Is it possible to find lead sheet music for Pachelbel's Canon?
July 3, 2012 11:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to learn to play the piano, and right now I'm using this book by Scott Houston, who is a huge advocate of lead sheet music and "fake" books. I really, really like the book, and even after just sitting down for a little bit I can already play some basic stuff like row, row, row your boat and jingle bells. However, there is one snag: the book's philosophy is that you should think of the one song you would most like to play on the piano and learn how to play by starting with that song first, an idea which I really love except for the fact that the one song I would really like to play more than anything else is Pachelbel's Canon in D. He specifically says in the book that his teaching method is completely unsuited for learning classical piano. I really don't want to learn how to play classical piano except for this one song, but this is one song I would really like to learn. Is there any way around this?
posted by bookman117 to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think so. The whole point of Pachelbel's Canon is the interplay of the various voices. It wouldn't make sense to play it off of a lead sheet, because all of the voices are equally important. The blurb for the book talks about "focusing on playing the melody with the right hand (one note at a time) and simple chords with the left hand." If you do this, it's not going to be a canon.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:06 AM on July 4, 2012

Response by poster: So does this mean that every popular song that's been written since jazz is vastly easier to learn how to play than Pachelbel's Canon? That's pretty frustrating.
posted by bookman117 at 12:31 AM on July 4, 2012

No, it does not mean that at all. It just happens that your favorite piece is polyphonic and thus not suitable to learn via this particular teacher's methodology. If this is the piece that is driving you to learn piano, you'd be better off learning to read music and finding an arrangement for solo piano.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:47 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you really want to learn the piece, get better at reading notes (both bass and treble clefs!) because there's not really any other magical easier way to learn Pachelbel's Canon at where you are in learning piano right now. There are very few, if any, true "shortcuts" into learning classical piano, as frustrating as it is. If it really is the only classical piano piece that you want to play, you might as well bite the bullet and learn it note by note slowly since it seems to be something you desire to play really badly.

However, there are a lot of really simplified versions of Pachelbel's Canon out there for solo piano, but I'm not sure how well that will satisfy your need to really really really learn it. This version is a hell of a lot easier than this one.

If you're familiar with music theory at all, it might help you to write out some chord progressions since it seems to be a little bit better in line with the book you're using. It may give you a better sense of where to start.
posted by astapasta24 at 1:08 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

his teaching method is completely unsuited for learning classical piano

That's pretty much your answer. It does, on the other hand, contain a lot that will make learning classical piano easier; it encourages you to analyse harmony in a way that basic classical piano methods don't (I've had a lot of quite advanced students who've come to me unable to recognise quite simple chord progressions).

So you need another way of learning that is suited - but it doesn't have to be either/or. Learning enough 'classical' technique to be able to get through the Pachelbel will feed back into this style as well (see Wordwoman's comments about polyphony - it's so important in classical music, but will help you understand voice leading and counter melodies in jazz/rock/pop styles too). As with most things in education, there's a huge advantage to using more than one learning approach - each will have its own strengths, but also its own limitations.
posted by monkey closet at 1:38 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's one way to learn it. If you have a laptop or mobile device, just put it in front of your piano and then slog through it. It may take a while but it'll still be faster than learning notes.
posted by Ljubljana at 3:03 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've gone through several of these books (not the one mentioned in the OP) and none of them can compare to actually sitting down proper with a teacher - my suggestion is to get a teacher, and speak with him/her about how to approach your problem.

Personally, I'd just get the full piano piece and play it at a slow tempo, both hands, then slowly speed up. I've done this for my pieces, seemed to work. Keep comparing to the well played professional pieces to make sure the timing is correct.
posted by TrinsicWS at 5:02 AM on July 4, 2012

I read chords, play by ear and can play almost anything. But Pachebel requires a classical approach. I actually faked it for a wedding writing out the Sorry!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:11 AM on July 4, 2012

You can absolutely work your way through Pachebel's Canon (on the sheet music or otherwise) and just memorize the whole thing. Muscle memory will take you a long way. Canon is reasonably well-suited to that because you just have to memorize chunks of 8 bars at a time.

I'm not a very good pianist (and I'm a terrifically slow sight reader on piano) but I have memorized a couple songs that are well above my skill level by working through them a bit at a time and memorizing the whole thing. Even after five years when I didn't have any access to a piano, I could sit down and roll out those songs because they're so well-stuck in my muscle memory.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:40 AM on July 4, 2012

I'm going to disagree with everybody. Pachelbel's chords are easy to learn and satisfying, even if you don't have the multiple voices worked out. When I was a kid learning the piano I had lots of fun screwing around on top of those chords with little bits of the melody that I knew. Maybe you're not going to learn the "authentic" song that way, but no version on the piano is authentic - it wasn't originally written for the piano.

D major
A major
B minor
F# minor
G major
D major
G major
A major

(okay, I lifted those from Wikipedia)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:43 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I were you I'd work on the Pachelbel separately, as a side project. It seems likely that the writer just wants you to come up with a song you are highly motivated to learn and will be very excited about once you have done. But since this is not a course for learning classical music, what he really means is "your favorite song that is not a classical work".

Developing the skills you need to play an arrangement of Pachelbel's canon will be a good and valuable experience to supplement this course, so you can work on it later or in parallel.

What's another song from the rock/pop/jazz that is perhaps not your MOST favorite ever but something you'd be quite pleased to know how to play? Use that to forward your work with this course.
posted by bunderful at 5:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

bookman117: "So does this mean that every popular song that's been written since jazz is vastly easier to learn how to play than Pachelbel's Canon? That's pretty frustrating."
Most pop music these days, if you're willing to take some artistic license, can be boiled down to a chord in the left hand and one finger playing a monophonic melody. Which is why your book, which teaches piano in this way, works. You can boil down a lot of older music to this, but you're right, not all of it is suited to do so.

Take Arabesque by Deubssy for example. Hit play and read over the music as it goes. See how the left hand can't just hit a chord? There's stuff going on there? And that's not to say that the right hand is doing anything crazy, for most of the song, it's melody isn't doing five million things at once. See also Chopin's Nocturne (Op9No2).
qxntpqbbbqxl: "Maybe you're not going to learn the "authentic" song that way, but no version on the piano is authentic - it wasn't originally written for the piano."
No, you're not. This guy can't even play it on an organ using two hands and two feet without having to rearrange bits of it.

So really, you need to make a trade off between your method (mash out a chord with the left hand [though in this case, your left hand would probably just play the moving bass] and use one finger to play a melody on your right hand, which is pretty much what Ljubljana said to do) and using two hands and two feet at an organ to desperately try to cover each of the four voices. There's a lot of in-betweens there.

(This is why I, as a brass player, think organ players are so neat, so much going on at once.)

Best of luck to you!
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:59 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

So does this mean that every popular song that's been written since jazz is vastly easier to learn how to play than Pachelbel's Canon? That's pretty frustrating.

Jazz can have complexities to it as well; it's not all right-hand melody and left-hand chords. Pop/rock music, yes, is indeed vastly easier than most classical music.

I started out on piano with a somewhat-classical, mostly-pop/rock/jazz teacher. A few years into it, I could sight-read rock stuff. Still can (I stopped taking lessons 15 years ago and, for many depressing reasons, couldn't play one for 12 of those). That's how easy it is.

Classical music, on the other hand, is really an art form. Your left and right hands have a much greater degree of independent movement, yet usually related at least in key, though sometimes not. It's best to find a classical teacher for that; the skills you need to work on and develop to play classical pieces are hard to learn just from books. The main reason is that so much of it has to do with developing your ear and learning in what myriad ways the piano is a string, percussion, and even wind instrument (if you've ever heard a classical piano solo, you can hear the piano "breathe").

Those considerations don't come into pop/rock so much. They can in jazz, it depends on the pianist and their style. As someone who transitioned into classical piano while also adoring jazz, I can't help but plug the insights into beauty and your own abilities that you can get from classical training – are you sure you don't want to learn to play classical piano? :) If you like Pachelbel, hoo boy, wait until you see all the stuff Bach wrote that doesn't get much media traction. And then there's Bartók! OMG. (This is coming from a girl who grew up unable to keep herself from playing "Louie Louie" and "Great Balls of Fire" on any and every available piano, btw.)
posted by fraula at 7:01 AM on July 4, 2012

Just learn to read music. It is absolutely not as hard as it seems and it is impossible to overstate how helpful it is for the rest of your musical life. Reading is by far the quickest way to learn a piece of music. This is true at all levels but increasingly true as complexity and difficulty levels rise.

At least consider it. I'm not sure why it seems like torture to everyone. Is it just uncool or something? It's hard to think of another branch of the arts in which such an integral, proven, useful tool is disdained out of hand so often.

Sure it takes time, but so does learning a piece of classical music by ear for a beginning piano student. Shrugz.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:10 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of us can read music but stink at sightreading no matter how much we practice. I agree it is a useful skill to have but classical playing is a whole different thing from jazz, rock or pop.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:51 AM on July 4, 2012

Response by poster: @Ljubljana: Yeah,that was really helpful. However, the only problem with it is that it doesn't indicate the fingering for the keys. I may just have to look into taking lessons from a classical piano teacher for this one song.
posted by bookman117 at 3:50 PM on July 4, 2012

Here's the answer for you: Pachelbel Meets U2, by Jon Schmidt

It's a brilliant merger between Canon in D and With or Without You. It's the classical piece, but jazzed up to meet your requirements.

I have played piano for about 20 years, and this is one of my favourites. It sounds great, it's not too hard to play, and it's fun too!

Check out how it sounds on YouTube!

You can purchase the sheet music off Jon Schmidt's website, although there is a free sample of a few pages to get you started.

Why I reckon it's a good one:
- It's the classical piece, arranged to suit your playing style
- The sheet music is written in understandable English, not Italian, and describes the hard-to-understand bits in plain language
- There are written side-notes to help you learn
- The sheet music includes fingering, where it's important
- It starts off easy, and builds as you get further through (so you can learn the first few lines, and see how you go!)

(Note: to a classical pianist, this might not sound appealing at all! My apologies if this post has offended any classical piano players)
posted by damian_ at 9:31 PM on July 4, 2012

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