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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Preparing for Perpetual Motion

Perpetual Motion marks the beginning of the intermediate section of Suzuki Violin Volume One and the halfway point of the book. In the first half of the book, the student learned many basic fundamental skills, including various bowing variations, fingering combinations (using the same finger pattern), and song formats. The student has learned notes on three strings but basically plays only two strings in general. Now it is time to step things up a bit and teach the child how to play on the D and G strings, how to use the pinkie, how to deepen the student's concentration and focus, and to strengthen the child's memory. Perpetual Motion will help to do all of that, but before we start working on the song, there are a few things that will help a student prepare for the song.

At this point, my students have been playing with their right thumb "outside" the frog. I am very careful about how my students place their thumbs on the outside frog. The purpose of this beginner bow hold is to help the child develop the habit of rounding the thumb. I have witnessed too many beginning school string programs where students learn the "inside" thumb bow hold from the start, and many of the students have collapsed thumbs that bend inward. This bending inward so that the thumb resembles a banana will prevent the student from later learning how to do specialized and advanced bowings, as the thumb flexibility is curtailed. (To read more about how I set up a beginner's bow hold, click here).

So to prevent this problem, I introduce my beginning students to the "outside" thumb bow hold. Once we reach Perpetual Motion, I officially introduce the "book 2 bow hold" to my students. Most students tell me that the new, regular bow hold is much more comfortable than the earlier outside thumb bow hold. Occasionally a student has difficulty making the change. One thing I consider is the timing of the bow hold. If I have a student who is taking a long time to get to Perpetual Motion, then I might introduce the book 2 bow hold earlier. This case would be the exception, because students should not be taking so long to get to Perpetual Motion unless there is some sort of learning issue.

I ask the student to review earlier songs (which should be happening all the time anyway at this stage), and ask the student to practice the new bow hold with each of the songs. Parents, your child may need to be reminded to play with the new bow hold because the other bow hold is a habit by now.

Although I introduce the use of the pinkie in the pretwinkle stage with the plucking song (for more information about the plucking exercise, click here), I actually do not encourage my students to use the pinkie in the earlier book 1 songs until Perpetual Motion. The revised edition does provide alternate fingerings that include the pinkie, but I prefer to save this for later. I think it is more helpful to teach the students how to cross strings properly. Once the student reaches Perpetual Motion, I begin my systematic campaign of building the pinkie habit. There are times to use a pinkie fingering and times when it is best not to do so. In the beginning, I teach my students certain fingerings and offer little explanation about why I make these choices. As time goes on and the student encounters fingering choices in later repertoire, I will then open up discussion about how to make appropriate fingering choices.

I have two previews for Perpetual Motion, and both previews involve the pinkie:
  • First, I introduce the first four notes in measure two: C#-D-E-C# using the finger pattern 2-3-4-2.
  • Second, I ask the student to prepare the C# (second finger) on the A string and prepare to hold him down while the student plays: E-C#-D-E with the finger pattern [prepare 2, then play] 4-2-3-E string.
  • My students practice these two pinkie previews about 10 times per day for a week.
In the meantime, I ask the practice parent to play the recording of Perpetual Motion extra times in addition to the regular listening program so that the student is definitely saturated with the recording of the song.
    I also ask my student to practice the one-octave A major scale. We already know this scale, but I make sure that the scale gets included again in the weekly lesson assignment. We practice the scale with the various Twinkle variation patterns, and I also introduce new rhythms and bowings to anticipate the Perpetual Motion variation bowing. I figure if the student is accustomed to playing all sorts of rhythms, then some of the "sting" of the Perpetual Motion variation bowing will be alleviated. The variation bowing will then become just another variation in a sea of variations and nothing to worry or obsess about. I have called it a variety of things: rabbit bows, jello bows, ribbit bows (aka Kermit the Frog), Yankee bows (as in "yank" the bow down), kitty bows, and pony bows.

    At first I introduce the bowing variation as a double bow with a rest, as Dr. Suzuki suggested in his practice tip for the Perpetual Motion variation. You can also incorporate physical rhythm games with this practice tip by having the child play the double note and then take a step forward in the rest. As the student learns how to coordinate this action better, the student also learns how to feel syncopation and offbeats. Later, the student can play the bowing variation without the rest.

    And finally, the last thing I might do, depending on the student, is introduce the first few notes. Usually I wait a week while the student improves the pinkie previews and builds the pinkie fingering habit contained in the two previews. At the very least, I might ask the student if he or she has figured out what the song's first note is, as I play it at the same time.

    I send the student and practice parent home with a practice assignment that includes the new bow hold, review songs that will use the new bow hold, the above previews, and the A scale with variations, including the double note variation that will show up in the Perpetual Motion variation. After a week of this specialized practice, I find the student is very well prepared to learn the rest of the notes of the song.

    1 comment:

    1. I found your blog today and absolutely love reading your posts! I think it's true about the introducing the bow thumb on the outside first. I unfortunately have not done that with some of my young students. One 6-yr old student is now on Perpetual Motion and does not seem to understand the bow hold even though we have gone over it many times. What do you think about introducing the thumb on the outside at this point until the bow hold is solid?
      Thanks for all your help already! :)