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In chant, a reciting tone (also called a recitation tone) is a repeated musical pitch around which the other pitches of the chant gravitate, or by extension, the entire melodic formula that centers on one or two such pitches. In Gregorian chant, reciting tones are used for a number of contexts, including the chanting of psalm tones. Each mode has its own associated psalm tone, whose primary pitch is variously called the dominant, tenor, or tuba. (Hoppin 1978, p. 67)

"Reciting tone" can refer to the repeated pitch in isolation or to the entire melodic formula for which that pitch is a structural note.

Neurophysiological effects of reciting tonesEdit

Psychological effects of reciting tonesEdit

Reciting tones in Gregorian chantEdit

Reciting tones occur in several parts of the Roman Rite. These include the accentus prayers and lessons chanted by the deacons or priests such as the Collect, Epistle, Gospel, Secret, Preface, Canon, and Postcommunion, as well as such regular texts as the Pater noster, Te Deum, and the Gloria in excelsis Deo. They are also sung in versicles and responds such as the Dominus vobiscum ("The Lord be with you") of the officiant followed by the Et cum spiritu tuo ("and with your spirit") of the choir. (Hiley 1995, p. 48) Some tones, presumably from the earliest layers of chant, such as the Collect, Pater noster, and Postcommunion for Easter, consist of just two notes, often a reciting tone on A or G, with inflected notes one pitch below on G or F. Other tones, from later in the medieval period, usually recited on a C or F, inflecting down to the two notes below, such as the Epistle for Easter. (W.H. Frere: Inflection, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 17 June 2006),

More complex patterns were used for the psalm tones, used for chanting the Psalms in the daily Offices. There are eight psalm tones, one for each musical mode, designed so that the antiphon that is sung between psalm verses transitions smoothly into the psalm tone. Each psalm tone has a formulaic intonation, mediant, and termination. The intonation defines the notes for the first two or three syllables, with subsequent words sung on the reciting tone. Because of the parallel structure typical of the Psalms, psalm verses divide into two roughly equal parts; the end of the first part is indicated by the mediant, a slight bending of notes above and below the reciting tone. For longer phrases, the first part is itself divided into two parts, with the division indicated by the flex, on which the accented syllable is sung on the reciting tone that preceded it, and the following unaccented syllable is sung one note lower, before returning to the reciting tone until the mediant. After the mediant, the second part of the psalm verse is sung on the reciting tone until the last few words, which are sung to a cadential formula called the termination. Several of the psalm tones have two or three possible terminations, to allow for a smoother return to the following repeat of the antiphon. (Hoppin 1978, p. 82)

In addition to the eight psalm tones associated with the eight musical modes, there is a ninth psalm tone called the tonus peregrinus, or ""wandering tone," which uses a reciting tone of A for the first part of the psalm verse and a G for the second half. Although rarely used, it is not unique; early sources refer to tones called parapteres, which, like the tonus peregrinus, have different reciting tones in their first and second halves. (Hiley 1995, p. 63)

The basic psalm tones are also used for certain important songs in the Office known as canticles. The Magnificat, the canticle of Vespers, has two sets of reciting tones, one that is very close to the standard psalm tones, and a more ornate set of solemn tones for more important feasts. The Gloria Patri of the Doxology that is sung at the end of a psalm, following the last psalm verse in the Introit, and following the last psalm verse of a Great Responsory, are also sung to similar sets of reciting tones depending on the musical mode and the liturgical season. (Hoppin 1978, p. 84)

Reciting tones in other chant traditionsEdit

Some traditions of Qur'an reading utilize reciting tones, although it should be clarified that in Islam, Qur'anic recitation is not considered a form of music. For example, the tulba ("students of Islam" in Arabic) of Morocco recite the Qur'an and chant hymns for special occasions using one or two reciting tones. (Philip Schuyler: Morocco, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 17 June 2006),

Among the Yemenite Jews, cantillation of the Torah follows a distinctive practice that may be of great antiquity. Typical cantillation uses a system of signs, each of which represents a fixed musical motif. Yemenite chant, however, uses a different set of motifs, which only affect the final words in phrases. All other words are sung to reciting tones. (Uri Sharvit: Jewish Music, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 17 June 2006),


External linksEdit

Psychology of religion

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