Pachelbel Canon

Pachelbel Canon in D

Pachalbel’s Canon is one of the most famous pieces of classical music that has become a fixture at many weddings and in the playlists of classical radio stations around the world in recent decades. The Canon in D was written by the German composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1796) during the Baroque period. Also known as Canon and Gigue in D, the piece was originally written in approximately 1680 for 3 violins and continuo. It is great to learn how to play the canon in D on the piano as it will be very popular with people if you choose to perform it to friends or family.

I have produced an arrangement of the Canon in D for piano which you can download/print off and have also put together a brief analysis of the work to help inform your learning and performance of the piece.

Pachelbel Canon in D Piano Version

Pachelbel Canon in D piano sheet music page 1
Pachelbel Canon in D piano sheet music page 2

Pachelbel Canon in D Piano Version

Click Here to Download Pachelbel Canon in D piano sheet music PDF

I have kept this arrangement of the canon in D major for piano quite simple so that piano players of varying levels of ability can all enjoy learning it. I have scored it with the opening bass notes played as half notes (minims) as this makes it easier for piano players to read the later rhythms. Note that the original version notates the opening notes as quarter notes (crotchets).
The opening bars are simple, but as the piece progresses to increasingly complex sixteenth notes (semiquaver patterns) it becomes quite challenging and will be a satisfying task for more experiences players to tackle.

When learning to perform the Canon in D major on the piano it is very useful to have an understanding of how Johann Pachelbel constructed the piece so that you can use this to inform your playing.


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Analysis of The Piece

Johann Pachelbel’s Canon is basically built upon 2 musical techniques – ostinato and canon. However, Pachelbel’s use of these techniques is also heavily influenced by a 3rd technique – Ground Bass.

Bass Ostinato

The bass part in the Canon in D major plays a 2 bar repeated pattern that continues for the whole piece – this repeated pattern is called an ostinato. This bass ostinato (originally written by Pacelbel for continuo) provides the foundation for the entire piece of music and is a key element of Ground Bass. In my piano arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon, this is played by the left hand.

Pachelbel Canon in D bass ostinato

These bass notes imply a series of chords in D major:

Pachelbel Canon in D Chord Progression

This chord progression has had a huge influence on contemporary music and has been used as the basis for lots of popular music songs in recent years.

The Canon

The 3 violin parts in Pachelbel’s Canon play the same melody lines as a round with each line entering separately:

Pachelbel Canon violin entries

It is impossible to transcribe this aspect of the Canon in D major onto a piano arrangement without making the piece extremely difficult and so I have simply taken one line of melody for most of the right hand part. You could achieve the canon of the 3 violins to varying degrees of success in an organ arrangement as the pedals would play the bass part leaving 2 hands free to play the other parts.

The Influence of Ground Bass

It is still possible to capture the essence of the Canon in D in your piano performance as Pachelbel’s “canon” actually develops in a way that is very similar to the ground bass technique used in the chaconne dances popular in the Baroque period.
In a Chaconne the composer develops the melody lines in a manner similar to a series of variations that explore different ideas as the piece progresses.
In my piano arrangement of the Canon in D I have marked the beginning of each “variation” with a double barline. This helps to guide you as to how the piece should be progressing as you play. This development of melodic ideas is one of the key features of the Pachelbel Canon and needs to be expressed in the performance on the piano.

Here is a brief outline of how the original “variations” develop through the piece.
(Please note that this is only a brief summary and analyses by other musicologists go into considerably more detail!)

Pachelbel Canon Analysis of Melody Variations

Performances of Pachelbel’s Canon in D

There are literally hundreds of different performances and arrangements of the Canon in D that you will be able to find to have a look/listen to.
Here are just a couple of examples to inspire you.

The first example is a performance of the original version written by Johann Pachelbel and performed on early instruments by the ensemble Voices of Music:

This is an arrangement for cello and piano performed by The Brooklyn Duo:

I really hope you enjoy developing your own performance of this wonderful piece of music!