How to Teach Perpetual Motion

Suzuki’s Perpetual Motion in Volume 1 is a play on a genre of compositions written for virtuosic performance – the Moto Perpetuo (in Italian), music that has a long flow of rapid notes, for example Rimsky-Kosakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee and Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo for violin. My favourite recording of Moto Perpetuo is by Gil Shaham, but you should watch Yehudi Menuhin play it 0n Youtube. It is the essence of old world restraint and violin mastery.

Suzuki’s PM is popular with young players – it’s a lot of fun to play, especially the ‘doubles’ section. Playing it together in a larger group, I love watching the faces of the younger players light up as we hit the semiquavers (sixteenth notes). Once again, Dr Suzuki has come up with music that teaches technique in an enjoyable way.

What are the key points of this piece? Let’s look at two main areas: bowing and left hand.

Bowing

Perpetual Motion requires shorter detached bows, similar to Song of the Wind. In the lesson or studying it at home it is a good idea to play earlier pieces that have similar bow strokes. It will be easier to achieve if students have learned the stopped bows in Song of the Wind and the first two Twinkle variations correctly from the start.

The tempo is quicker in this piece, so it is best to practise the strokes on open A string at a slower tempo, gradually increasing the tempo until it can be played with the recording. This may take more than one session, especially with younger students, Give each stroke a crisp beginning and taking care not to press the bow at the end of the stroke. Aim to create a short resonant tone, leaving the bow on the string after each stroke.

Because this type of bow stroke is so important, it is well worth patiently persisting with. Even very young players can achieve a nice stopped bow without sounding too squeaky. Is this your experience? I’d be interested to hear how you are going with it.

Left Hand

As a rule of thumb, we leave fingers down in the ascending passages, but in bar 2, when placing 4th on E, lift 3rd finger to prepare for the C#.

Perpetual Motion excerpt

 

Learn in small chunks. Even as small as four notes at a time. (See my post How Children Learn.) I tell parents and skeptical students: this is the quick way to memorise. The slow way is to read over and over from the beginning to the end, fixing mistakes on the way! This is especially true for phrase No. 3 (from bar 9).

This needs more practice to memorise and play fluently than the other sections, especially the first four notes of bar 10. The key is to keep 2nd finger down when placing 4th.

PM study B

Teaching Tip for 4th Finger

Make the 4th finger exercise into a little challenge for the student. Let’s see who can play it correctly the greatest number of times. I’ll go first. Keeping 2nd down on C#, play it slowly and carefully, stopping the bow on every stroke – counting each 4-2. After 7 times or so, deliberately make a mistake. The two most common mistakes are moving the bow before the 4th finger is set; and an out of tune E.

Oh, I made a mistake. Your turn. 

The student beats your mark, but inevitably speeds up and makes a mistake. Laughter.

Okay, my turn again. I’m going to be very careful this time. Teacher sets a new record, but speeds up and the wheels fall off.

After several turns the student is playing correctly and cleanly. Now play the short segment at bar 10.

Perpetual Motion exercise for 4th finger

 The Semiquaver Variation

When students can play the whole piece fluently from memory, begin working on the variation.  The rapid bowing is lots of fun and prepares for sautillé bowing in later repertoire.

I play quick a down-up on an open A for the student to imitate. We keep going until they are consistently replying with a clear tone.

PM study D

 

 

Now I demonstrate the next step – learning how to play it. I start by playing the first two As, pause – then quickly placing 1st on B, before playing the Bs. Separating the finger and bow actions establishes good coordination, which is simply actions in the correct order. Even though there is a deliberate unhurried pause, place the finger quickly. It must be ready ahead of time, before the bow moves.

Now play the first bar in the same way.

Perpetual Motion semiquaver study

 Now practise this downbow-upbow, stop technique right through the variation. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making sure the finger is in place before the bow moves. As the quick placement of fingers improves, the pauses can be gradually reduced. If you hear an uncoordinated bow and finger, stop immediately and practise again with pauses. Don’t speed up beyond the capacity to play correctly. Be patient – it will come together beautifully if you follow this method.

Take the bow off the string with a flourish after the last long note at the end of the variation.

Musical Expression – putting it all together

Feeling the beat:

  1. Start by bringing out two beats in the bar – as shown by the plain and squiggly arrows below.
  2. Next move the focus to the first beat in each bar, without losing touch with the second beat.
  3. Finally broaden out to an awareness of the beat at the start of each two bars, as the shape of the phrase becomes clearer.

Perpetual Motion beats and phrasing

 Dynamics:

Create crescendos and decrescendos as the melody rises and falls by making longer – and therefore quicker – strokes. A softer repeat of the two bar phrase in the 3rd section at bar 10 adds a nice touch. As fluency improves in the variation, it’s fun to increase the excitement by building crescendos within the bar – see below.

Perpetual Motion Variation dynamics

 

 

In Japan, Suzuki had a lot of fun with the variation. He held speed competitions for us to see who could play it fastest, collapsing in laughter as the wheels fell off. Then he paired us up to play alternate notes of the variation at a quick tempo. The aim was to make it sound seamless – as if one person was playing. It’s a great game for more advanced students.

Well, friends that’s it for now. I hope you find this post useful. I’ll put up the video for slow study here. Just register to view.

I’d like to hear how you go at teaching or learning Perpetual Motion and sharing your insights with other TSV members.

Thanks for visiting Teach Suzuki Violin – see you next time!

Cheers, John.

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