Torah cantillation – guide for learners
Both the Torah and the Haftarah are sung using melodies following cantillation signs. 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 itself does not contain these signs and one must practice the reading without them. (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. While we do recommend that beginners and bar/bat mitzvah students learn the Haftorah cantillation melodies, the Torah (Maftir) reading is shorter, and can be learned as a song.
Dr. Emanuel Alon
The tradition of using cantillation signs is an ancient one. In the Talmud, which was completed by the year 500 C.E., 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.
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.
After you have found the correct portion of the week, print a copy of the text. (Note that the text appears twice – once with cantillation signs and punctuation marks, and once without them, as in a Torah scroll).
Because the Torah (Maftir) reading is generally short, it can be learned as a song. Listen to the recording of the reading, and repeat the text with the melody.
If you want to learn the melodies of the cantillation signs, here’s how to do it:
The cantillation signs and their melodies can be found below, (#6) we suggest you print a copy as well (#2).
1. Learn and practice the trope in the order they appear on the worksheet:
- 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.
- Go through the entire reading and practice the trope melody in every word in which it appears. If you printed the text, choose a color and mark the cantillation sign each time it appears.
- Continue the process for each of the cantillation signs, marking each sign with a different color.
2. After you have learned the individual trope melodies, work on the combinations of trope melodies:
- Listen to the recording of the combination.
- Repeat the melody of the combination.
- 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.
3. Practice the entire Maftir reading:
- We recommend listening to each verse, and then repeating it.
- After practicing individual verses practice the entire reading.
- Make sure you practice with the text as it appears in the Torah scroll (without punctuation marks or cantillation signs).
The most frequently found trope
The less frequently found trope
The least frequently found trope