Tips for Learning to Chant

by: Andrea Jussim

Want to contribute to your community’s Torah service by serving as a Torah reader, sale but getting tripped up on all the details to memorize with each portion? Andrea Jussim provides a systematic method she developed for tackling the words, generic the vowels, viagra order and the trop, while leyning/chanting Torah at Kehillat Ma’arav in Santa Monica, California over more than fifteen years.

How to Insure a Smooth, Proficient Torah Reading: Methodology and Tips.


Introduction.

This essay on Torah-reading presupposes that you know how to leyn (Torah-read; ie chant the Torah with the proper trope). In order to Torah-read for your congregation, however, you need more than a technical knowledge of the trope. You also need to know how to prepare yourself to chant a portion of the Torah out loud. In other words: how do you study so that you can leyn your portion with confidence? This essay will teach you how. My goal is to teach you a method of studying which, with enough practice, will virtually insure that you read Torah like an expert.

Before You Begin.

Although you certainly need to know the trope in order to leyn, you should also be familiar with the Hebrew text that surrounds it. Make sure before you start practicing your aliyah that you read Hebrew fairly comfortably and that you can sing the trope phrases easily. Also, if your general Hebrew knowledge is low (you don’t know what any of the words mean, and you don’t remember hearing them before), consider taking a basic Hebrew class. It’s certainly not necessary to take a Hebrew class if you are literate, know your trope, and want to start learning your aliyah immediately; but the better you know Hebrew, the easier it will be to leyn.

You will need a printout of your aliyah with Torah script in the left column and Hebrew with vowels and trope in the right column. Or borrow someone’s tikkun (the Torah-reader’s text from which all printouts above are copied).

You should also have for reference a chumash (printed Torah) with both English and Hebrew text. Many synagogues use the Hertz or the Etz Hayim chumash.

If you decide that you want to learn your aliyah from a tape instead of by studying the trope, you can still use the methodology below. Read the steps and then note the second Additonal Tip below.

Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps below; the methodology for learning to chant an aliyah is much easier than it appears. The instructions are detailed instead of terse for the sake of clarity. But do follow all of the instructions (for your first time, at least); the drill they incorporate will virtually ensure a smooth, practiced-sounding Torah reading.

Part I: Get Acquainted with the Reading.

1. Using your chumash, read the entire parasha in English with the commentaries so you know what the context of your reading is.
2. If your Hebrew is good enough, translate your aliyah word-for-word using the English text to help. Now you know what you will be leyning.
3. At this point, put the chumash aside. You will be using your printout or tikkun for the rest of your practice.

Part II: Master the Hebrew.

4. From your printout or tikkun, read the first sentence of your aliyah, using the Hebrew print with vowels in the right column. Repeat this sentence again and again until you can say it fluently.
5. Now read the same first sentence using the Torah script in the left column. Use the Hebrew print with vowels in the right column when you have trouble with a word’s pronunciation. Repeat the sentence in the Torah script until you can say it fluently without vowels.
6. Read the second sentence of your aliyah using the Hebrew print in the right column. Repeat it again and again until you can say it fluently.
7. Now read the same second sentence using the Torah script in the left column. Repeat it again and again until you can say it fluently without vowels.
8. Put the two sentences together, reading them both using the Torah script. Repeat them again and again until you can say them fluently without vowels.
9. Practice the third sentence as you did the other two, first reading it with vowels and then reading it without vowels. Then read all three sentences together using the Torah script, repeating them again and again until you can say them fluently without vowels.
10. Continue in this way until you can read your entire aliyah fluently in the Torah script without vowels.

Part III: Master the Chant.

11. Chant the first sentence of your aliyah, using the Hebrew print with trope marks in the right column. Repeat this sentence again and again until you can chant it fluently.
12. Now chant the same first sentence using the Torah script in the left column. Use the Hebrew print with trope marks in the right column when you have trouble remembering the trope. Repeat the sentence in the Torah script until you can chant it fluently without trope marks.
13. Chant the second sentence of your aliyah using the trope marks in the right column. Repeat it again and again until you can chant it fluently.
14. Now chant the same second sentence using the Torah script in the left column. Repeat it again and again until you can chant it fluently without trope marks.
15. Put the two sentences together, leyning them both using the Torah script. Repeat them again and again until you can chant them fluently without trope marks.
16. Practice the third sentence as you did the other two, first chanting it with trope marks and then chanting it without trope marks. Then chant all three sentences together using the Torah script, repeating them again and again until you can leyn them fluently without trope marks.
17. Continue in this way until you can leyn your entire aliyah fluently in the Torah script without trope marks.

Part IV: Practice What You’ve Learned.

18. Practice leyning your aliyah as much as you can. If you learn the aliyah once and then leave it alone, you won’t remember it. You must practice the aliyah again and again to strengthen your chanting memory. Then, when the time comes to leyn, you will find that the words flow (relatively) easily out of your mouth. In sum: the more you practice your reading, the easier you will leyn it.

Additional Tips

  • Always learn your aliyah without trope first. You should be very comfortable with reading it through using the Torah script before you even pay attention to the trope. By doing so, you allow yourself to split up the two difficult tasks of reading without vowels and applying trope, instead of having to learn both tasks at the same time. Also, by concentrating on the pronunciation first by itself, you will make fewer word errors.
  • If you aren’t comfortable with the trope and decide to learn the aliyah from a tape, use the same methodology as above. Learn the Hebrew first so that you can read your entire aliyah fluently in the Torah script without vowels. Then learn the sentences from the tape one at a time, linking each newly learned sentence to the ones you learned before it. Due to your familiarity with the words’ pronunciation, your aliyah will flow smoothly.
  • Singing trope correctly is much less important than pronouncing the words correctly and ending each sentence where it should end. While you are leyning, if you mess up the trope but remember the pronunciation and sentence breaks correctly, you’re doing fine.
  • If you chant a word incorrectly so that it sounds like another word with a different meaning, the Gabbais should correct you. Don’t worry if you make this kind of mistake; even experienced Torah readers do it occasionally.
  • In order to help yourself remember where the sentences end, when you learn a new sentence you should read/sing the last two words of the prior sentence before you start the new sentence. This drill accustoms you to the sentence breaks. If you don’t link the sentence you are learning with the previous one, you won’t remember the two sentences as a unit and you may not remember where one sentence ends and the next one begins.
  • It’s always good to immediately practice a newly-learned sentence with the ones before it that you learned earlier. The drill forces you to remember and practice what you’ve already done, and gets you used to chanting all the sentences as a unit. You want to remember them all together rather than as isolated sentences.
  • If while practicing you find yourself making the same pronunciation or trope error again and again, you should take the time to thoroughly relearn the correct version. First, practice the pronunciation of the word or phrase a few times by itself, then link it to previous words so that you can say it without stumbling. Then practice chanting the word or phrase with its proper trope, first by itself and then with the words around it. If after diligent and repeated practice you still find yourself making a trope error, drill with the mistake and make sure you return to the correct trope with the next segment. Don’t let an occasional trope error cause you to stumble, self-correct, and disrupt the flow of your leyning. (If the mistake is in pronunciation, the gabbais shouldn’t correct you if the word can’t be mistaken for another word with a different meaning; however, always strive to perfect your pronunciation. Don’t drill with pronunciation mistakes unless they are minor and you are about to leyn.)
  • If you would like to chant another aliyah in the future, ask for one when you are ready. The regular Torah reader will be more than happy to cede part of the leyning to you.

  • Concluding Thoughts

    Above I have outlined a method of Torah portion study that breaks down text practice and trope application practice into manageable steps. This approach not only insures that you will “iron out” the hard parts of your portion until you can leyn them smoothly; it also unfortunately insures that you will be studying your portion for a long time! With this in mind, understand that there are five aspects to learning Torah (or anything else).   First: Aptitude (which is handy but optional – not required).   Second: Experience (which is also handy but optional – not required).   Third: Practice.   Fourth: More Practice. Can you guess the fifth? Right! Still More Practice! All of that talk about practice may sound a bit overwhelming – or dull, perhaps? You also have to remember, though, that you are doing holy work. Not everyone can Torah-read; you are doing a mitzvah for your congregation (and yourself) by undertaking this sacred task. So be resolute in your desire to learn the portion well, and get to work. May all of your study sessions be joyful and productive ones!

    article reproduced from http://www.freewebs.com/jussim2/layparticipation.htm

    1 comment

    1 Hebrew Scholar { 03.30.10 at 5:53 am }

    This is a fantastic page and is the best description of how to attain proficiency in the Hebrew trope that I have seen. Learning the Hebrew accents can really improve your understanding of the Hebrew text, as well as make your reading correct and more understandable.

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