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Gregorian Chant & Early Sacred Music: a layman's lexicon for the parish musician

Updated: May 17

Gregorian Chant and Early Sacred Music: a layman's lexicon for the parish musician

Date of first publishing: December 28, 2023 with 103 entries

Welcome, reader!

I have always held that there are three major obstacles to learning how to sing Gregorian chant:

  1. the notation

  2. the Latin language

  3. the modality

Actually, there is a fourth major obstacle: terminology.

Real answers for real musicians

This lexicon is the product of years of teaching in the field, and is the direct result of real questions asked by our students here at the International Chant Academy. What makes this lexicon unique:

  • It's meant for musicians of all faiths. Those matters relating to particular faith traditions are treated with as much objectivity as possible.

  • This body of music does not exist in a vacuum or on a page. It lives in the liturgy. Even if you perhaps aren't interested in liturgy, the books you read and the forums you frequent reference it a lot. The terms provided here will help you to navigate these sources with greater ease.

  • Certain sensitive subjects are treated (e.g. Solesmes Method and the Second Vatican Council). It can be a challenge trying to understand the source of a hot button topic. We've done some of the footwork for you here.

  • This is not meant to be an academic work. It's a layman's guide, created to address real questions by real musicians. Wording is kept as simple as possible.

New terms and definitions will be added in an ongoing basis. If you'd like to stay abreast with new entries as they are added, please join our mailing list and be sure to check "subscribe to weekly emails".

I promise, we won't spam you. And we will never share your information with anyone else.


How to use this lexicon

  1. This is a reference resource. You probably won't want to read it from A-Z. Start with the entries in big text for context. If you have time and want to go deeper, check out the related terms suggested in each entry.

  2. You'll need to be familiar with basic musical terms like staff, scale, legato and fundamental.

  3. If you run into a term you don't understand in the definition, check to see if it has its own entry in this lexicon. Chances are high that your quest will be rewarded!

  4. Favorite this page in your browser or add it to your Facebook saved items for easy access the next time you have a question.

  5. Check back periodically for new terms. (At 103 entries, this lexicon is only just getting started!)

Pronunciation for many of these terms will hopefully be added at a later date (if anyone is a whiz in this area, please reach out!). For now, you may refer to the Parish Book of Chant PDF for a Latin pronunciation guide (you can find it on pages 314-315).

Visual images for some entries will be added as appropriate, so that you can see an example "in the wild", so to speak.

Lastly, if you would like to suggest an edit or request a term be added to this lexicon, please do not hesitate to reach out. I'd love to hear from you.

Angela Rocchio



D = database, book, or other document

H = historically related

L = liturgical term

M = musical term

Entries in large text are critical terms which have been used in the definitions of many other entries.


* / asterisk (M)

  1. Marks the end of a chant incipit, and the beginning of the schola's entrance. Here the asterisk does not indicate a pause (although it may coincide with a pause). See also incipit.

  2. In the alleluia chant, see * ij.

  3. In the verses of the introit chant, the asterisk marks both: a) a pause in the singing and b) a switch from the singing of the cantor in the first half, to the singing of the full schola in the second half of the verse. See also mediant.

  4. Marks the pause after the mediant in a psalm tone. This pause has two functions: a) a stopping point to breathe, and 2) a point of brief meditation. A general rule for the length of this pause (which is usually longer than what the untrained singer would expect): it should take the amount of time during which the singers can think the words "Ave Maria" or "Gloria Patri". See also mediant and psalm tone, and ICA blog article 7 things that Sung Vespers can teach us about life (point 7).

  5. Indicates the beginning of a respond.

** / double asterisk (M)

* ij. (M)

|| / double bar (M)

  1. Indicates the end of a chant.

  2. Indicates the moment when the singing of a chant may switch to the singing of an alternate party. The Gloria and Credo chants are good examples of this usage. See also antiphonal.

  3. Indicates the moment where a clef changes in position or kind.

  4. In Dominican chant, indicates a) the end of a major phrase, b) the moment of alternation in antiphonal singing, c) the same as the * /asterisk or ** / double asterisk in Gregorian chant, or d) in the Gloria of the Dominican Rite, the first double bar indicates the switch from priest to cantor's singing and the second double bar indicates the switch from cantor to full schola. In Dominican chant, there is also always a lengthening prior to a bar line.

✝︎ / ♰ / + / † (M)

1962 (H) (L)

adiestematic (M)

alleluia (L) (M)

ad orientem (L) adjective

antiphon (L) (M)

antiphonal (L) (M)

Antiphonale Monasticum (D) (M)

Antiphonale Romanum (D) (M)

arsis (M) noun

Benedictus (L) (M)

campo aperto (M)

Canticle (L) (M)

cantor (H) (L) (M)

centonization (H) (M)

chironomy (M) noun

clef (M)

communio (L) (M)

Compline (L)

Divine Office (L)

do clef (M)

dominant (M)

dominica (L)

Dominican chant (M)

Dominican Rite (L)

doxology (L) (M)

ecclesiastical adjective

e u o u a e (M)

EF / Extraordinary Form (L)

episema (M) ; plural: episemata

fa clef (M)

feria (L) plural: feriae; adjective: ferial

final / finalis (M)

First Vespers (L)

flex (M)

Gloria Patri tone (M)


Graduale (D)

Graduale Romanum (D)

Graduale Simplex (D)

Gregorian Missal (D)

Graduale Triplex (D)

Gregobase (D)

the letter "i" in Latin

incipit (M)

incise (M)

ictus (M); plural: ictus

Improperia (L) (M)

in directum (L) (M)

intonation (M)

introit (L) (M)

the letter "j" in Latin

jubilus (M)

Kyriale (D)


Laon (H) (M)

Lauds (L)

Liber Usualis (D)

liturgy (L)

liturgical calendar (L)

major canticle (L)

Marian antiphon (L)

mediant (L)

melisma (m) plural: melismae

melismatic (M) adjective

mode (in Gregorian chant) (M)

monastic tone (M)

Monastic Antiphoner (D) (M)

mora vocis (M)

movable do (M)

neum / neume (M)

neumatic (M) adjective

neumatic-melismatic (M) adjective

new calendar (L)

NO / Novus Ordo (L)


Office (L)

OF / Ordinary Form (L)


old calendar (L)


pointing (M)

proper / propers (D) (L) (M)

psalm tone (M)

pre-Conciliar (H) (L)

post-Conciliar (H) (L)

Proprium de Tempore (L) (M)

psalmody (M)

quadratic notation (M)

reciting tone (M)

recto tono (M)

Reproaches (L) (M)

respond (L) (M)

responsorial (L) (M)

restore verb / restored adjective

rite / Rite (L)

Roman Antiphonary (D) (M)

Roman Gradual (L) (M)

sabbato (L)

Saint Gall (H) (M)

salicus (M). plural: salici

Sanctorale (D) (L)

scandicus (M); plural: scandicus

schola / schola cantorum (L) (M) plural: scholae cantorum

Second Vatican Council (H) (L)

Second Vespers (L)


Semiology (H) (M)

si (M)

simple tone (M)

solemn tone (M)

Solesmes (H) (L) (M)

Solesmes Method (H) (M)

syllabic (M) adjective

Temporale (L) (M)

Tenebrae (L) (M)

tenor (M)

termination (M)

thesis (M) noun

TLM / Traditional Latin Mass (L)

tone (M)

T.P. or Tempus Paschale (L) (M)

tract (L) (M)

Triduum (L)

Triplex (D)

trope (L) (M)

una voce (M)

Usus Antiquior (L)

ut (M)

Vatican II (H) (L)

vernacular (L)

versus populum (L)

vertical episema (M)

Vespers (L)

vigil (L)

Ward Method (M)


The mission of the International Chant Academy is to keep the beauty and meaningfulness of Gregorian Chant and Early Sacred Music alive and relevant. We foster understanding of these art forms, and teach the musical and vocal skills necessary to excellent performance.

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