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How to Play Canon in D on the Violin

Pachelbel's "Canon in D" is an extremely popular piece for stringed instruments that is often played at weddings and other social gatherings. Johann Pachelbel, a famous composer of the baroque era, composed the piece in 1680 at the age of 26. The piece was originally intended for three violins and bass, though it is sometimes played as a violin solo with piano accompaniment. Provided that you have time to devote to practice, at least intermediate violin skills, mastery of vibrato, proficiency in first and third positions, a good grasp of music theory and a piano accompanist, you should be able to beautifully and proudly play "Canon in D" in a performance setting.

Things You'll Need:

  • Violin
  • Sheet Music
  • Metronome
  • Bow
  • Piano Accompaniment

Look over your sheet music and take note of any areas that might be difficult for you. Pay special attention to the areas requiring several measures of sixteenth notes, as well as measures of "Canon in D" that require you to switch from the E-string to the D-string rapidly and seamlessly. You will need to switch from first to third position to reach high notes on the E-string a few times during the piece, so you might practice those shifts to be fluid.

Learn the notes to the "Canon in D" before incorporating proper bow-strokes, vibrato and dynamics. Remember that since the piece is in D-major, the first finger is high on all strings in the first position and the second finger is high on all strings except for the E-string.

Practice with a metronome to ensure that you are properly playing in rhythm. The piece begins slowly with half notes, proceeds to quarter notes and then speeds up to sixteenth notes. A metronome will help you learn to keep your pace steady throughout. Setting your metronome to 60 on the quarter note is a good tempo.

Incorporate proper bow-strokes into your playing. "Canon in D" includes several long sixteenth-note slurs that you may need to practice in order to ensure that you do not run out of bow space or speed up the tempo of your playing in order to accommodate the number of notes that must be fit into a single bow-stroke.

Polish your dynamics. The piece slowly progresses from pianissimo at the beginning to fortissimo at the end. Practice playing softly and gradually increasing volume by altering the pressure and speed of your bow-strokes while keeping your rhythm steady. Your increase in volume must not compromise the fluid and sprightly mood of the piece.

Add vibrato to lend texture to longer notes throughout the "Canon in D." Your vibrato should remain soft and tight, never morphing into a wobbly or intense vibrato. The proper vibrato will help to keep the feel of the piece light and sprightly.

Practice with your piano accompanist to ensure that you are on the same page rhythmically and stylistically. Take a look at the piano accompaniment part prior to your first practice session so that you get a feel for what the piano will be doing as you are playing. There are some areas of "Canon in D" where the piano part is faster or slower than the violin part. Understanding this ahead of time will keep you from being thrown off-base.

Perform for family members and friends once you have become comfortable with the piece and your piano accompanist. Your first performance may not be seamless but as you continue to perform, the piece will come more naturally to you and your pianist.

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