Yes, it really is this easy to begin chanting the ancient music of the Church! Two and a half years ago I knew NOTHING about Sacred Music, had no vocal training, and had never even sung in a choir. But I wanted to learn to sing this amazing music, and this is how I got started. Within a week of listening and practicing singing along, I had learned my first four chants from the Church’s amazing repertoire of Sacred Music! Happily, it was just as easy for the five others that founded the Gregorian Chant choir at our parish church to get started with chant, too. If you’ve always wanted to try, but assumed you could never learn to sing the ancient melodies of the Church, please be encouraged, and give it a try!
Here are the three first steps our choir members took to start learning Gregorian Chant:
- Get a recording of basic chants by a soloist in your vocal range. There are lots of chant albums out there, so you’ll want to be sure to focus your search. Find a recording with the popular traditional chant melodies used in parish churches and for home devotions. Suggestions: The men in our Schola have found The Chant Kit by Jay Violette helpful for beginning chanters. (And so did our ladies who had a lower vocal range!) Ladies with voices in a higher range will enjoy using Sublime Chant by Kitty Cleveland. Just playing these albums in the car or as background music in the house will get your mind accustomed to these melodies that have been sung by Catholics for centuries.
- Download sheet music for free from the Parish Book of Chant. (Scroll to the bottom of the linked page for the free PDF download!) Almost all of the chant tracks on the two recordings above can be found within the pages of the PBC. Check the table of contents to match tracks from your recordings that you want to work on with the corresponding pages of sheet music in the book. (Good news: Latin is an extremely simple language to sing, and there’s also an easy pronunciation guide in the back of the Parish Book of Chant to help you out.)
- Practice singing along with the recordings. Don’t be afraid of those square notes on the page–just start singing! (You don’t even technically need sheet music to do this: for hundreds of years, choirs learned to sing chant without any sheet music at all–because musical notation wasn’t even invented until the 1000s AD!) The music notation you find for Gregorian Chant is intuitive, exclusively designed for vocalists, and displays a beautiful pictorial representation of the ancient melodies. (Thus, if you’ve ever used modern musical notation for singing, you’re in for a pleasant surprise!) Simply listen to the recordings and imitate/repeat the words and melodies you hear, over and over again. Before long, you will amaze yourself at what you can sing. You’ll quickly find, like I did, that it seems like you’ve known these chants forever–they really become a part of your mind and heart!
You can do it! Practice, sing, and enjoy. These chants are really all beautiful prayers. As you learn them and sing them, offer your efforts to God with love. Make your motto Ad majorem Dei gloriam–“For the greater glory of God.” May Sts. Gregory and Cecilia, patrons of Sacred Music, pray for your success!