The Gamut and Solmisation: learning chant

The Renaissance musical scale is known as the Gamut.[1]Although the Gamut can be thought of as scalar, it is important to note that it is not strictly diatonic due to the structural nature of both Bb and B natural.

Its lowest note, known as ‘Gamma Ut’ or simply Γ, is the equivalent of the lowest G of the bass clef:

Its highest note is the equivalent of the highest E of the treble clef:[2]Although these are the canonical limits of the Gamut, Renaissance theorists frequently added notes above and below. Notes outside of the Gamut are referred to as musica ficta and are built on … Continue reading

In modern notation, the Gamut looks like this:

This is a typical fifteenth-century representation of the Gamut, adapted from Johannes Tinctoris’ c.1472 Expositio Manus:

On the left-hand side you can see the letter names (‘litterae’) running upwards from lowest to highest. On the right hand side, you can see an overlapping series of solmisation syllables (‘voces’) arranged in groups of six notes, or hexachords.

The six solmisation syllables are Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, and La. They can start on C, in the natural (‘naturalis’) hexachord:


on G, in the hard (‘durum’) hexachord:

or F, in the soft (‘mollis’) hexachord:

In modern notation, these three hexachords overlap like this:

Before moving on to our next section, in which we’ll explore the practical application of solmisation syllables more thoroughly, why not try some of our practice material to make sure you’ve really grasped the material we’ve covered so far?

Printable worksheet 1 – The Gamut

Now that the basic structure of the Gamut is clear, we have to learn about the two clefs of plainchant.

The first clef is a C-clef, which indicates the location of what we today call middle C. Notice that in plainchant we only use four lines on our stave:

This clef can be moved to any line of the stave, even in the middle of a piece. Another common location for the C-clef is the following:

The next clef is an F-clef, which indicates the F below middle C:

This clef can also move, just like the C-clef:

References

References
1 Although the Gamut can be thought of as scalar, it is important to note that it is not strictly diatonic due to the structural nature of both Bb and B natural.
2 Although these are the canonical limits of the Gamut, Renaissance theorists frequently added notes above and below. Notes outside of the Gamut are referred to as musica ficta and are built on transposed hexachords or coniunctae.

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