About the Eight Tones
All Orthodox Church music is based on eight melodies, called tones. All Orthodox music is rooted in the eight tones, although there are several variations on these melodies and many special melodies for specific commemorations. In Russian, Serbian, or Bulgarian Orthodox churches the eight tones are based upon different melodies than the eight tones used in Greek and Antiochian churches. This is because the musical styles and "ear" of those cultures were different — and Orthodoxy has always tried to integrate the truth of the faith into the cultures it evangelizes.
The ancient tradition of Orthodox liturgical music was to sing a single chanted melody that is backed by a drone note, called an ison. Over time, especially in the western European Orthodox lands, these basic melodies were set into four-part choral harmonies (some of which were composed by the great classical composers of the day like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky). While four-part musical settings are more common in the eastern European Orthodox traditions, choral arrangements exist today rooted in all Orthodox musical traditions.
Here you can listen to the eight tones, offered in the text of some of our beloved Orthodox prayers. We hope you find them musically uplifting and spiritually illuminating.