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In this excllent article from 1980, Lorna MacPhee offers practical, insightful strategies for using Canons in your classroom. Essential reading. Scroll down for free sheet music!

Canons As Reading Weaponry
By Lorna MacPhee

Ukulele Yes! Vol. 5, No. 1 (1980). pp. 7-10

Like inventors eternally trying to build a better mousetrap, we who teach Ukulele seem to be caught in an endless quest for a foolproof reading device. It doesn't exist, of course, and if we would just remember that, two things would be accomplished:

  1. We would not feel so automatically discouraged by the problem readers in our classes, and
  2. We would use every means at our disposal to encourage the development of literacy, knowing that no one approach will be the answer but that every little bit helps.
Canons meet the needs of the Ukulele teacher in may ways and can be a prime source of material for classroom reading development.

Toward the end, I have been giving a lot of time and thought to Canons this year. Like most of you, I'm sure, I have always used certain Canons simply because they are part of our old familiar song repertoire. However, once I began seeking out and using more and more Canons, I discovered many wonderful not-so-familiar ones, not to mention other I'd heard but forgotten. More importantly, I found that Canons meet the needs of the Ukulele teacher in may ways and can be a prime source of material for classroom reading development.

Take a Canon you know well (Frère Jaques, for example) and examine it in relation to the following considerations for your Ukulele class.

  • Read through the whole Canon in unison before grouping students for part work. This is an appropriate approach if the class members are at a fairly uniform reading level.
  • To handle a variety of reading levels in the class, isolate the separate phrases of the Canon and assign them in order of difficulty to the students, whom you will have similarly grouped according to ability. In this approach, each group would be responsible for only one phrase or line -- although certainly your best students should be encouraged to try playing the whole Canon.
  • Canons with lyrics can be used both instrumentally and vocally. After note-reading has familiarized them with the melody, have the class sing the Canon, too, both in unison and in harmony. (This is particularly useful with first-year Uke classes because:
    • a) students at this level need to be encouraged to concentrate on singing, and
    • b) these students sometimes are not yet adept enough at reading and picking to enjoy a straight instrumental arrangement for its own sake, so vocalizing can help keep interest high.
  • Through the playing of Canons, the students' scale work is given a very direct and highly musical application.
    Rhythmic variety is invariably a component of Canon structure and thereby guarantees a challenge to students' rhythm understanding.
  • The individual phrases of a Canon are frequently based on a scale sequence. Also, patterns of scales in thirds are often contained within a given phrase or are exposed when two phrases are played simultaneously. Further, contrary motion is a common contrasting element between phrases. These three scale-rooted characteristics mean that through the playing of Canons, the students' scale work is given a very direct and highly musical application.
  • Chances are good that the Canon you've chosen can be adapted for tremolo technique -- either measured, continuous, or both. This is true of most Canons, and means that by increasing your Canon repertoire you will also guarantee yourself a supply of new tremolo material.

Overall, I would say our main pedagogical reason for using Canons is the same one that has made them so popular in choral work. It is the easiest way to students into part work early. You might also like to seek out some of the Canons written in minor keys to help balance our tendency toward major keys in Ukulele picking repertoire. Lastly, keep in mind that even though Canon form is old hat to you, there is nothing to match the musical excitement children receive from learning a single song and then suddenly having it become "Instant Harmony."

There is nothing to match the musical excitement children receive from learning a single song and then suddenly having it become "Instant Harmony."

The first two Canons provided here are ones I have found particularly useful for 1st year classroom work. Unfortunately I could find no accompanying lyrics, but this is perhaps a challenge you could offer your students as they're learning to play them.

The third Canon is excellent for second-year students, and can be played in 3 to 9 parts. It is the all-time great for meeting individual reading needs. I know there are lyrics for the bases but have been unable to locate them. Can you help?

Canon 1: Russian Lullaby (PDF Format)

C6 Tuning (g, c, e, a)
D6 Tuning (a, d, f#, b)

Canon 2: Purcell Canon (PDF Format)

C6 Tuning (g, c, e, a)
D6 Tuning (a, d, f#, b)

Canon 3: Beethoven Canons (PDF Format)

C6 Tuning (g, c, e, a)
D6 Tuning (a, d, f#, b)

Suggested sources for canons are:

Rounds for Everyone from Everywhere edited by Salli Terri, Lawson Gould Music Publishes, Inc (G. Schirmer, Inc. New Your, N.Y. -- Selling Rep.): Almost 80 canons from all over the world, all with English lyrics, many by Classical composers.

Girl Guide/Scout Campfire Songbooks. Your should be able to run one to ground through the local Association. These songbooks are available in several volumes, one of which, I believe, is devoted exclusively to canons.

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A veteran ukulele teacher, experienced workshop clinician, and regular contributor to Ukulele Yes! magazine, Lorna MacPhee (1946-2009) served as ukulele specialist in Langley, BC, Canada in the mid-1970s during which time she founded the Langley Ukulele Ensemble. In addition to her work as a music teacher, Lorna lent her proof-reading and editing talents to numerous publications including The Walrus and Literary Review of Canada.

For more free re-prints of vintage Ukulele Yes! articles, click here.

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