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.


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!

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    March 28, 2010   No Comments

    Policies and Guidelines

    By: Benjamin Maron

    Many havurot and minyanim have their policies or guidelines available on their websites, viagra dosage as handouts available at services, patient or as documents that are sent to new members of their email lists.

    Looking through them, one can get a feel for the variety of models that our communities use for governance, membership, services, and more. Feel free to peruse the following examples, discuss them in the comments below, and make use of them as guidelines for your own community.

    Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

    December 26, 2009   2 Comments

    How To Do Hagbah

    By: Lee Butler
    This article was inspired by a workshop Lee offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

    Hagbah is the lifting of the Torah. It is an honor to do hagbah; you would be called up after the Torah reading along with the person being honored with gelilah (dressing the Torah).

    Hagbah is something that is often considered to be purely a matter of strength; that’s why, geriatrician even in egalitarian contexts, it’s almost always given to men (and big ones at that). But hagbah is not even mostly a matter of strength, it’s a matter of balance, confidence, and support. Below, you’ll find the tips I’ve collected over time (or figured out on my own) to help most people be able to do hagbah.

    • If you haven’t done hagbah before, try to be familiar with the sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) you might be called upon to lift. The weight of sifrei Torah can vary widely dependent on the wood used for the atzei hayyim (literally, trees of life, used here to mean the wood dowels), the height of the scroll, and the thickness of the parchment.
    • Before lifting, open the  sefer Torah (Torah scroll) so the atzei hayyim are about shoulder width apart. This will make it far easier to lift than trying to lift it closed.
    • Hold tension through the parchment. The parchment used for a sefer Torah is more like leather than paper; you’re not going to rip the Torah while lifting it. (Be aware of the seams in the Torah, especially if some of the stitching has come undone. You can always roll the Torah away from any weak points before lifting.)
    • Don’t try to dead lift the sefer Torah. Instead, pull the sefer Torah about halfway off the bimah or amud (reading table) and use the edge as a fulcrum. Get under the sefer Torah as it comes vertical by bending your knees and lift. Look, the Torah’s up!
    • Balance through the parchment, maintain the tension. Remember, you won’t rip it.
    • If you feel unstable, put the sefer Torah down. Better to thump it on the bimah/amud than to drop it. If you have to rest the sefer on your shoulder, do it. A sefer Torah cannot be “contaminated” by you touching it, so while you should avoid touching the parchment directly, if you do so, there isn’t any ritual consequence for you or the sefer Torah.
    • Communicate with the person doing galilah. The least stable time during hagbah is right after you sit down, and you need their help to roll up the scroll and get it dressed (and stable) again.

    If you can practice outside of service time with someone who typically does hagbah in your community, I would take advantage of it. When everyone’s watching you, it can be high-pressure. Remember, the only thing that matters in hagbah is getting the sefer Torah off the bimah/amud and into its clothes without dropping it; anything else is nice, but not necessary. When you’re first doing hagbah, try to take the honor in the middle of the year or the holiday maftir Torah, when the scroll is in the middle. That’s when it’s easiest to balance, and won’t be too heavy on either hand.

    Good luck, and happy lifting!

    Lee Butler attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2008, and is co-chair for 2010.

    December 26, 2009   4 Comments

    Gabbinical School

    By: Adam Levine
    This article was inspired by a workshop Adam offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

    This is intended to be a brief guide to the responsibilities of the gabbaim (managers or assistants) during the Torah service. It is far from complete; there are many complicated details that cannot be covered here. There are many more comprehensive guides, sickness including Rabbi Ethan Tucker’s excellent Tefilah Bizmanah: A Gabbai’s Guide or many luchot (guides). This guide is aimed at providing some helpful suggestions that could improve the general running of the Torah service.

    Mechon Hadar has compiled a great collection of sheets and handouts to use during the service. In particular, check out the “Torah service supplements,” which contain everything for the gabbai rishon (first assistant or manager) to say during the service.

    Gabbai responsibilities

    Correcting leyning (Torah reading) errors: Many people assume that one gabbai (assistant or manager) is responsible for calling people to the Torah and the other is responsible for checking the Torah reading. This is incorrect. Both gabbaim should correct mistakes that they hear during the leyning; to have two gabbaim is to provide an extra safeguard. Sometimes it makes sense to give one gabbai the primary checking role, but the other one should still be prepared to correct any mistakes that first one misses.

    • If you hear a mistake, point it out, and make sure the reader repeats the word. In some communities, it seems that the gabbaim just follow along with the reading and don’t correct anything, and that’s not good. If a reader is ignoring your corrections, you should remind him/her in between aliyot that you’re not chopped liver.
    • The best way to be good at this is to practice. Have someone read from a chumash and deliberately make mistakes so that you can correct them. Another thing to do is to review the Torah portion before Shabbat, just as if you were learning to leyn it. Ultimately, though, the best way to become a good corrector is to be a good leyner; it’s probably not a good idea to have people who aren’t experienced leyners serving in the gabbai role.
    • Knowing which errors to correct and which to let slide can be difficult. The general rule is that an error that changes the meaning of a word should be corrected, while one that doesn’t does not have to be corrected. However, unless your Hebrew is very strong, it can be tricky to figure out on the spot whether an error changes the meaning. The guide below provides some guidelines; there are plenty of exceptions, but these rules of thumb should be helpful.
    • Exactly how strict to be about corrections is a tricky question. There’s always the possibility that too many corrections can cause a leyner to lose confidence, leading to more mistakes. Also, with certain subtle errors, some less experienced leyners may not understand what’s being corrected, resulting in confusion. The real solution is to work on educating leyners so that they understand what the mistakes are.

    Calling people to the Torah: This is the responsibility of the gabbai rishon (G1). See below for some details on how to do this correctly and grammatically. Calling people up efficiently is one of the best way to keep the Torah service from dragging. Here are some suggestions:

    • The gabbai rishon should know who has what aliyah. If your community has someone other than the gabbai assign the aliyot, you should check in with that person before the Torah service. Granted, it can be hard to remember even if you assigned the aliyot yourself, but it’s worth making an effort.
    • Especially in a big room, encourage people to start coming up to the bimah or amud just before their aliyah begins. Also, a good way to get people moving quickly is to say “Ya’amod…” or “Ta’amod…” before they actually get there, so that the onus is on them to move quickly.
    • Hand out aliyah cards. This is a good way to prevent people from forgetting which aliyah they have. Some samples are available on Mechon Hadar’s resources page.
    • Be aware of any special aliyot in the Torah portion. For instance, major aliyot such as the Ten Commandments are often considered special honors. Also, the curses in Bechukotai and Ki Tavo are usually given to the leyner, the rabbi of the community, or someone else well-respected in the community; you don’t want to give such an awful aliyah to a guest or someone random.
    • If you know in advance that someone is getting an aliyah (e.g., the maftir, or someone celebrating an aufruf), write down that person’s Hebrew name in advance so you don’t need to ask for it. Some communities even keep a list of everyone’s Hebrew names so that everyone can be called up easily.

    Calling page numbers: It’s usually a good idea to announce the chapter and verse every few aliyot, as well as perhaps the page number in one or more chumashim. Just one guideline: Nothing looks worse than saying “The Torah reading is on page, uh, umm, does anyone know what page it’s on?” Plan ahead, especially if you’re trying to call pages out of multiple chumashim. Some people actually make a cheat sheet in advance that has all the page numbers written down. This is usually a job for the gabbai sheini (second gabbai) (G2).

    Directing traffic: Both gabbaim should make sure that people are standing in the right places during the Torah service. When someone comes up for an aliyah, a gabbai should show him/her where to stand and point out the b’rachot (blessings) sheet. The person taking the aliyah is supposed to follow along in the scroll, so he/she should be standing right up close, preferably holding on to one of the handles of the Torah. (In fact, the leyner and the two gabbaim should also all have a hand on the Torah – one person per each of the four handles.) After the aliyah, remind the person to keep standing at the amud for the next aliyah, and don’t forget to shake his/her hand!

    Covering the Torah: Out of respect, the Torah should be covered any time there’s a substantial pause, such as a mi shebeirach (blessings that start with “May the One who blessed”), long announcement, or even just waiting for someone to come up to the amud, put on a tallis, etc. This is a good G2 job. (Also, don’t put siddurim or handouts on top of the Torah when it’s covered.)

    Checking the spot: After each aliyah, a gabbai should look in the scroll and make note of where the next aliyah starts, in the interest of moving things along more efficiently. Having to wait to find the spot every time is a big tircha d’tzibura (burden on the community). This is especially true when a lot of different people are reading.

    Saying mi shebeirachs: In some communities, G1 says a mi shebeirach for each oleh/olah (person receiving an aliyah); in others, they’re reserved only for special occasions such as aufrufs and baby namings. Typically, the way to do this is to say the mi shebeirach right after calling up the next person, but before he/she says the blessings. As mentioned before, be sure to cover the Torah.

    Helping out during the lifting and wrapping of the Torah: You should spot the person lifting the Torah, just in case, and then help him/her to a seat. Also, help the person dressing the Torah, but be sure to let him/her do the actual work. If your minyan’s custom is to sing something (usually upbeat) during the wrapping, a gabbai should be the one to start it. Also, if you don’t have a stand for the Torah, a gabbai should make sure that the lifter has a chumash and siddur so that once seated with the Torah, he/she can follow along during the haftarah and the end of Torah service.

    Saying Kaddish: Usually the person who chanted the seventh aliyah says the chatzi kaddish that’s between the seventh aliyah and the maftir aliyah, but G1 should be prepared to say this just in case. Again, be sure to cover the Torah. On days when two Torah scrolls are used, place the second scroll on the amud before saying the Kaddish, and then call the lifter and wrapper for the first scroll (l’seifer rishon).

    Calling people to the Torah grammatically

    At the beginning, G1 reads the first two lines:
    V’ya’azor v’yagein v’yoshia l’chol hachosim bo v’nomar amen. Hakol havu godel lEloheinu utnu chavod laTorah.

    If your minyan gives the first aliyah to a Kohen or bat Kohen:

    M: Kohein k’rav, ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ hakohein.

    F: Bat kohein, kirvi, ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ hakohein.

    (Ordinarily, it doesn’t matter in which order people give their parents’ names. However, for kohanim and l’vi’im, you should say the father’s name second, since “hakohen” is part of the father’s name.)

    If you ordinarily give the first aliyah to a Kohein or Bat Kohein, but none are present, some say that you should give the first aliyah to a Levi; others say that you specifically should give it to a Yisrael. In either case, you say:

    M: Ein kan kohein. Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ bimkom kohein.

    F: Ein kan kohein. Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ bimkom kohein.

    If you don’t give the first aliyah to kohanim, you just say:

    M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, rishon.
    F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, rishonah.

    In any case, G1 continues:

    Baruch shenatan Torah l’amo Yisrael bikdushato.

    The congregation says:

    V’atem hadveikim bAdonai Eloheichem chayim kulchem hayom.

    And G1 repeats that line.

    For the second aliyah, if you give it to a Levi or Bat Levi:

    M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ haleivi.

    F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ haleivi.

    If not:

    M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, sheini.

    F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, sh’niah.

    NOTE: The feminine form of the adjective sheini is sh’niah, NOT sheinit. (The latter is an adverb that means “again.”)

    Subsequent aliyot are called as follows:

    M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, sh’lishi / r’vi’i / chamishi / shishi / sh’vi’i / maftir.

    F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, sh’lishit / r’vi’it / chamishit / shishit / sh’vi’it / maftirah.

    In communities where multiple people are called for a single aliyah, the best way to call them up is to say Ya’amdu (or ta’amodna for a group of women), then their names, and then la’aliyah harishonah / hash’niah / hash’lishit / har’vi’it / hachamishit / hashishit / hash’vi’it. (However, many would say that there are halachic problems with this practice.)

    To call up the lifter and wrapper:

    M/M: Ya’amod hamagbiah, ya’amod hagoleil or Ya’amdu hamagbiah v’hagolel.

    M/F: Ya’amod hamagbiah, ta’amod hagolelet.

    F/M: Ta’amod hamagbihah, ya’amod hagoleil.

    F/F: Ta’amod hamagbihah, ta’amod hagolelet or Ta’amodna hamagbihah v’hagolelet.

    Some communities call the lifter and wrapper by name, which is fine. However, do not say something like Ya’amod hagbahah or Ta’amod g’lilah. This is meaningless Hebrew: “May the lifting stand.” The subject of the verb ya’amod/ta’amod is meant to be a person.

    A Guide to Correcting Mistakes in Torah Reading

    The overall principle is that any mistake that changes the meaning of the word should be corrected, while those that do not change the meaning should not be corrected. However, it’s often hard to judge in the spur of the moment whether a mistake changes the meaning. This guide is intended to provide rules of thumb to address many common types of errors.

    Errors in the consonantal text, such as replacing one letter with another, are always corrected. Shin and sin are different letters.

    Bet and vet, kaf and chaf, pay and fay (and, for some people, tav and sav): At the beginning of a word, don’t correct them. In the middle of the word, there are a few instances where it can change the meaning: e.g., the imperative verb kabeid (honor) vs. the adjective kaveid (heavy). So you should probably correct these any time they’re in the middle of a word.

    The most common mistakes involve vowels.

    • Always correct – v’ (vav with sh’va) vs. va (vav with patach) in verbs, since it can change the tense.
    • Always correct – b’ (bet with sh’va) vs. ba (bet with patach) and l’ (lamed with sh’va) vs. la (lamed with patach), since “a” and “the” mean different things.
    • People frequently mix up el (aleph lamed, to), al (aleph lamed, do not) and al (ayin lamed, on). Always correct these.
    • Don’t correct et (aleph tav) vs. eit (aleph tav): they are pronounced differently, but they are the same word.
    • Don’t correct pausal forms: aretz vs. eretz (both aleph resh tzadi), vay’hi vs. vayehi (both vav yud hay yud), etc. Two other examples are l’cha vs. lach (both lamed chaf) and it’cha vs. itach (both aleph tav chaf). All of these are masculine forms, even though the pausal forms look the same as the feminine forms, so you don’t have to correct them if they’re talking about a male character.
    • You don’t generally need to correct kamatz katan versus kamatz gadol. However, pronouncing a patach like a kamatz katan should definitely be corrected.
    • Vowel mistakes that change the mood, voice, or tense of a verb should always be corrected, such as ya’aseh vs. yei’aseh (both yud ayin sin hey) and dabeir vs. dibeir (both daled bet resh).

    Correcting the accenting of syllables is a tricky business. There are instances where the accent can change the tense of a verb. However, they can be hard to correct on the spot, so it may not be worthwhile except with very proficient readers.

    The only trop that you really need to correct is sof pasuk, i.e., when the reader puts a verse break in the wrong place or skips over a verse break. (Some say the same holds for etnachta.) There are a few circumstances where a trop error can substantially affect the meaning of the words, but we won’t go into them here. However, you should be ready to provide a prompt if the reader is fumbling for the correct trop.

    Adam Levine attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2009.

    December 26, 2009   6 Comments