Using Tennis Balls As A Teaching Tool

I don't know about you, but one of my purchases with my annual teacher supply check was a big ol’ container of tennis balls.

 

I know, Academy Sports isn’t really the place you’d normally think about purchasing school supplies...but just hear me out. Kids LOVE tennis balls. I obviously don’t use them everyday, but when we do, it instantly kicks things up a notch. And since I make the ground rules very clear from the beginning (not following directions EXACTLY as I’ve asked=loss of tennis ball) my students are usually extra focused. It's great for a change of pace, or those days when you feel like everyone is dragging a little bit.

I'm still brainstorming, but so far I’ve come up with several ways to use these lovely, neon balls as a great teaching tool in my classroom. (P.S.- The tuning in these videos is killing me softly. Sometimes, you can only focus on so many things. But never fear, I’ll show you my favorite tuning trick later this week!)

Steady Beat

Ok. This is kind of a given. But, 11-14 year olds are surprisingly bad at keeping a steady beat if you don’t continuously work with them! Have them sing anything they are familiar with, and keep the beat by bouncing the ball, then catching in their hand. Or, you could have them pair up, and bounce back and forth with their partner.

Vocal Range Exploration

Especially helpful with boys and their changing voices! I had them toss up at varying distances, and match their vocal sirens to the distance they threw.

Introducing Something New

Give ‘em something to do! They aren’t passively listening, or only looking in their music, but ACTIVELY listening and beginning to internalize the tempo of whatever you’re throwing at them. (Ha...accidental pun!)

Phrasing

While working on one of our pieces, I decided that we were going to address phrasing by alternating between bouncing, or tossing the ball in time. Tossing the ball is pretty wonderful for getting students to feel the amount of time they have to sustain the note, because they have to actively work to not only toss/catch the ball (which they mess up, a lot!), but they also have to concentrate to figure out the speed and distance to toss the ball so that they catch it at precisely the right time. Much like we do with our own instruments to create a musical sound!

Forward Motion and Energy

I had students run their tennis ball across the top of their forearms to physically feel the resistance and friction...which then transferred to their singing. You can see in the video that the students who are actively moving the correct way generally appear to sing a more musical phrase. So in general, if it looks right, it sounds right.

Accelerando and Ritardando

I don’t have a video of this one, but simply having the students bounce their tennis balls while you are playing or singing a tempo change is a great way for them to feel the transition together. Why? Because all of a sudden, everyone’s bouncing gets off if they aren’t trying to listen and feel what’s going on! I did this with my sixth grade students last week, and it cleaned up our accelerando/ritardando passages in a snap.

 

Plus, I mean, tennis balls are just fun!

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