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"Among Jews, music is not only an art: its purpose is to elevate the human soul to God." (Moshe Mussa Berlin)

"The word klezmer is now used to encompass a huge repertoire of music, mostly originating in the Jewish community and played over the last 300 years or more by Jewish musicians, sometimes with Roma and other non-Jewish musicians... The term klezmer was used in Eastern European Yiddish-speaking communities to describe a professional Jewish folk musician. Klezmorim (pl.) were considered an essential —although not always highly respected — part of Jewish life... Most of the klezmer repetoire is related to the celebration of a Jewish wedding and was very rarely performed in concert halls." — Ilana Cravitz

Melodic Modes

  • Major (or Ajam maqam)
  • Rumanian Major mode
  • Minor (dimished 3rd degree)
  • Aeolian (natural minor)
  • Harmonic Minor (or Nahavand-Kurd): very popular. Aeolian with augmented seventh.
  • Melodic Minor
  • Freygish (Hijaz maqam)
  • Hijaz Kar maqam

Rhythmic Modes

  • Freylekhs: 2/4 or 4/4, lively, lyrical.
  • Bulgar: 8/8 with accents on 1,4,7. Or think of it as a composite: 3 - 3 -2.
  • Doina: slow, improvised, free-metered (rather than unmetered tune. Like the taqsim, it is usually emotional.
  • Khosidl: 2/4, 4/4, starts moderate and accelerates.
  • Hora: Rumanian circle dance. 5/3, 3/8, 3/4. Accent 1 and 3.
  • Terkish: similar to Greek Syrtos and Turkish Tsiftetelli. 4/4 but heavily syncopated.
  • Sirba: 12/8, played as four triplets.
  • Sher: 2/4, medium or fast.
  • Taksim: improvisation in a maqam mode. Replaced by the Doina.


"The string players's roles within a traditional fidl kapelye [string ensemble] seem to have been straightforward: the ershter (first violin) played the melody; the tsveyter (second violin) players had a flexible role based on playing the melody heterophonically — diverging in thirds for a bar or two, playing an octave below the primash, and providing fills; sekund players are thought to have had a more defined role, providing rhythmic accompaniment on the lower strings... Nowadays, depending on the size and composition of a band, fiddle players may play a number of roles, switching between being the lead instrument, accompanying heterophonically, and playing a sekund line...

"Accompaniments —particularly for freylekhs and khosidl-style tunes— respond to motifs and patterns in the melody, so there will rarely be an unchanging riff (e.g. constant off-beats) throughout a tune...

"In traditional-style klezmer, a melody player takes the basic structure of a tune and subtly varies the rhythm, pulse, ornamentation, note values, and other elements. This variation is the closest that most klezmer music comes to improvisation. When melody players do it together, the effect (known as heterophony) can sound strange to modern ears. It is said that this style evokes Jewish communal prayer, where the beginnings and ends of paragraphs are spoken at the same time, while the words between are uttered at each worshipper's own pace...

"Old-style klezmer fidl playing...[is] characterized by a close relationship to vocal styles, the audible use of shifting, limited use of vibrato, and flexible tempo...Downbeats are more important than up-beats... Listen to the way the phrases are structured [question vs answer]. " — Ilana Cravitz.



Freygish: klezmer mode. Intervals: 1/2..3/2..1/2..1..1/2..1..1

Fidl: fiddle. Usually the primary instrument in an orkestr.

Freylekh: cheerful, happy. Speed depends on the audience.

Kapelye: Klezmer orchestra.

Khosidl: a slow freylekhs. Slow to medium tempo, bouncy feel.

Khupe: Wedding canopy.

Klezmer: Professional Jewish folk musician.

Klezmorim: plural form of klezmer.

Misheberakh: klezmer mode. Intervals: 1..1/2..3/2..1/2..1..1/2..1

Nign: Melody, usually without words, often sung with vocalized syllables.

Orkestr: Klezmer orchestra.

Primash: AKA ershter. First violin.

Sekund: violin providing rhythmic accompaniment, not melody or harmony. Chords are usually simple and do not change much. Dissonance is okay.

Tsveyter: second violin.


Free sheet music and some performance videos:

Michel Borzykowski: Klezmer Music in a Few Words.

Ilana Cravitz, Klezmer Fiddle, a How-To Guide, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Primasch: Roma + klezmer + Turkish + Hungarian.

Guy Schalom recommends the following artists for klezmer students:

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