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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Perpetual Motion: Double Trouble


Perpetual Motion is in two parts: the main song part, consisting of staccato eighth notes, and the variation, consisting of detaché sixteenth notes. For more articles about Perpetual Motion and how I teach the main staccato note part of the song, including group class and later advanced skill introduction ideas, visit these posts:

Sometimes a student will figure out the double note variation on his or her own. Occasionally I have to give more direction. I prefer to give the student more leeway to figure out the variation on their own, because I believe that the more the student experiments, the quicker he or she will learn how to pick out notes for a song that they do not know. There is some sort of magic that happens in the connection between the listening ear and the searching fingers. Once a student learns how to “let go” and allow the fingers to experiment with finding the notes and pitches that the ear hears, the student will have successfully developed the skill of picking out songs by ear.

Some students learn this skill quickly and early in book 1. Other students develop this skill later over time, and I find that it helps if I get involved a little in this process. I have learned over the years though to be careful about how much I do. I have little trouble playing by ear. I have been playing for a very long time and have gotten quite good at it. If I am not careful, I can actually cause a student to hesitate even more because they are afraid of making a mistake in front of me. I realize that I have to be a careful guardian of my attitude and reaction while I watch a student work through this “picking out” phase. Sometimes the process seems so easy to me, but I must remind myself that this is not the case for several students.

Teaching the Karate Chop

If I do need to involve myself with teaching a student how to play the double note variation, I start out first with teaching the double note bow stroke. I want to point out to my readers that I do not believe the stroke is just two notes. For the sake of future clarity of articulation and finger-bow coordination, I work with students to teach the stroke as an impetus stroke. Let me give an example as an explanation of what I mean, and I may need to submit a video to show you how this works.

There is a karate “chop” called a knife-edge strike. This is the striking blow that uses the hand in a straightened form, aiming to strike the opponent with the heel side of the hand, or the “knife edge.” Most people recognize this stroke as the one normally associated with breaking bricks or boards. I myself use this stroke to punch out the plastic parts of lids on coffee creamer and Parmesan cheese containers. If I strike the lids with a knife-edge stoke just so, the heel of my hand will punch out those plastic inserts with little effort. I digress. Let me get back to the example of an impetus stroke.

When someone throws a karate knife-edge stroke, the force is directed at the throw of the stroke (or the down bow direction, if you will allow me this comparison). No attention is given to the natural rebound that occurs with the karate chop. There is no need, as the hand naturally recoils after making the initial strike. The out-and-back strike does not have equal parts. The down bow and up bow components of the strike are not equal. If I tried to do a knife-edge chop with equal down and up bow impetus, I would dissipate my blow’s force (and look ridiculous in the process). To be effective in my karate chop, I need to focus my attention and effort into the strike itself, the down bow pull. The strike is a "bam" move in one motion, not a "1-2" move in two parts.

This is exactly how I teach my students to play the double note variation stroke in Perpetual Motion. The variation has had many suggested words: jello, rabbit, darn-it. I sometimes use “yank it!” I teach students to give a strong pull on the down bow and let the up bow rebound take care of itself in terms of rhythmic impetus and weight. Over time the student will focus less on how to create this stroke and will just play.

Why is this double note stroke different than Variation E and the four note rhythmic stroke of the Twinkle Variations? I am not sure, but it certainly is different, as any experienced teacher will tell you. Playing the double note sixteenth notes presents different physical challenges for the left and right hands, and that is my purpose in teaching the variation in this way.

Practice Tip

Dr. Suzuki includes a practice tip for the variation in which the student plays two sixteenth notes followed by an eighth rest:

 I use this exercise in one of two possible ways:
  • I may use this exercise to teach a student how to play the variation.
  • I may use this exercise later to help a student to “clean up” any messiness between the bow and finger coordination.

How I Teach the Variation

I ask my student to play the first four notes of the main song: A-B-C#-C#. Then I ask the student to double the notes: A-A-B-B-C#-C#-C#-C#. The students usually get this, but occasionally a student will be a little confused about the double C#. In these cases we chant: “double – double – double trouble.” Here is what I mean:

This seems to help a student grasp the double note concept and the double-double note places throughout the song. I send the student home with the assignment of getting easier with the double notes variation for the first part of Perpetual Motion. Usually the student comes back with the rest of the variation figured out. If not, I just help out at whatever part of the song the student has reached.

Later Problems (or Just Later)

The biggest problem that shows up later is that students forget the song's variation ends with one note. Even teachers have been known to forget this. I like to tell my students that audiences fall asleep or stop paying attention. When we end with one note, we are in effect alerting the audience that the song is ending and it is time to wake up and clap. In some cases, students get pretty lazy about remembering to end the song with one note. In these serious cases of just plain inattention, I make a big dramatic display of putting my hand to my head and exclaiming, "Oh no! You forgot the one last note at the end! Now we have to play the WHOLE SONG again!" It only takes one or two times of this, and a student will remember the one note at the end. I do have a good time playing the drama queen though.

Most later problems include messy bow and finger coordination. Either the bow changes in a mishmash with the fingers in the double note variation, or  the fingers do not change quickly enough for the bow to catch the note changes cleanly in the main part of the song. For the first problem, I have already discussed how I use Dr. Suzuki's exercise with the added eighth note rests as a way to help students clean up their articulation.

In the second problem, the lateness of the left hand finger placement on the fingerboard causes the bow to make unwanted scooping sounds, as if the student were trying to play slurs between the notes:

For this problem where the fingers do not change quickly enough for the bow in the first variation, I try another idea. I have the student play the first four notes very slowly, as if there were an eighth rest between each note:

I teach the student to place the finger down in between the notes, and I try to help the student do this in a sort of rhythm.

Note that nothing happens between the C# double notes. We say "vacation" in between these notes so that the student does not do anything in this place.

What is the value of this practice exercise? If you were to videotape yourself playing a song and then replay the recording in excruciating slow motion, you would discover that your finger anticipates your bow ever so slightly. This is a mental exercise as well as a physical one. The students have to figure out how to coordinate the timing of the finger placement of the left hand in between the right hand bow articulation. This is a very powerful exercise, and I also use it with some of my university students on occasion. We are never too old or advanced to learn from simple foundations and basics!

As I have observed before, Perpetual Motion is a fruitful garden of ideas. Whenever you need to teach a student a skill or fix something that is not working well, you will find that Perpetual Motion provides an excellent backdrop for whatever you are trying to teach.

Happy Perpetual Motion!


  1. Thanks for the karate chop analogy. I usually use throwing darts, but that might not work with younger kids. The more ways we have of teaching things the better!

  2. It probably just boils down to teaching with what is familiar. I took karate, and there is a martial arts studio a few doors down from my studio, which my students are familiar with.

  3. Dear Paula,

    I love your blog and am very grateful.

    What I am not sure about is when do you actually introduce the right hand wrist movement? Do you talk about this when students doing the "double" variation? Or, would you leave it for later? Many thanks, Duya.

    1. Thank you, Duya! I enjoy writing the blog, and I've recently started podcasting. You may find it on iTunes under "teach suzuki."

      I don't actually "introduce" the wrist movement unless I notice that the student is not "getting it" when they play. Many students do it just fine, but there are a few students who tend to have to turn everything I suggest into "to do" things, and that is when I see this simple motion turn into a 1-2 step motion. When I see it, then I introduce it. If I do not see it, then I leave things alone.

      Isn't teaching fun? Everyone is different. Every lesson and teaching point is different. Every day is different!