History of the Shofar
The shofar is a magnificent musical horn that was developed
by the ancient Hebrews. This was never a folk instrument nor considered
a classical instrument. It was, and is, a ceremonial item. It was used
during holy rites, to call assembly or signal a sacrifice. The shofar
was also used in battle. The ancient Hebrews used the shofar as a call
to war. They believed that the sound would panic their enemies. The sound
of the shofar also announced the Jubilee year.
Today, this ancient trumpet of Israel is used in both
Jewish and Christian worship. It is most closely associated with the Jewish
Holy days of Rosh Hashana (New Years) also called Yom Teru'ah (the day
of blowing), and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Outside of these religions
it is not uncommon to find the shofar used in holistic ceremonies or rites
associated with the earth elements.
Construction of the Shofar
The ancient Hebrew shofar was made of animal horn. It
was originally made from the horn of a domestic ram. These horns are relatively
smooth, crescent shaped and usually just over a foot in length. The Talmud
specifies that a shofar must be not less than three hand-breadths long
to be used for ceremonial purposes. Other horns used would have included
those of domestic sheep and goat, wild mountain goat, antelope, or gazelle.
The domestic sheep and goat horns would have been similar to the rams’
horn, only smaller. Today, the wild Nubian ibex goats still dot the Israeli
hill sides. The horns of these mountain goats are much longer than rams’
horns. The ibex horn grows with the familiar crescent curve. The silhouette
of this horn is more striking that the rams’ due to the large protruding
ridges that wrap around the horn along its entire length. The most striking
horn, and today most desirable, comes from the Kudu antelope. Kudu horns
are very long, most are over 30 inches. Their beauty comes from their
length and the way the horn twists.
Kudu antelopes are native to southern Africa. They are a wild free ranging
animal that is incredibly beautiful. Their ability to jump over 9 feet
(2.5 m) has created some difficulties for the local farmers whose fences
are not always tall enough. An adult male kudu can have horns that reach
up to 66 inches (168 cm). For the antelope, these horns are much more
than decorative. Antelope use their horns during play and, more importantly,
during competitive matches with other antelope. A natural horn will often
show the signs of these fights. As the kudu horn grows it becomes longer
and twists in a helix pattern. A single horn can have color that varies
from light tan, to dark gray-black. The growth patterns and texture add
The shofars offered by DulcimerShofar are one piece in
the shape of the kudu long horn. They are approximately 41 inches in length
with curl. The tips of the horns have been cut open to create the mouthpiece.
The mouthpiece is integral and the body is hollow along the entire length.
Blowing into the tip produces the sound. The long hollow body of the horn
amplifies the vibrations of the player’s lips on the mouthpiece.
The synthetic horn offers a lighter weight instrument,
which still has a great sound. The synthetic shofar is nice for children,
animal lovers and the budget conscious.
Playing the Shofar
Like everything worthwhile, playing the Shofar takes practice to do
it well. Try this exercise.
First, fill your lungs with air and blow it out through your slightly
Repeat, but this time, try making the sound of a very, very, small motor
boat. It is this vibration that will be amplified within the body of the
Next, with your lips together at the sides and slightly apart in the
center, place them to the mouthpiece of the horn. Hold the horn so that
the end, the open bell of the horn, lines up with the mouth opening while
you play. You want the rim of the mouthpiece to sit against your lips
not over them. Do not push your lips into the opening.
Now, blow! Slow and steady. Practice until you can get a strong steady
sound. Then try to change the pitch. Blowing slower creates a lower pitch.
Blowing faster, with your lips slightly more pursed creates a higher pitch.
Practice starting slower and finishing at the very end with a fast staccato
blast. This produces the ancient Hebrew call known as Tekiah, or “blast”
It is a two pitch call. The first pitch is sustained over a long period
and terminates in a staccato pitch. The two pitches should be a fifth
apart. The Tekiah is a call of proclamation, and announcement. A schematic
of this call would look like this:
As your control, and lung power, increases you can practice the Hebrew
Shevarim call. This call is made up of three medium length broken calls.
Think of it as three shorted “blasts” one after another. This
call is often said to be a wailing, or sobbing; a call of longing, loss,
and separation. Start with a low pitch and then slide to a higher pitch.
A schematic of this call would look like this:
loow /HIGH loow /HIGH loow /HIGH
The third ancient Hebrew call is Teruaeh. This may be the hardest to
accomplish. Think of spitting seeds. Or say Ta Ta Ta Ta Ta Ta. This is
what is required to create the Teruseh. Do not stick your tongue out;
just use it to interrupt the blast, usually nine or more times, in a rapid
series. You purse your lips, blow out and move your tongue in and out
rapidly. This call makes one think of the alarm at the fire station. Indeed
this call is an alarm call. A schematic of this call would look like this:
loow /HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH
- Why does my Shofar have a funny smell?
- What are the synthetic Shofars made of,
they look so real?
Why does my Shofar have a funny smell?
If you have the natural animal horn Sofar this is to be expected. The
horns are organic and will often have an odor before they are well aged.
Older horns usually do not smell. You can do one of two things. Wait,
time and air will eventually take care of the odor. Or you can try the
following. It sometimes helps to cover the horn with baking soda or 20
Mule Team Borax (trade mark). Let it sit a few hours or a day. If it still
smells, cover it back and let it sit a while longer.
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Space-age polymers, of course! The Synthetic Shofars were molded from
a natural Kudu horn. This gives them their realistic shape and markings.
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