The Guidonian Hand: singing chant

2. The Guidonian Hand: singing chant

The Guidonian Hand is a memory aid which helps us to map the pitches of the Gamut onto the joints of our own hands while singing.

Here is an example from Johannes Tinctoris’ Expositio Manus:

 

 

 

At each joint appears one or more syllables. This provides a comprehensive way of naming all the notes of the Gamut.

For example, middle C (at the tip of the ring finger) is referred to as C sol fa ut: sol in the soft hexachord, fa in the hard hexachord, and ut in the natural hexachord.

Let’s examine each hexachord on the hand individually. As we go through them, point to the relevant joints on your left hand with your right hand, saying or singing the syllables out loud:

The Low Hard Hexachord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Low Natural Hexachord

 

 

The Low Soft Hexachord

 

 

 

 

 

The High Hard Hexachord

 

The High Natural Hexachord

 

 

The High Soft Hexachord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Very High Hard Hexachord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

N.B The final e La of this hexachord is found on the back of your middle finger!

Most importantly, practise this regularly so that it becomes second nature. You can either sing along with us in our solmisation workout videos, or spend some time with our worksheet below:


[SOLMISATION WORKOUT VIDEO 1 – the hexachords]

[WORKSHEET 2 – the hexachords]

[SOLMISATION WORKOUT VIDEO 2 – naming the notes]

 

Mutation is the act of changing from one hexachord to another.

The two essential rules for mutation are as follows:

When ascending, you replace the relevant syllable of the previous hexachord with Re of the new hexachord.

 

OR

When descending, you replace the relevant syllable of the previous hexachord with La of the new hexachord.

 

OR

Furthermore, there are a few additional guidelines:

Since the soft hexachord contains Bb and the hard contains B natural, your choice of hexachord is dependent on the melodic content, which is often indicated through the use of a Bb sign, either at the beginning of a line or inserted in a piece.

In general, mutation should mostly occur between the hard and the natural or the soft and the natural hexachords.

One should stay in a single hexachord for as long as possible before mutating.

Finally, there are three additional rules to bear in mind which can help you determine which hexachord to use. The use of Bb, and by extension the soft hexachord, is not always notated but must be determined from the context. Its purpose is to avoid the sound of a melodic tritone, typically found between F and B natural:

If a melody rises to B and then descends to F, then it is necessary to sing a Bb and to use the soft hexachord.

 

However, if a melody rises to B and then ascends to C before returning to F, then it is permitted to use a B natural and the hard hexachord.

 

If a melody ascends only a single note above the given hexachord before returning, then it is permitted to simply sing Fa above La without mutating. This rule is known as ‘Fa super La’ (‘Fa above La’) and can be remembered through the simple rhyme ‘una nota super La, semper est canendum Fa’ (‘One note above La is always sung Fa.’)

 

And now, as promised, here is a wealth of material for your own personal practice, including transcribed examples from historical sources and several workout videos.

 

[SOLMISATION WORKOUT VIDEO 3 – introduction to mutation]

[WORKSHEET 3 – basic mutation exercises]

 

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