Teaching Students About the Composer, Johann Pachelbel


Classical music has played a significant role in shaping musical history, and one piece that has stood the test of time is Canon in D by German composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706). It’s a simple, elegant and catchy composition that has become ubiquitous at weddings and other special events, as well as being featured in numerous films, commercials, and pop renditions. To foster a deep appreciation for this timeless masterpiece, it’s essential to teach students about the life and work of its creator.

Early Life & Background

Johann Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg, Germany, during the Baroque period of music. He came from a family of modest means but showed exceptional musical talent early on. He studied under prominent figures such as Heinrich Schwemmer for music theory and Hans Christoph Bach for organ playing. At age 19, he enrolled at the Altdorf University to study philosophy and musicology, where his initial compositions took root.

Musical Career & Achievements

Pachelbel held various positions as an organist and composer throughout his life. Some notable positions included being an organist at St. Lorenz Church in Nuremberg and St. Sebaldus Church in Erfurt. Additionally, he served as court organist for the Ducal Court of Saxe-Gotha.

Throughout his career, Pachelbel composed numerous works for organ and other keyboard instruments, chamber music ensembles, vocalists, and sacred choral music. However, his most renowned piece was undoubtedly Canon in D, which he wrote around 1680.

Canon in D – A Lasting Legacy

Although Pachelbel created many masterpieces during his lifetime, it was Canon in D that became synonymous with his name. This captivating piece employs a harmonic progression that was groundbreaking, simple, and captivating. Over time, the canon emerged as an emblem for Baroque polyphonic music.

Despite being centuries old, Canon in D has maintained its continued popularity. Notably, the iconic melody has been utilized in various genres and influenced works by modern composers such as Brian Eno, Hans Zimmer, and Thomas Newman.

Teaching Canon in D to Students

When introducing students to Pachelbel’s legacy and his hit composition Canon in D, educators should employ a multi-faceted approach:

Historical context: Educate students about the Baroque period of music, highlighting the style’s recognizable characteristics. Describe Pachelbel’s life and career, as well as his contributions to the advancement of classical music.

Musical analysis: Break down the structure of Canon in D and explain its innovative interpretation of harmony and melody at the time of its creation. Encourage students to partake in a guided listening session where they can identify various elements of the piece.

Performance & interpretation: Engage students in playing a simplified or adapted version of Canon in D on their respective instruments or singing as part of a choir. Discuss interpretations from different performers and explore how this piece has been arranged for various ensembles.

Contemporary relevance: Lastly, show students examples of how Pachelbel’s Canon has permeated modern culture and transcended genres by sharing versions of the composition from popular music, film scores, advertisements, and more.


By immersing students in the world of Johann Pachelbel and his iconic creation Canon in D, they will develop a profound appreciation for both classical music and the composer himself. With its enduring popularity and adaptability across genres, this masterpiece exemplifies how timeless art can transcend historical periods and continue to inspire generations to come.

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