Notes from “Pachelbel’s Canon on Ukulele(s)”

Notes on the Composer and Piece

All sources are Wikipedia.

Johann Pachelbel (1653 – 1706) was a German composer, organist, and teacher who brought the south German organ tradition to its peak. He composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most important composers of the middle Baroque era. Pachelbel’s music enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime; he had many pupils and his music became a model for the composers of south and central Germany.

NOTE: The Canon was written in the key of D.  It has been transcribed to the key of G for the ukulele.

This book arranges the Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo (German: Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalbaß). It is sometimes called Canon and Gigue in D or, mostly, Canon in D. Neither the date nor the circumstances of its composition are known (suggested dates range from 1680 to 1706), and the oldest surviving manuscript copy of the piece dates from the 19th century.

Like his other works, Pachelbel’s Canon went out of style, and remained in obscurity for centuries. A 1968 arrangement and recording of it by the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra gained popularity over the next decade, and in the 1970s the piece began to be recorded by many ensembles; by the early 1980s its presence as background music was deemed inescapable. From the 1970s onward, elements of the piece, especially its chord progression, were used in a variety of pop songs. Since the 1980s, it has also been used frequently in weddings and funeral ceremonies in the Western world.

The chord progression of the Canon is as follows:

No.      Chord               Ukulele             Scale degree     Roman numeral
1          D major            G major            tonic                I
2          A major            D major            dominant         V
3          B minor            E minor            submediant      vi
4          F♯ minor          B minor            mediant            iii
5          G major            C major            subdominant    IV
6          D major            G major            tonic                I
7          G major            C major            subdominant    IV
8          A major            D major            dominant         V

The eight chords of this progression follow a sequential pattern known as the Romanesca. This progression has been identified as a common seventeenth- and eighteenth-century schema by Robert Gjerdingen.

Notes on the Arrangements

A slightly different version of the Canon as a duet is in the book Miniatures for Ukulele Duet from Ancient Music for Ukulele. The duet version in Pachelbel’s Canon on Ukulele(s) balances the performance between the two players more evenly (e.g. both are give the chance to play the melody at the climax of the music and exchange the melody back and forth in later passages).

For best performance, these types of ukuleles are recommended:

Solo Ukulele or Ukulele 1 – soprano, concert or tenor ukulele with linear tuning as G-C-E-A (i.e. using a low G for the fourth string)

Ukulele 2 – baritone ukulele with drop-C tuning as C-G-B-E (i.e. fourth string re-tuned from D down to C).

Note that music for Ukulele 2 has been written up an octave (indicated by the small number 8 under the treble clef sign) for convenience.  This is similar to the way music is notated for classical guitar.

Alternatively, Ukulele solo or part 1 can be played using a Renaissance guitar or classical guitar with capo on the 5th fret and Ukulele part 2 can be played on a classical guitar.

Playing as a Duet

Preparing your part in advance of playing as a duet is essential.  Get to know your part well so as not to be led astray by the other performer.  Practicing with a metronome is highly recommended.

The duet should be seated so that the players can hear and interact with each other.  Usually, the first part is on the left and second part is on the right when looking at the players from the audience.  The chairs/stands should be such that the people can see each other but also allows the audience to see the players.  Fronts of the ukuleles should face the audience and stands should be low so that the music can flow over them.  Memorizing the music and playing without stands is not essential.

One of the players may act as the “conductor” to set the tempo (they do so after making eye contact with the other player which indicates their readiness to start) and to signal the end of the piece (i.e. when to stop playing and finally mute your strings).

When performing as a duet, the other player will continue to play their part even if you make a mistake or lose your place in the music.  Stopping and re-joining the music in progress is a good skill to develop.  Knowing what the other part is playing will help.

The duet may “reset” after a section or phrase is completed. The players need to communicate with each other (besides listening and counting) by periodically looking at each other for signals.  One member may indicate the start of the next section or phrase with a head nod or an audible inhaled sniff of air.

The duet needs to sound well together.  The parts should be balanced in volume and style.  If you have a key part or scale passage, then standing out makes the music more interesting.  However, if you are playing a supporting passage, then you have to be quieter and let the other part have their moment in the spotlight.