About Mussar Chanting

About Mussar Chanting

Mussar Chanting FAQ

Mussar Chanting FAQ 

What’s the idea behind Mussar chanting?  I think of Mussar chanting as planting a catchy jingle in my head and my heart. The words tell me what I need to hear, whenever I need to hear it. Ultimately, the point of Mussar chanting is to sing the lesson into my soul, to change my brain wiring, my heart, my behavior. 

What is the practice in a nutshell?  The practice consists of repeating a phrase of Mussar wisdom aloud, with intensity, to engrave it into the heart, so it will be available when needed. 

What words do I chant?  You choose the words you chant. What do you need to hear? The phrase can serve as a reminder, as encouragement, as rebuke, as a warning, or as preparation—any self-talk that I need to hear as I work on a middah / trait. You can use words of Torah or from Musssar classics—or invent your own phrase.

What is the role of music?  Melody, while not strictly necessary, can help sustain interest so you'll happily chant more repetitions. Melody can increase intensity, and activate memory. Alan Morinis, the founder of The Mussar Institute, notes in his book, Everyday Holiness, that music can “penetrate to the core of being, where conscious thought cannot reach.” 

Where does Mussar chanting originate?  Chanting is a technique of the modern Mussar movement, pioneered by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, in 19th century Lithuania.  He took a classic method for learning Torah, and used it to reshape behavior. 

How does chanting fit into a Mussar practice?  Mussar students use several techniques, which include studying Mussar wisdom, journaling, chanting, meditation, visualization, contemplation, silence, and specific tasks.

Why is chanting important?  Rabbi Dov Katz, historian of the modern Mussar movement, noted the remarkable power of Mussar chanting: “Of all the methods introduced by the [Mussar] movement, the most radical and effective was found to be the repetitive moral recitation”—by which he meant chanting. 

Why does chanting work?  Contemporary neuroscience provides the theory to understand why Mussar chanting is so effective. Chanting is experiential, multi-modality learning. “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Repetition of words or ideas makes them available. Physical involvement—singing and movement—strengthens learning more than silent reading alone because it brings more neurons into the firing constellation. Emotional affect pulls in even more neurons. 

In which language should I chant?  Although Judaism regards the Hebrew language with a special holiness, it is not necessary to chant in Hebrew. Rabbi Zvi Miller, who introduced me to Mussar chanting, says “Chant in your primary language—the language you dream in. Our target is the subconscious.” So these songs are in English, Hebrew, or both.

How to Do Mussar Chanting

How to Do Mussar Chanting 

In Mussar chanting we repeat a focus phrase or a song many times over an extended period—a week, or a month. Drill it in deep. 

I usually chant alone, while walking, biking, or driving.  I also lead group chanting, usually to teach a chant or demonstrate the technique—yet group chanting has its own power. 

Choose your focus phrase for personal relevance. Consider your issues around a specific middah, and select words that address those issues. Mussar chanting centers on content, while music and other modalities serve the words. If one of my songs suits your purpose, please use it (after all, that's why I've made these recordings). If not, find words that work for you and repeat them—whether you sing them or repeat them without melody.

Be intentional and active in chanting. Chant with intensity and emotion—as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, “with lips aflame.” For example, repeat key words within your focus phrase. Whisper, shout, or ornament selected words for further emphasis. Pace the floor, wave your arms, invent gestures that illustrate or emphasize the words. Use your whole body to physically imprint the teaching in muscle memory and audio memory. 

Rabbi Zvi Miller taught me that chanting with “a soulful melody” is important to the technique. I have found that the particular musical style is less important than the fact that the style resonates with your own soul. Even screaming the words without musicality can still qualify as Mussar chant, if it reaches into your heart.

Blues You Can Use

Blues You Can Use 

Why do I chant in a bluesy style? Why does it work for me? 

Blues holds my interest, which encourages many repetitions. 

Blues builds intensity and emotion. It moves my whole body, and grabs my soul. 

Blues has a clear structure, familiar patterns, and easy-to-remember musical conventions. 

Blues makes room for improvisation—room to bring the individual into the music, and to make the music part of me.

Music for You

Music for You 

The music I offer you on this web site has been a key part of my own Mussar practice. I share it with the hope that you also find it helpful. 

If you already have a Mussar practice, this music can move you forward. 

If you’re new to Mussar, perhaps this music could open that path for you. 

If you teach through music, students of all ages have engaged with these songs—adult, teen, elementary school, and pre-school. 

Listen. Sing. Grow.