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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Perpetual Motion: How I Teach It

In a previous post, I discussed the two pinkie finger pattern previews that I introduce when I begin to teach Perpetual Motion. To read more about these previews, click here.

Usually the student will figure out the first few notes of the song, but in some cases, I may need to introduce these first few notes: A – B – C# - C#
The song is full of patterns and provides ample opportunities for discussion about patterns in the context of ear training. For example, the first four notes of the song are then repeated in the same pattern, but the notes start one note higher in pitch.

After the student has figured out the first eight notes, then we add the first of the pinkie previews (C#-D-E with pinkie-C# or 2-3-4-2 finger pattern on the A string).

Then we add the last four notes of the phrase, which end with the open E string:

So now the student can play the first two measures:

All that is left to learn is to repeat the same phrase again with the same notes but change the last two notes to the open A string:

At this point, I tell the student that they know half of the song, because the first phrase and the last phrase are the same. I send the student home with the assignment of playing the first phrase of the song along with a continuation of the previous assignment of the pinkie previews.

Often the student will return to the next lesson and present me with the second phrase of the song already figured out, especially if the practice parent has diligently played a recording of the song every day since the previous lesson. If not, then I work with the student to figure out the second phrase. I use the same teaching technique of talking about patterns. Note that the first three groups of four notes in the second phrase are the same pattern but each successive group starts a note lower than the previous group:

We talk about the two different endings, with the first ending on the E string and the second finishing on the A string.
The student may go home with the assignment of two phrases of the song now. This depends on the student. I make a judgment call as to whether the student is ready to move on or whether the student needs to solidify things over the coming week before adding even more new stuff.

Sometimes students figure out some of the notes of the third part on their own, but if not and the student is ready to learn the third part, I begin by introducing the first four notes.
We talk about how these four notes are different from the first four notes. For example, the first notes of the song proceed in stepwise fashion. The first four notes of part three proceed with a backwards skip first and then stepwise.

Then we talk about patterns again, and I show the student how the next four notes follow a similar pattern as the first four notes, but starting one note higher.
 Since my student has practiced the pinkie previews for a few lessons now, it takes just a minute to add the second pinkie preview part to the song, and the student adds the rest.

I usually need to remind my students that the two measures that begin part three need to be repeated a second time. I find that students consistently attempt a short cut and skip the repeated two measures. Students also forget to play the fourth part, which is just a repetition of the first part. I have to be vigilant to step in and prevent the student from jumping right into the variation without playing the fourth part.

At this point, the student can play the main part of the Perpetual Motion song. We continue to work on our staccato bows and check that our pinkie previews are still working properly. There are six pinkies in Perpetual Motion in the manner that I finger the song, so we play the penny game. I lay out six pennies and check to see if the student can earn a penny for each pinkie that the student finds correctly.

Later Problems (or just later)

This song provides opportunities to practice so many other skills to be introduced in the later Suzuki repertoire. Here are just a few examples:
  • We transpose the song into Bb in book two to prepare for Gavotte from Mignon ((book 2, #9).
  • We use the song in group classes to strengthen our ensemble skills:
    • We form a line down the middle of the room with chairs, then we weave around the chairs from one side of the room to the other in “follow the leader” fashion. When on one side of the room, the students play the main song. When on the other side, the students play the variation.
    • We play “start and stop” game. While playing, I stop periodically to see if I can “catch” anyone who is not paying attention.
    • We play “radio” game. While playing, I will turn the imaginary radio button to the “off” position. The students stop playing but keep the song going in their heads. Then I turn the volume “on” again. If everyone kept the tempo in their heads, then we will all be playing again in the same place.
    • We play “pass it along” game. I play a few notes, perhaps four, and then the next student plays the next four, and so on until we have gone around the room and played the song. We play variations on this game until the students are ultimately able to play just one note of the song at a time. I teach the students how to silently play along with their fingers so that they keep their place while other students are playing.
  • We use the songs with more advanced students to work on more advanced technical skills.
    • We use our Bb transposition fingering for Perpetual Motion and learn how to play in higher positions. For more information about how I use this idea to teach higher positions, click here:
    • We insert an open E string in between the notes of the song and use our pinkie to finger the written E in the song. We use this new Perpetual Motion to practice our string crossing skills, especially for playing in early book 4, such as the Seitz Concerto no. 5, first movement (Seitz 2). We practice these string crossings with and without slurs.
    • We learn how to increase the number of notes we can play in an up bow staccato. Here is an example where we have increased the number of up bows to 15 in one bow:
Perpetual Motion is full of gems for teaching many skills and for group class activities. In addition, I use the song to teach finger and bow coordination. I will save this discussion for another post.

Next stop: Perpetual Motion variation!


  1. Excellent post! Love it! Thank you!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! We find new ideas all the time. I try and keep Perpetual Motion and Etude in our review sights all the time because we invent so many new ways to play them both.