Traditional Eastern Orthodox Chant Documentation Project
The Three Classes of Melodic Forms for Stichera

Many of the Orthodox Church's hymns (including stichera, kontakia, sessional hymns and exaposteilaria) are sung according to the 8 Tones, and their melodies can be classified according to three classes (see also Gardner, pg. 53, from where some of the following is quoted or paraphrased.):

Idiomelon (Gk),
Samoglasen (Sl),
Independent Melody
The Idiomelon (one's own-melody, unique melody) is a hymn that is neither an automelon or prosomoion, which melodically follows the schema of the tone and yet is usually eccentric in its metre. Thus, following the guidelines for the tonal sequence and cadence of the tone prescribed, the words are chanted as it were "ad lib" according to need.
Automelon (Gk),
Samopodoben (Sl),
Model Melody
The Automelon (self-melody, model melody) is a melody following the musical theory of the tone, usually in regular metre, which is the original prototype of the metric scheme and melody for the genre of Prosomoia.
Prosomoion (Gk),
Podoben (Sl),
Special Melody
The Prosomoion (fore-embodied; or: "toward similar") is a hymn that follows the metre and melody of the Automelon for which it is named, though the words differ from those of the Automelon. (There are three categories of Prosomoia, which are discussed on this page.)

I. Idiomela (Samoglasny, Independent Melodies)

The idiomela in Byzantine chant are those hymns which have their own intrinsic melodies, and do not serve as models or patterns for other hymns of the same textual category. These include, for example, stichera of the Resurrection, stichera of Great Feasts, etc. Whether or not a sticheron belongs to the category of idiomela is generally designated next to the text of the sticheron in the proper liturgical books. In practical usage, one can tell if a sticheron is to be sung as an idiomelon if it can be found with musical notation in the proper chant book. In the chant tradition of the Russian Church, there are two methods of singing idiomela stichera:

a) Great Chant. For feasts and various other occasions, the entire text of each sticheron is usually found written out in a chant book (containing either neumatic or staff notation), with each sticheron having its own unique melody notated in its entirety. These rather ornate melodies require a certain degree of musical skill and training (as well as stamina) to execute properly, and tend to make the services very majestic as well as long. This style of chanting, called "Great Chant" (Slav.: большой распевъ), is used quite sparingly in modern practice. These chants were for the most part sung in full only in monasteries or cathedrals with well-trained chanters.

b) Small Chant. When the texts of the stichera are only found in the standard liturgical reading books, then special СgenericТ formulas, one for each of the 8 Tones, are used to sing the hymns; due to the simplicity and flexibility of these formulas, any text can be easily sung according to any Tone. These melodic patterns are memorized by the chanters primarily to sing any hymns that are not written out in neumatic form in the chant books, but are also used to sing all the proper hymns when the chanters have no knowledge of how to read the musical notation. This style of chanting, usually called "Small Chant" (Slav.: малый распевъ) or "Singing by the Tones" (гласовое пен≥е), is used extensively in modern practice, since it requires very little musical training to sing. A typical Small Znamenny Chant melody consists of: a) an initial phrase [A]; b) a series of internal phrases [1, 2, 3] which are repeated until the text is nearly completed; and c) a final cadencial phrase [B].

Note: In their chant books, the Russians often tend to distinguish between these two idiomela categories by calling the first "большой распевъ" and the latter simply "самогласенъ"; technically they are both "самогласны", and the singer should be aware of this confused terminology.

II. Automela (Samopodobny, Model Melodies)

The automela also possess their own characteristic melodies, and are the original (or model) melodies which prosomoia (podobny) melodies are patterned after. In Byzantine Chant, the automela serve both as melodic and metrical models for other hymns of the same tone and hymnographic category, while the hymns translated into Church Slavonic cannot be forced to conform to any strict metrical pattern, due to the difference of the two languages. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that in order to preserve the principle of singing "to the automelon" (на самоподобенъ), the Russians were obliged to create new melodies (or melodic formulas) for the automela that were more flexible than the Greek ones. Indeed, the melodies of Russian automela tend to be more like recitative, and they are quite similar in structure and character to the Small [Znamenny] Chant melodies (discussed above). This enables the chanters to accomodate different texts with constantly changing numbers of syllables.

III. Prosomoia (Podobny, Special Melodies)

In Byzantine Chant the prosomoia follow the model of a given automelon both melodically and metrically; the texts of the hymns have the same number of syllables (and virtually the same accent placements and textual stresses) as the corresponding automelon, which obviously simplifies the application of the melody of the latter to a new text. However, as explained above, this relationship was not possible to maintain in translating the texts into Church Slavonic, and made the process of singing "to the prosomion" (на подобенъ) much more problematic. Thus, the Russians developed their own simplified system of automela melodies to continue the tradition of prosomoia chanting which they inherited from the Byzantine Church. To indicate that a given hymn is to be sung to an automelon, the hymn is supplied with a designation of the Tone and the first words of the automelon, such as: "Tone 4: Thou hast given us a sign."

by Nikita Simmons, 2002