Exploding canons

selective focus photography of cannon and buildings

One of my favourite moments of being a music teacher was when I was teaching an enthusiastic six-year-old about canons in music.

He suggested that perhaps the reason why it was named a canon was because an actual cannon had shot the first person who was singing, so someone else took over.

Feel free to read that again if you’re not quite sure what he meant. Ridiculous, but what a fantastic way to remember how a canon works.

Now, there might be some people reading this who are genuinely uncertain what I’m talking about.

What even is a canon, and why am I hearing about them?

There are so many technical meanings out there, but not to overthink it, a canon is a piece of music where the same melody is repeated at specific intervals to create harmonies. It can be in just two-parts, or many, many more, depending on the daring of the composer. Here is an example to reinforce what I mean.

Still, the question remains, why should you as a music teacher care?

I didn’t understand chords until I was in university studying music.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I got accepted into a university to study classical music, I passed several theory exams, but I never really understood chords.

The simple reason for this is that I hear music horizontally; a succession of different melody lines, not vertically, as a chord.

I’m not alone in this by a long shot. But my music teachers didn’t realise that when I asked ‘what’s a chord?’ that I meant ‘why do chords even exist?’

The moment the penny dropped was in a musical theory/history lecture, where we were studying early church music, and the brilliant Elliott Gyger said (in so many words):

‘This is when they started to record more than just one melody line, in order to create intervals.’

Elliott Gyger

It quite literally blew my mind. Suddenly I understood that chords were the combination of notes and the effect they caused. It might sound so simple, but no-one had ever explained it like that.

Which brings us back to canons. Canons are one of the best ways to introduce harmony to students, as they get to create it themselves. Rather than a sudden immersion into a world of chords that they’re told ‘just work’, they literally see the construction of the chords before their eyes.

But I don’t know how to teach canons?!

As usual, my advice is not to overthink it. You are the music teacher, and chances are you always know more than you realise.

I do however, have a small gift to support you in your introduction of canons to music lessons. This one is specifically designed for piano teachers, but a preview of it will support all of you, I am certain. And as it’s free resource Thursday, you know that you could just check what you think of it before committing!

Oh no, it looks like you missed out on our free resource! Don’t worry, if you look through our most recent blog posts, you will probably find another one, and it’s always available in the shop.

Let’s get this canon party started!

Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

One response to “Exploding canons”

  1. […] I’ve shared before the story of how I finally understood chords. Not till I was 18 years old, at University, in a music theory lecture. […]


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