When you are chanting part of a prayer rule--let's say, the Psalms--should you do so in a "musical" fashion like you hear on chant CD's, or can you use more of a monotone-type chant, like you would if you were reading the Scripture?
For your personal prayers, I'd say do whatever works best for you.
I personally just read them, but you can intone them or chant them to one of the 8 modes if you wanted to, (or just make up a melody)...it's personal prayer so I don't think there is any right or wrong way to do. I mean I wouldn't use a "happy" melody if in fact your praying a psalm of repentance, but there are exceptions to even that rule.
I personally read them for the most part, though sometimes I'll chant Psalm 50 because I know it by heart from Sunday Orthros, but usually I just read them.
Now some Psalms do have specific/popular melodies that are often chanted on Mt. Athos and part of the Byzantine chant tradition (Psalm 50/51 for example), Psalm 103 when done during the Liturgy, etc....there are CD's (in greek) of monks/choirs chanting the Psalms according to the 8 modes but as far as I know this isn't really done in typical parishes even in Greece, only in the monasteries. I have a CD the Psalms chanted by....well I forgot who, but a famous choir by a famous psalti. (not EBX)
Also, what is it proper to chant, and what improper to chant? Is there anything that you should say rather than chant? Sorry for the newbie questions!
Well in the GOA, I was taught (by a priest who was from Constantinople) that Old Testament readings (with the exception of the Psalms) are READ never intoned. Only NT readings are intoned ekphonetically. OT readings are read. That is of course Liturgical rubrics, which I keep as my personal practice as well. (because it makes sense to me)
The issue of the Psalms are another story, for the most part they are "usually" read as the 6 Psalms in Orthros are always read and never intoned, but those same Psalms are often chanted (in one of the 8 modes) in other services. Or the Royal Psalms which are usually done during Holy Week are intoned. Or "let my prayer rise as incense" or "let everything that breathes...." etc...all psalms are all are "usually" chanted according to the 8 modes. The Psalms are definitely our "official hymnal" as it were, so it's ok to chant or intone any of them, particularly at home for personal prayer. As long as we're praying, I don't think God cares if we even make up a our own melody...only you and God knows anyways, so it's no biggie.
I personally just read/whisper the prayers to myself and read them, with the exception of a feast where I'll chant the feastal hymn in it's proper mode and melody. Otherwise I just read everything. But my guess is that, it's YOUR prayer rule, do what works for you.
oh yes, as always I'm only explaining what I was taught in the GOA by several priests and chanters (liturgically speaking I mean) and other jurisdictions might do it different....