Clearing the rust off Perpetual Motion

Last week, we got a little bogged down in Perpetual Motion. It’s the piece M will be playing for the statewide Suzuki graduation in March, so I asked her to play it on Tuesday or Wednesday. To my surprise, the form was incredibly unreliable: M would skip entire sections.

I thought we were mostly past this stage, because she’s been getting the form of her newer songs down with almost no difficulty (i.e., A Toye, Suzuki’s Allegro). So I was having flashbacks in our home practices last week.

I tried a few things to help M listen to herself better. First, I had her just sing the song. She was pretty reliable. Then, I had her play along with the CD (you have to tune your guitar a fraction of a semitone sharp to match the CD’s pitch). This was a challenge, because the CD is really fast, and she got frustrated with it. I also had her play with the metronome at a pretty good clip, because when she plays slowly, she just lets her mind wander. This all helped some, but didn’t make things entirely reliable. In particular, even if she remembered the form, she often left out any dynamic contrast in the first 4 and last 4 bars.

I do think an analogy helped. At the end of one practice, I asked her, “What’s 4+4?” “Eight,” she replied. “Yes,” I said, “and you never get that wrong, do you? You never answer ‘seven’ or ‘nine,’ because you know it. What’s 4+4?” “Eight.” “Yes. You always get it right, because you know it. And that’s what the form of Perpetual Motion should be like. When you play it, you should always get it right. It’s like knowing 4+4. That’s how you should know the form of this song.”

I’ve since used this analogy again, and I think it helps. As shorthand, I can just say, “You know the form. It’s like knowing 4+4.”

Now, when she played it at her private lesson on Saturday, it still had some problems. Notably, her right hand — which has been getting so much steadier — reverted to old, grabby habits, and she still didn’t add any dynamic contrast to the opening and closing bars (what we call the A1-A2 sections). But she did get the form right, and she got it right again today. So that’s progress.

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