Toggle Menu

Pachelbel Canon - Lesson 1 - The Chord Progression

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Brass guitar slides

The Lesson explained

I think we've all see that amazing video of the Korean guy playing a rocked up version of 'Pachelbel Canon', a classical piece written in the 1600s by Johann Pachelbel. This lesson is a look at its well known chord progression and a few ways through it. This is not the real piece ... I've simply used the (slightly altered) chord progression, as have many other composers over the years. Ralph McTell's 'The Streets of London', for example, is basically this progression.

It's in D (the original is also known as Canon in D major) and it exemplifies the use of the related chords of the key that we talk about here often. It uses all but one (the vii) and you can hear how well they all work together and how one leads to another.

Here's a quick look at the progression in numerals for those who are interested in this kind of thing:

| I - - - | V - - - | vi - - - | iii - - - |
| IV - - - | I - - - | ii - - - | V - - - |

So, applying that to D, we get:

| D - - - | A - - - | Bm - - - | F#m - - - |
| G - - - | D - - - | Em - - - | A - - - |

You'll notice I've added a G bass note to the Em; don't let it throw you, it's still an Em, but it's a different inversion, one with the b3 as bass note instead of the usual 1. I think the original uses a IV chord there again, I quite like the ii chord, but with the IV chord's bass note underpinning it. (don't worry if you don't understand all this gibberish!)

The first pass through is easy: play the bass note, then the chord. This section is good for beginners. You can see how I first get my finger to the bass note, since it comes first, then I worry about getting the chord shape firmly fretted and I then play it. Try to keep the bass note ringing away so that it's still there when the chord comes in. That's easier to do when the bass note is an open string, a little more difficult when it's a fretted note. When I pluck the chords, you'll hear that I sort of roll my three fingers off the strings starting with the bass, almost like a harp. You can simply pluck all three strings in unison if you prefer.

The second pass is a little harder as I start to 'arpeggiate' the chords, which means that I pick through the chords and play the notes separately. This is the basis of all finger picking, so it's a good one to use as practice. You'll see I use exactly the same chord shapes as the first pass, and I let those bass notes ring out like the first time. On two occasions (The first A7 and the F#m) I play the bass note at the same time as one of the chord notes, so watch out for those.

The third pass is totally different. I'm still hitting those bass notes on the first and third beats of the bar, but I'm now playing a simple harmonized melody line. I need to move right up the fretboard at first then work my way back down. The 'double stops' (two notes played at once) are harmonies in 'thirds', which means that the notes are three scale degrees apart. Because the underlying scale is not regular and symmetrical, the way the two notes align themselves on the two strings keeps switching between two patterns. So 'thirds' apart in music doesn't mean a consistent interval, therefore pattern. This is often confusing when starting out ... the structure of music is annoyingly inconsistent. You'll notice that the Bm bass note has moved from the second fret of the fifth string to the 7th fret of the 6th string. I had to do that to keep it ringing under the melody line which is up the neck. Toward the end, it gets a little tricky twisting the fingers around some of those double stops. Just plot them out and take your time practicing them. You'll also notice that the D chord near the end has a F# note as its bass note. This another 'inversion' of the D chord, one that uses the 3 as bass note instead of the 1 ... like the Em chords in this piece. Chords usually use the 1 (or 'tonic' or 'root') as bass note, but they don't have to. The 1 is the most stable sounding, but any other chord tone will do the job depending on what sound you want.

>>> Now onto The Melody Lesson for Pachelbel Canon.

Kirk LorangeAs well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.