Who’ll Buy My Roses: a canon for the elementary music classroom

I was looking through unfamiliar folk songs last week, when I happened upon Who’ll Buy My Roses. It’s one of the many folk songs I’ve discovered through the Holy Names University Collection. I think this song would be fantastic for teaching a variety of concepts, such as 6/8 meter, so-do, and canons. There isn’t much readily available information about this song, but you can read more about the source here.


I’ve witnessed first-hand the joy and awe on students’ faces when they first sing in harmony. Students usually experience this for the first time through partner songs and canons in their elementary music classes. From that foundation, they can move on to more complex harmonies, like those found in choirs. Eventually, they might even improvise their own harmony to accompany songs on the radio, which as all music teachers know, is one of the great joys of life 😉

However, the steps to reaching even simple harmonies are important. How you choose to sequence your steps will depend on your unique classroom situation, but here are the steps that I’ve found helpful:

  • Partner songs are a great start for learning how to sing in harmony, such as Frére Jacques/Three Blind Mice. You can even add in some fun movement, like they did in the video below. The benefit of beginning with partner songs, is that students are singing different melodies and won’t be tempted to “switch to the other side”, as they might when singing in rounds. You can teach the songs separately over several class periods, giving students more time to internalize the songs and sing more confidently on their own.
  • Spread the learning over several class periods. Perhaps you have a musically gifted class, and you think they can sing in a round on the same day that they learned the song. While this may indeed be possible for some students, I would urge you to take more time than you think they’ll need. Singing in harmony for the first time should feel effortless to students, which in turn, will make them eager to do it again!
  • Model the second part first to gauge whether your students are ready to move on. For example, if you’re singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat in a round, sing the second part by yourself first. If your students are able to continue singing their part confidently on pitch, then that’s an indication that they’re ready to try the second part for themselves.
  • Once your students start singing in canon on their own, don’t sing with them. If they’re truly prepared to sing in harmony, then they won’t need your help. If they falter, and aren’t able to continue, then that’s an indication to move back one step (or more) in your sequence. Plus, it’s good practice to not sing with your students, no matter how tempted you may be.
  • Praise their success and emphasize their independence. Once they’ve sung in harmony successfully, celebrate with them. Praise them. Emphasize how they did it all on their own. Then, step back, let them sing it again, and bask in the moment.