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The Shulchan 'Aruch (O"Ch 65:2) says the following:

קרא ק"ש ונכנס לב"ה ומצא צבור שקורין ק"ש צריך לקרות עמהם פסוק ראשון שלא יראה כאלו אינו רוצה לקבל עול מלכות שמים עם חביריו וה"ה אם הוא בב"ה ואומר דברי תחנונים או פסוקים במקום שרשאי לפסוק אבל אם הוא עסוק במקום שאינו רשאי לפסוק כגון מברוך שאמר ואילך לא יפסיק אלא יאמר התיבות שהוא אומר בשעה שהצבור אומרים פסוק ראשון בניגון הצבור שיהא נראה כאלו קורא עמהם:

Or in English:

If one recited the Recitation of the Sh'ma [on one's own] and entered the synagogue, and found the congregation reciting the Recitation of the Sh'ma, he must recite the first verse along with them so it will not seem as if he doesn't want to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven with his fellows. And such is [also] the case if one is in the synagogue and saying words of supplication or [biblical] verses in a place (ie. in a section of the prayer services) where it is permitted to interrupt. But if one is in a place where it is not permitted to interrupt, for example, from Barukh She-amar and onwards, they should not interrupt; rather they should say the words that they are saying at the time the congregation is saying the first verse using the melody of the congregation such that it will appear as if they are reciting along with them.

(Translation courtesy of Sefaria, with edits by QwertyCTRL)

What does ניגון של ק"ש ("the niggun/melody of Kriat Shema'") mean and what are the halachic parameters for this?

For any practical ramifications CYLOR.

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    Parameters? Why can't it just mean whatever tune/recitative/nusach is common in that shul?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 20 at 20:27
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    I second @DoubleAA from my understanding Sephardic/Yemenite communities didn't all used to say SHema' with te'amim but would have a communal melody or would copy the Hazzan's melody
    – Aaron
    Commented May 20 at 20:32

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It can mean one of two things:

A) The chazzan and the congregation should pray in some sort of tune. Each Jewish community has its traditions for these tunes.
If you're behind the congregation, trying to catch up, you will likely be praying with a faster, simpler tune, or with no tune at all. Thus, when the minyan reaches Shema, you should slow down a bit and use the congregation's tune.

B) A much more likely explanation is that the Shulchan Aruch was referring to reading Shema with the te'amim (cantillation tunes). During prayer, it is preferable to read quotes from the Tanakh using the appropriate te'amim. When the Minyan gets to Shema, sing the Shema's cantilation with the words you're currently praying.

Regardless, the Shulchan Aruch's ruling on this matter can apply to both A and B. Whatever tune the congregation/chazzan is using to read Shema, copy it. Make it apparent that you're joining them in what they're saying.

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  • Why is B more likely? "it is preferable to read quotes from the Tanakh using the appropriate te'amim" Does Shulchan Aruch hold that?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 20 at 22:45
  • If B was intended, Sh"A would presumably say so, like what's written in 61:24.
    – magicker72
    Commented May 20 at 22:49
  • @DoubleAA The Ari-zal and the Ben-Ish-Hai hold it, for kabbalistic reasons. Rav Yosef Caro's community, like most Sephardic communities especially a few centuries ago, probably held according to the Mesorah brought down by Kabbalists. Additionally, professional Chazzanim today almost always read Shema with the te'amim; why would his community be different? Commented May 20 at 22:52
  • @DoubleAA, I always read שמע, with the potential exception of the first passuk, with trop. This was also what it seemed to me that he meant, but as you point out, it makes less sense in context Commented May 20 at 23:21
  • B seems most unlikely. The Mechaber says at 61:24 *One needs to recite Shema with the cantillation (trop/ta'amim), just like they are [when reading] in the Torah. צריך לקרות ק"ש בטעמים כמו שהם בתורה. If he meant בניגון הצבור to mean "trop" surely he would have used the same wording as in 61:24
    – Edward B
    Commented May 23 at 23:12

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