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July 28, 2014 | 1st Av 5774

Introducing New Melodies: Ten Guiding Points

by Cantor Josée Wolff

Know how, why, and when to introduce new melodies. Learning a new piece of sacred music means more than simply learning a new song. It involves other valuable Jewish learning, for example, Hebrew language, liturgical text, theology, etc. Here are some suggestions that you might find helpful when you are contemplating introducing a new melody to your congregation:

  • Plan ahead: Decide what new melodies you want your congregation to learn over the course of the next year.
  • Prepare a CD for your congregation featuring a number of new melodies that will be introduced during the coming year.
  • Set aside time before a service and invite your congregants to learn new music that will be used in that service.
  • Use the new melody like a niggun (without the words) so that the congregants can become familiar with it without having to pay attention to the text. You could use this niggun as an opening song or as a melody after silent meditation. It could be sung or played on an instrument.
  • Reintroduce it, either in the same service or after using it for a week or two, with the words.
  • Coordinate with the religious school music program so that students become familiar with the melodies that are used in worship services and learn the new ones that are being introduced.
  • Spend some time exploring multiple settings of one text to learn how different composers interpret it and how different settings express the same text in a variety of ways.
  • Once a new melody has been introduced, make sure that it is used for the next few weeks so that the congregation has a chance to become familiar with it, and then reintroduce it from time to time.
  • Generally, it is a good idea not to introduce more then one new melody during a service.
  • If different sh’lichei tzibur lead services on different Shabbatot, make sure that they communicate with one another and use the new melodies consistently.


"To sing means to sense and to affirm that the spirit is real and that its glory is present. In singing we perceive what is otherwise beyond perceiving. Song, and particularly liturgical song, is not only an act of expression but also a way of bringing down the spirit from heaven to earth. The numerical value of the letters that constitute the word shirah, or song, is equal to the numerical value of the word t’filah, or prayer. Prayer is song."
—Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Cantor Wolff is the Director of Student Placement at HUC's School of Sacred Music.

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