Lora Staples - beginning violin and fiddle expert

How to play the Canon by Pachelbel

An easy approach to one of the most famous tunes for violin

In this video, Lora talks about the well-known Canon by Pachelbel and gives you practical studying tips.

Released on June 3, 2015

Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Lora Staples with Red Desert Violin and I'm here today for virtual sheet music, and I want to talk to you about the 'Pachelbel Canon,' the most beloved tune for weddings and for weddings! It's a very popular wedding piece, but, you know, I've probably played it 800 times, maybe 1000, I'm still not tired of it. I love this piece! But besides being a beautiful piece, it has a lot of benefits to learning it. So, if you have not yet played it 800 times, I wanna give you a few ideas of how you can exploit this tune to help your violin playing.

First and foremost, this is a great piece to improve your reading. Because most of us, kind of, have the melody in our ears and so your ear can help guide your sight-reading. That's number one, but number two it uses so many different note values. It's got quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, thirty second notes and rests, and is just very valuable for learning how to do better at reading rhythms.

So, first thing I would recommend to you, if you want to improve your sight-reading and your understanding of rhythms, I would print this out and I would just do some homework. With a pencil, I would draw a line down your music for every eighth note. What this forces you to do is something called 'subdivision'. Normally, we just count quarter notes as our beat. You can pretty much count on that, but the 'Canon' is one piece that's an exception. It is quite slow and if we counted the quarter note as our beat, it would go one, two, three, and that's just so slow it's not even really a beat. So, we subdivide to the next smaller level and that's eighth notes. So, the beginning kind of feels like half notes!

Two, one, two, one, two, one. See how you kind of feel two beats in each of those? Those are just quarter notes. So, really, we naturally want to feel the eighth note as a beat. So, take your sheet music and write what's called 'hash marks,' or just little vertical lines to help you count the eighth notes. This is just simple mathematics. So, in the beginning when you have quarter notes, each one of those quarter notes is gonna have two lines by it. And then, when you get to bar seven, for instance, well that's easy, because there're eighth notes! So, each eighth note would have a line through it. When you get to bar 11, then every other sixteenth note is gonna have a line through it, right? Because two sixteenth notes fit inside of one eighth note.

All right, so, I hope you understand what I'm describing. This is a powerful lesson. I remember when someone first suggested that I do this, my rhythm was outstanding after I did this! I did it on the unaccompanied Bach 'G minor Adagio' violin piece and that's full of . . . even a hundred and twenty-eighth notes. So, that was a real exercise in rhythm and if you can find that piece, that would be an advanced challenge for you. Start with the 'Canon,' later you've got, like in bar 19, you've got a sixteenth note followed by two thirty second notes. You've got to know how these notes add up rhythmically.

So, one eighth note is worth two sixteenth notes, so you see your first sixteenth note is right there at the beginning of the bar. Where's the other sixteenth note? We need one more sixteenth note. The two thirty second notes put together, that's your other sixteenth note. Okay, so the first sixteenth note plus the two thirty second notes, those three notes combined give you your eighth note. Okay, so that would get one vertical mark. All right, I challenge you to do this. It will completely strengthen your understanding of rhythm and subdivision.

All right, the second major value of the 'Pachelbel Canon' is it gives you some simple opportunities to go into third position. There are some places where you have to go into third position. In bar 15, that is where I would recommend that you shift. Don't wait till you have to get up to third position, be proactive! So, the downbeat of 15. . . And that's just a shift you have to practice. From the second finger, it's an octave, F-sharp to F-sharp. And then I shift back down on the C-sharp in bar 17. That's just me, but that is the fingering I recommend. And that's a nice little third position exercise for you.

There're two other places where you have to go into third position. You have to go in 34, but I shift ahead of time in bar 33. So, bar 33 has, you can start with an open A . . . So, that open A gives you plenty of time to shift. One, one, one, one, one . . . this is bar 34. There's your C-sharp. And then I dive right down, it's an octave shift, C-sharp to C-sharp.

The final place where you have to go into third position starts in bar 49, and actually, that is where I shift. Again, it's just a one octave shift, the same one you learned in bar 15. F-sharp to F-sharp, two to three. And then C-natural . . . I'd stay there . . . that's where I shift. Some people will disagree with me, because shifting after a fast sixteenth note is a little risky, but I like to live dangerously! So, I shift down in bar 51. I go . . . Shift down on that lower F-sharp. Okay, so it's a really good, beautiful application for when you're just starting out learning third position.

So, there's some food for thought for you on this very well loved piece, that I think I could play it a hundred thousand times and still not be tired of it. I hope that you will take the eighth note subdivision challenge. Thanks for watching and post your questions below. I will answer them personally. See you next time!
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Helen McAllister on January 11, 2022 @2:58 pm PST
Thank you, Lora, for your helpful teaching of Pachelbel's Canon in D and I also appreciate your sense of humor. Saying you liked to "live dangerously" made me laugh. I would love to see you teach on some of the bowing techniques for this Canon in D. I have seen YouTube videos of Bars 19-22 being played different ways. I prefer the full bow method but usually it seems it is played using short separate bows for each 32nd note. I am wondering how you play it.
Augustine violinist from Malaysia on October 25, 2020 @2:24 am PST
Beautiful tips of explanation how to play correctly amazing good Job
Helen McAllister on December 21, 2019 @2:06 pm PST
Thank you so much for all your help! I want to order the sheet music now.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on December 21, 2019 @2:18 pm PST
Glad you liked the video Helen!

You can find the sheet music on this page (Lora is talking about the 1st violin part of it):


Please, let me know if you have any further questions.

All the best,
Helen McAllister on December 21, 2019 @2:32 pm PST
Thank you, Fabrizio, for your quick response, which I wasn't expecting! I was just looking at that version for $7.99. I don't need the gigue or the piano accompaniment. You don't have one just for 1st violin of the Canon in D as she describes in the youtube video?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on December 22, 2019 @9:42 am PST
Dear Helen you are most welcome!

Unfortunately, that's part of the complete arrangement. I'll send the first violin part to you by email. Expect it in a few minutes...

Happy Holidays!
Lora * VSM MEMBER * on November 7, 2020 @2:38 pm PST
Thank you, Helen! You will learn a lot by playing Pachelbel Canon. It will teach you about rhythm sub-division, it will teach you how to slur notes smoothly, you can use it for vibrato practice, and it gives you a chance to shift up to 3rd position in an easy spot. GOOD LUCK!
Tracye on June 3, 2015 @6:16 am PST
Do you have an example print out of the sectioning technique your describing in the video?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 22, 2015 @4:14 pm PST
Thank you for your question Tracye, and sorry for the late reply. I thought Lora would have replied to you.

She's talking about the 1st violin part of the Canon for string quartet and harpsichord:


Please, let me know if you have any further questions.

Thank you!
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.