the Gregorian chant (q.v.) and, by extension, other similar religious chants. The word derives from the 13th-century Latin term cantus planus ("plain song"), referring to the unmeasured rhythm and monophony (single line of melody) of Gregorian chant, as distinguished from the measured rhythm of polyphonic (multipart) music, called cantus mensuratus, or cantus figuratus ("measured," or "figured," song). Its other main application is to ancient Christian music with the same unmeasured rhythm and monophony-in the West, Ambrosian, Gallican, and Mozarabic chants (qq.v.); in the East, Byzantine, Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Armenian chants (qq.v.). It may also refer to similar non-Christian religious music, such as Jewish and Hindu chants.
Learn more about plainsong with a free trial on Britannica.com.