Cantillation – guide for learners
Both the Torah and the Haftarah are sung using melodies following cantillation signs (trope). These are markings similar to musical notes that indicate what melody is to be sung.
Although the cantillation signs themselves are the same for reading Torah and Haftarah, the melodies for these signs are different. There are also many variations of the melodies for the signs. We have chosen two sets of melodies (one for the Haftarah and one for the Torah (Maftir) readings).
While a person learning a Torah reading practices with a text that includes the cantillation signs (as well as vowels and punctuation marks), the Torah scroll does not contain these signs. The Haftarah, however, is read from a text containing cantillation signs, vowels and punctuation marks.
The advantage of learning the melodies for the cantillation signs for the Haftarah and Torah reading is that the melodies learned can be applied to any reading, and are not limited to the one portion you have chosen to learn.
Dr. Emanuel Alon
The most important role of the trope is a musical one. The melody and rhythm help to learn a text. Remember that before the invention of print, most people only heard the Torah and the Haftarot when they were read out loud in the synagogue.
The cantillation signs also help make different linguistic distinctions. They indicate which syllable of the word is accented (which determines the meaning of the word), and they serve as punctuation marks that change the meaning of the sentence.
The tradition of using cantillation signs is an ancient one. In the Talmud, which was completed by the year 500, we find a number of references to the tradition of melodic reading of the Torah. The cantillation signs themselves developed at a later date. They were developed over a long period of time, and were completed at the end of the 9th century at the same time that the vowels were instituted. The system of cantillation signs and marks we know today was developed in Tiberias, and is associated with the Ben Asher family. The Bible has two sets of signs, one for the majority of the books of the Bible, the melodies with which we are familiar (from the Torah, Haftarah and Megillah readings in the synagogue), and the other for the books of Job, Proverbs, and Psalms, the melody of which is unknown.
1.After you have found the correct Haftarah, print a copy of the text.
2.The printout (#2) above can be helpful. The cantillation signs and their melodies can be found below(#6)..
3. Learn and practice the trope in the order they appear on the printout
- Listen to the recording of the first cantillation sign (trope)
- Repeat the melody
- Look for the trope in the text and practice singing the word with the trope melody. If you printed the text, choose a color and mark each cantillation sign.
- Go through the entire reading and practice the trope melody in every word in which it appears
- Continue the process for each of the cantillation signs, marking each sign in a different color for each trope.
4. After you have learned the individual trope melodies, work on the various combinations of trope melodies
- Listen to the recording of the combination
- Repeat the melody
- Find the combination in the text and practice the phrase.
- Go through the entire reading and practice the combination every time it occurs
- Continue in the same manner for all the combinations
5. Listen to and practice the blessing before the Haftarah:
- Practicing this blessing helps remember the trope
- Listen to the recording of this blessing
- Repeat the blessing with the melody
6. Practice the entire Haftarah reading:
- We recommend listening to each verse, and then repeating it
- After practicing individual verses practice the entire reading
The most frequent trope
The less frequently found trope
The least frequently found trope