Unfortunately, psalms may have two numbers due to differences between Hebrew and Greek translations.  More details can be found here and here.  Numbering on this site follows the Hebrew system rather the Greek given in the lectionary because it follows probably 99 % of references on the Internet.  All Protestant bibles along with U.S. and Canadian lectionaries use this system as does the New Catholic Bible.  The Hebrew number is followed by the Greek in brackets.

Advantages of Chant

Psalms have been the backbone of church music for millenia, and may be sung many ways.  For example, the psalm of the good shepherd, 23 (22) has three wonderful well-known versions suitable for liturgy:

In the liturgy for Mass, there are options for the responsorial psalm - e.g., the Revised Grail Psalms translation may be used instead of the original translation found in the lectionary - but that is beyond the scope of this article.  What is important to note is that it is not permissible to replace the psalm with either a hymn or a paraphrase.  The just mentioned hymn versions of the psalm of the good shepherd could be sung elsewhere in the Mass.

These days, there are numerous musical settings for the psalms in a wide range of styles.  That featured here is chant, which might be described as sung speech.  With normal songs, the singer and instrumentalist follow the music with strict times.  When a cantor chants the psalm, however, the lyrics come out of the mouth with essentially the same diction as if they were being proclaimed (such as the lector does with the readings).  The difference is that each phrase is sung for the most part on a reciting note and finishes with (perhaps) two inflection notes and a finalis.  This final note is held on to a little longer than normal speech.

This might sound complicated, but in actual fact is much simpler than normal singing.  Syllable numbers in psalm phrases are inconsistent, so, for the melody, it is not possible to make each stanzas exactly the same. Not an issue with chant!

Another consideration is that most chant composers only use a limited number of melodies (aka psalm tones).  In this scenario, all penitential psalms, for example, will use the same tone.  The big advantage of this is that a regular cantor, once familiar with the melodies, will find it easier to concentrate on the words and deliver them as prayer.

LiturgyShare Psalm Tones

This site’s eight psalm tones are inspired by the traditional eight Gregorian modes as adapted by the St. Meinrad Archabbey:&bnsp; simplistically speaking, each tone helps convey a particular emotion. These, and there musical keys are:

  • Tone 1: Solemnity (D minor)
  • Tone 2: Reverence (F minor)
  • Tone 3: Longing (G minor)
  • Tone 4: Meditation (A minor)
  • Tone 5: Happiness (D major)
  • Tone 6: Calmness (F major)
  • Tone 7: Joy (G major)
  • Tone 8: Narrative (A major)

The only complication comes with the number of phrases in each stanza (the grouped phrases between each congregational response).  The majority contain four phrases, the most common structure compuser use, but when there are less, parts of the psalm tone are omitted.  When there are more, there may be repetition, or phrases may be combined so that the total number is four.  LiturgyShare tones contain six phrases, but the middle two are more often than not omitted.

DON'T WORRY IF THIS SOUNDS CONFUSING!!!  This site sorts all this out for you!  Each psalm is fully written out, with an audio recording as a demo, so you don't need to be full bottle on how everything fits together.

These psalms tones are, of course, typically only sung by the cantor.  Simple melodies for the congregational responses have been written to match the psalm tone chosen for each psalm.  It is also possible to match with other composer's responses, as long as the keys (and emotion) match.

I need to also point out that I am a limited singer, as are many, if not most, parish volunteer singers.  Because of this, all melodies have been composed with limited range, rarely going outside of the D to C range, with phrasing (and held) notes from E flat to B.

Just a quick word on copyright.  You don't need to report usage of any settings on this site.  Copy, use, adapt and distribute as you wish, as long it's non-commercial and retains appropriate attribution to this site.

Other Settings

On the liturgical pages, I have referenced composers of alternate psalm settings suited to the Australia lectionary:

  • Michael Herry, freely available from maristmusic.org.au.  He has four regular psalm tones and quite a few one-offs.  The melodies for the responses are very tuneful, and the complete psalms are beautifully recorded, and easy to play or download.  Occasionally, he takes liberties with the text to make it better fit the melodies and there are times when there is a considerable note range, particularly between stanzas and the response.  Some arrangements are rather involved.
  • Kate Keefe, freely available from musicformass.co.uk.  These have been arranged for piano and recorder, and song-style stanzas; typically, there is a common piano arrangement underpinning each stanza, but there will be different timings on the melody notes for the cantor to take care of.  This extraordinary site contains music to match a number of different lectionaries around the world. Apart from a couple of “live” examples, there are computer generated mp3 files (from midis) for each psalm, but they are of poor quality and don't do justice to the beautiful melodies Kate has written.  In most cases, stanza music can be replaced with simpler LiturgyShare psalm tones, and these are included on the Liturgy pages (without responses, for copyright reasons).  If a recorder cannot be included, or an organ is be played, it may be preferable to play with the chords as some of the piano arrangements are quite light.
  • Amanda McKenna, commercially available from willowpublishing.com.au..  At the time of writing, they are downloadable for 95c per psalm or $49.95 for the complete collection.  You can listen to and/or download the melodies on the publisher’s website.  These are simple response melodies with recited verses; as with Kate Keene’s compositions, stanza music is supplied on the Liturgy pages to match the responses.  I find many of the arrangements very problematic because frequently the last measure or two has harmony notes higher than the melody, and they cause me to struggle to avoid singing them (rather than the melody).  Also, there is a preponderance of melodies written in the key of C that finish on a long middle C:  I find them too low and typically feel the need to transpose up by a step.  For this reason, you will often find a transposed version of LiturgyShare psalm tones (to match Amanda’s arrangement) as well as the usual key (assuming Amanda’s arrangement will be transposed).
  • Colin Smith, cfc, commercially available from willowpublishing.com.au..  At the time of writing, they are downloadable for $2.95 per psalm or $34.95 for each of years A, B and C (i.e. $104.85 for the lot).  No audio files are available.  These consist of simple responses with chanted verses, a few of which were included and recorded for the “As One Voice” song book used by many parishes.  The music and texts were revised a few years ago (after the composers death) to better reflect the lectionary.  The responses are excellent, but in my view most psalms are set too high, and the unusual method of sometimes putting more than one syllable on inflection notes a little off-putting.  Additionally, some tones have three or four inflection notes, which I find awkward.

Be aware that if you use psalm settings from overseas, they will almost certainly have different translations of stanzas and response.  The U.S. lectionary has a number of quite serious errors and inconsistencies, but it should be noted that Revised Grail Psalms are approved for use in Australia.

Even if no one is confident enough to take on the verses, please sing at least the response:  I have yet to hear a congregation recite a psalm response in anything other than an emotionless monotone, and this really is not good.  For each liturgy I have pointed you to four options on top of my own, and there are others to be found on the Internet, so there is no excuse!!!