Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tutorial on my technique for writing a canon

I promised to write a tutorial on how to write a canon like the one I posted in my previous post Canon in 5, and I did.

The tutorial is 12 pages long, but most of that space is taken up by white-space and examples. You will probably get the most out of it if you already know how to read music, although strictly speaking it is not a requirement to already benefit from the material in the tutorial.

You can get the tutorial in .pdf format by clicking this link. You may have trouble downloading it with some versions of internet explorer. In that case use chrome or firefox instead.

You can listen to the result of the tutorial here:

Drop me a note if you've been able to use the techniques explained in there.


  1. Thank you, very well explained and helpful

  2. Very good explanation and examples. I've only recently begun to dabble in arranging and was looking for a genre that I could practice creating some short compositional works; I though of canons and happened upon this page.

    It always amazes me how composers pull so many ideas out of practically nothing an your examples reiterated that..... Began with three notes an ended with something built from that which sounds interesting and pleasing! I will get to work on something and see how it turns out.

    I have a question though. At the very beginning (writing a choral), I note that you have analyzed EACH note as a chord. Is that what typically happens in creating a choral? In arrangements that I have attempted (not choral), harmonic rhythm often changed from bar to bar or perhaps every few bars (and from time to time twice per bar eg in 4/4 time). So lets say I have a 4-bar melody with a chord progression of I, IV, V, I (a chord per bar), would I need to a analyze each note as an individual chord within the bar (as per your example)? Or do I write harmonies under each note based on the chord for that BAR?

    1. Hello Darrien. First of all let me thank you for reading the document and asking some questions. There's nothing more rewarding for someone writing a tutorial :)

      First of all, perhaps I should make it clear that the article illustrates only one possible approach to writing a canon. This is not the way most classically trained composers would approach the subject.

      Let me first explain that the big letters on top of the chords are really chord symbols (C stands for a C major chord, F for an F major chord and G for a G major chord). I could have chosen different chords like CMaj, F7, G7. In general I just took the simplest starting point I could think of.

      The reason for writing a chord progression to start with is that, once all the voices in the canon are playing simultaneously we want to guarantee that:
      - each voice plays a different note (it will be a different note from those starting chords)
      - each voice sounds together with all other voices (we will eventually hear these starting chords in a number of different inversions)

      By starting from these chords progressions, we guarantee the above two points by construction.
      If you want to write a four-voice canon, at each moment in time you should have 4 notes sounding in the starting progression. Nothing prevents you from repeating notes between/within bars.

      Suppose you want to make rythmic variations by writing e.g.

      1 bar I
      1 bar IV
      1/2 bar V + 1/2 bar IV
      1 bar I

      that's entirely possible (and highly recommended if you want to create something that goes beyond the toy example of the article). It is really just a way to "spice up" your choral or chord progression.

      I don't know if this answers your questions. If you get stuck, I'd be happy to take a look at what you have done so far, and where perhaps something got difficult. Most likely I'll learn something from it myself :)

  3. Hi I think I've figured out the process according to your tutorial. Many thanks. How can I send you the one I've completed to look at?

    1. Hello Darrien, I'm glad you managed to come up with something!
      Feel free to send something to 00e6972e@opayq.com (I'm using a temporary email address here because I'm not too keen on getting spam from bots visiting my blog)

  4. Stefaan, I sent you what I have done at the email address you offered. I look forward to your thoughts.

    1. Hallo Darrien. I'm very sorry to say that I must have messed up while creating the temporary email address. I didn't receive your mail, nor can I find back any trace of me creating that address :(. If you want, please feel free to try to send something to cbe544b4@opayq.com instead. This is another temporary address that I've just tested and it really should work this time.

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