Canon Go-Round

About eighteen months ago I bought and downloaded some sheet music for Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon in D.  I remember writing a post about my early exploration of the piece when first I downloaded it, so I looked it up just now.  The post was optimistic – I thought I would be able to work up the music just fine.  I had some concerns about playing the high E, though I didn’t call it that, as I had not yet learned to shift into third position.  It’s incredible to imagine that I have now doubled my time playing the violin since making my first pass at the Canon; I wrote that first post about eighteen months into my musical career.  Though I can’t credibly deny writing that post, what I now remember most about my early efforts to play the piece is my rapid abandonment of it due to my utter inability to make the thing sound decent.

Not only did I write that first post, but it turns out I wrote another on the subject at the beginning of this year – back in January.  By that time, I had been playing the violin for over two years – the early-2016 post indicates a belief that I might have progressed to the point where I could give the Canon another go.  I enumerate some strategies for working through the challenges of the piece, successfully describing a rhythmic pattern that repeats throughout the most difficult section.  I talked about a way of practicing the section that impresses me even today!  But I also know that my enthusiasm for working with it waned, and back in January I again abandoned the piece due to my utter inability to make the thing sound decent.

And I’m at it again.  Here’s my third post – apparently they are coming at nine month intervals now – reporting out on my progress with Pachelbel.  Yesterday I had a random day off of work and I spent about an hour working on it.  While I can look back and laugh at my earlier work on the piece, I do think I have learned enough now to know what’s working and what’s not.

For starters, there’s playing the notes and there’s making music.

As to the notes – I’m basically able to get there now.  In addition to the rhythmic pattern I properly identified as quite tricky back in January, there’s bowing attached to that section that is really crucial to the sound of the piece.  Making that all work together was the focus of my session yesterday. My “run puppy” lesson of last week is, coincidentally, extremely well-timed and helpful – it’s great for long/short/short patterns, which occur throughout the Canon.  Though I have yet to make it all the way through (and to shift up to that high E), I am at a place where playing it makes enough sense – at least as far as playing the notes goes.

Then there’s making music – feeling and enunciating the phrases, working in variations in intonation – the piece is beautiful and timeless.  Pachelbel was at work during the Baroque period, so a continual flow of the music also needs to be prominent.  Of course vibrato can make a world of difference in the beauty of the sustained opening notes.  Overall, the Canon is much, much more difficult to play than I believed it to be eighteen months ago.  But once again, I think I’m up to it.  I have some modest hope that nine months hence I won’t be reporting on abandonment due to my utter inability to make the thing sound decent.  Time will tell.

Thanks for reading.



  1. That so exciting! Neat to be able to really feel like you’re improving! (I find it hard to feel that, sometimes, and then I open up book 1, and think, hey, I can play this way better than I could just half a year ago, or whatever.)

  2. Thanks – this improvement business takes its time!

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