes) becomes easy, once you understand a few basic principals. Square Notation was invented in the twelfth century, and developed in later centuries. The scribes who wrote out the notation used quill pens with square tips and, depending on the angle at which they were holding the implement, they were able to make the shapes that you see on the chart below.
The term neume refers to all the notes that are sung on a single syllable of text. If there is a single note (or neume) for one syllable, it is written with the simple square. Two notes on a syllable are shown as high-low – (read left to right) or low high – stacked on top of one another. (The bottom note is read first.) Three notes for a syllable are written as a low-high-low — a kind of “pyramid” of squares, where the high-low-high sign — looks a bit like a ski slope. The scribes made this sign without lifting their pens. Hence, the unusual shape. Most chant notation is made up of these basic elements, along with a few more that we’ll look at next week. Learning these fundamental patterns makes the chant easy to read!