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10+ Reasons you need more canons

December 9, 2022

In the forever quest to find appropriate repertoire for our students, teaching professionals often overlook the effectiveness of short songs. Fun Fact! Rounds and canons are engaging song studies with endless opportunities for students of all ages. Here are ten (plus) reasons to introduce more rounds and canons to students of all ages⁠.

1. Canons are exciting and beautiful to sing
I fondly remember singing Make New Friends and Fire’s Burning at the end of my Girl Guide meetings and singing those ‘silly’ songs with my family around the campfire. When I began my formal vocal training, I found harmony singing easy and enjoyed many opportunities in choral settings.

As I private voice teacher, I did not see the opportunities of simple songs for building foundational singing skills until I was introduced to beautiful rounds in my Kodály training. It is important to note that many of our young singers may not have the opportunities to sing together as we did, so sharing this music is a joy for teachers and students.

2. Canons are simple solo melodies
We often think students should learn canons when they are “ready” to sing with others. Beginner students can enjoy learning these simple songs while developing confidence and harmony singing skills. Rounds have lovely melodies that can be enjoyed as a solo line.

⁠3. Canons make for engaging warm-ups
Seriously, please stop making students sing boring exercises at the piano! Fun, quirky, little songs for the win! Bonus points if you teach the song unaccompanied, allowing singers to focus on singing out confidently. Extra bonus points for incorporating movements. (Private teachers, don’t think this work is just for small group classes or choirs. Partnering with the teacher in two-part singing exercises is skill-building work and super-fun activities in a private lesson.)

4. Canons are effective active listening/ear-training exercises
Singing your part accurately while hearing other people sing the harmony is challenging for all ages. Many of your older students, including beginner adults, will appreciate the opportunity to work on harmony singing skills with their peers. Starting with a catchy round or canon can be fun.

Simple canons for young beginners:

Cat and Dog Canons
are fun song studies and offer skill-building singing opportunities. This download includes Calling All Dogs and Cats Are Fine and music reading and singing challenges for each song.

More beginner-level canons:
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Frère Jacques/Are You Sleeping?
I Love the Mountains
Sweetly Sings the Donkey
Oh, How Lovely Is the Evening

Canons for more experienced singers:

Four Seasons Harmony Studies by Glyn Lehmann is a collection of songs introducing young singers to different harmony singing activities. Included in this song download package is Summer Somersaults. A 3-part round with a fun reggae beat, this seasonal canon can be performed unaccompanied or with the piano part.

Harmony Llamas by Donna Rhodenizer are singing adventures for choirs and small ensembles. This package includes both a major and minor version of the canon. This song is perfect for middle or high school singers.

More intermediate rounds and canons:

White Coral Bells
This Pretty Planet by Tom Chapin (This one is beautiful!)

4a. Melodic Ostinati are Harmony Singing Starting Points
Many simple beginner rounds offer melodic ostinati that can be a practical starting point for learning to hold your part. Rounds that have great melodic ostinati: 

Ghost of John⁠ (Ghost of John, Ghost of John…)
Chairs to Mend  Any old rags, any old rags…) 
Hey, Ho, Nobody Home (Hey, ho, nobody home…)

5. Canons are exciting, dynamic volume studies
Singing canons while exploring contrasting dynamics is an excellent technical exercise for all ages.⁠ Varying the dynamics within the canon can bring new excitement to a performance.

6. Canons are even more engaging and fun with gesturing and body percussion
Exercises that assist in developing rhythm and feel are essential for all singers. Simple gestures help young singers remember the words.

Make-you-want-to-move rounds:

Pizza Hut Song (Gestures for the food)
Fish and Chips and Vinegar/One Bottle of Pop (Gestures and movement)⁠

7. Rounds and Canons for audience participation activities
Ask your audience to participate in a simple canon as part of your next recital A great group warm-up and a way to keep everyone entertained.

7a. Simple canons are reflective moments in recitals or performances
Simple canons can bring special moments to a performance. Many pieces can be arranged to suit the event.

Peace on Earth by Glyn Lehmann

Peace on Earth by Glyn Lehmann is a beautiful seasonal canon for all ages. Simple chordal accompaniment mimics church bells ringing and allows the voices and harmonies to shine.

More sacred and seasonal rounds:
Dona Nobis Pacem

8. Canons are fabulous ice-breaker activities.
You know the awkwardness of first lessons. A fun little song that students can learn quickly and enjoy will get your lessons off to a productive start! ⁠I struggled with my first introductory small group class as all my little singers were too shy to sing out. Until I introduced the Pizza Hut Song. (The same melody as A Ram Sam Sam) They didn’t sing it as a round, but they enjoyed the song SO much that it became a go-to for the kids and a tool to explore other musical concepts. Most importantly, it gave them the courage to participate.

9. Canons are composing/arranging studies for young musicians
Performers can be creative by arranging the canon or creating melodic and rhythmic ostinati for expressive and exciting performances. Throw some percussive instruments in for a challenge!

10. Canons build all ’round singing confidence. ⁠(ha! see what I did here?)

Check out episode 173 of the FULL VOICE Podcast with music education specialist and children’s composer Donna Rhodenizer. Donna and Nikki share favourite rounds and teaching strategies for all ages.

A special thank you to Beth’s Notes https://www.bethsnotesplus.com/ for the wonderful website for music educators. (This website is one of my favourite go-to’s!) We have shared many links to her resources in this article. Be sure to sign up for her newsletter!

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