Klezmer Scales

There are 3 basic Klezmer scales, all of which were adapted by the Klezmer musicians, from the traditional ancient modes sang in the Synagogue since time immemorial...which in turn, may even have their ultimate origin, in an ancestoral aural memory of the music once sang over 2000 years ago, by the Levitical Choir in the Temple of Jersualem...

 It was my fasination with the antiquity of these scales, which inspired my albums "King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel" & "Lyre of the Levites" (both available from iTunes), which feature a mixture of both traditional Klezmer melodies and traditional Jewish songs, arranged for my replica 3000 year old Biblical Lyre! All details on my "official" website:






The most common Jewish scale heard in the performance of traditional instrumental Klezmer music, is known as the "Ahava Raba" Mode:


E F G# A B C D E

 Here is my "Semitically Surreal" arrangement for electric fiddle, of the Klezmer classic, "Der Heyser Bulgar" (The Hot Bulgar), which is in this Klezmer Mode...this particular version being so hot, that the walls are positively MELTING!!


This ancient scale was also known in ancient Greece! In Classical ancient Greek terminology, this mode is known as the "Chromatic Dorian Mode" - this can be heard in the second half of a surviving piece of music from ancient Greece called "Hymn To The Muse", written by Mesomedes of Crete:

The Chromatic Dorian Mode  is just one semitone different from the favourite ancient mode of the ancient Greeks, the ancient Greek Dorian Mode:




NB! This scale is not to be confused with the Medieval "Dorian" mode: DFEGABCD. The names of musical modes in use today, (e.g. Dorian, Mixolydian etc) although having the same names as the original Greek musical modes, were actually misnamed during the Middle Ages! Apparently, the Greeks counted intervals from top to bottom.  When medieval ecclesiastical scholars tried to interpret the ancient texts, they counted from bottom to top, jumbling the information. The  misnamed medieval modes are only distinguished by the ancient Greek modes of the same name, by being labelled “Church Modes”. It was due to a misinterpretation of the Latin texts of Boethius, that medieval modes were given the wrong Greek names!

According to an article on Greece in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the original ancient Greek names for species of the octave included the following (on white keys):

B-B: Mixolydian
E-E: Dorian
A-A: Hypodorian
D-D: Phrygian
G-G: Hypophrygian
C-C: Lydian
F-F: Hypolydian

Full details can be found here:


For what Plato & Aristotle themselves had this to say about these ancient musical modes, please see this fascinating link:

There follows an improvisation on my replica lyre, in the ancient Greek Dorian Mode - according to the writings of Plato and Aristotle, in slow pieces, the Dorian Mode can increase concentration, and in faster piece, can even inspire bravery in battle! In the improvisation below, I have set about affirming the emotional effect of the ancient Greek Dorian Mode, in starting the improvisation slowly and reflectively, and ending fast. Was Plato and Aristotle correct in their insights into the emotional effects of this ancient musical mode? Judge for yourselves, in the improvisation below...

This very same ancient Middle Eastern scale also features prominently in Spanish Flamenco, presumably having been introduced to Spain by the Moors?

This ancient scale is also known throughout the Middle East, as one of the "Hijaz" Modes! When the ancient Middle Eastern Hijaz Mode is played with a raised 7th, the scale takes on a whole new incredibly mystical feel, as heard here, in a spontaneous improvisation using this mode, on my replica 3000 year old Biblical Lyre...

The extreme antiquity of this mode is further verified by the incredible work of the late Jewish composer, Suzanne Haik Vantoura, in her monumental discovery of the original 3000 year old music of the Hebrew Bible - once sang by the Levitical Choir in the Temple of Jerusalem!






This scale has been preserved from the depths of antiquity, and can be heard in almost every traditional,

ancient Hebrew song:


E F# G A B C D E

Examples of such songs include, "Hine Ma Tov", Shalom Chavarim" etc. The Natural Minor Mode also can be heard in "Hatikvah" (The Hope) - the Israeli National Anthem. Here is my arrangement for replica 3000 year old Biblical Lyre of this haunting Jewish melody...


The Natural Minor Scale also prevails in the traditional folk music of Egypt - to me, this may suggests a very ancient root to the use of the Natural Minor Scale, throughout the Middle East? Below is another video, this time featuring my arrangement for replica lyre, of a piece of Egyptian folk music from Port Said called "One Day We Blamed Each Other" ( I recorded a studio version of this piece on my album, "Apollo's Lyre", which I renamed "Hymn To Horus":





A variation of the ancient Natural Minor mode, still often heard in instrumental Jewish Klezmer music today, is the basic natural minor scale, but with the addition of an augmented 4th and a whole tone between the 5th and 6th intervals of the scale:

E F# G A# B C# D E

This is known in traditional Jewish Klezmer music today, as the "Misheberakh" mode, as can be heard in Klemer classics, such as "Odessa Bulgar" - here is my somewhat unique arrangement of this piece...on electric fiddle, with psychedelic flanger effects!!! Enjoy....

This scale also appears in
the deciphered 3000 year old music of the Hebrew Bible (as claimed to have been deciphered by Suzanne Haik Vantoura, as mentioned above), as well as in a fragment of the actual music of ancient Greece! The ancient Greek musical fragment is known as "Tecmessa's Lament". Below is an orchestral arrangement of this fascinating fragment of ancient Greek music: 

In ancient Greece, this mode was known as "The Chromatic Phyrgian Mode". Is the existence of ancient Middle Eastern Hebrew modes in the music of ancient Greece either pure chance, or more likely, possible evidence of a cross-cultural exchange of musical ideas in antiquity? A fascinating possibility!

This cross-cultural conncection between ancient Israel & ancient Greece may be very ancient indeed - the Biblical Philistines were almost certainly proto-Greek in culture...


For more in depth details of the main Klezmer modes, please visit: