Teaching Tips

Using a Ball in Piano Lessons

April 15, 2018

“Mrs. Sue, last week you said we could play with the ball at our next piano lesson.”  A brother and sister were bouncing eagerly (no pun intended, but it’s a good one!) in front of me, looking hopeful. I grabbed a ball (smaller than a beach ball, bigger than a soccer ball, one of those pre-inflated balls) and said “okay!”

We quickly formed a triangle. I said “music alphabet, going forwards”.  Singing the alphabet song, I held the beach ball first and sang “A”, tossed it to one of the kids, who sang “B”, threw it to their sibling who sang “C” etc.  After a couple of rounds, when I got the ball, I said “music alphabet, going backwards”, and continued the modified alphabet song singing it backwards.

It’s a great physical activity that gets the student up and off the piano bench during their piano lesson.

Besides pre-teaching or reviewing the music alphabet, either forwards or backwards or intervals of seconds (what I call next door neighbours) or intervals of thirds (what I call skips), I also use a ball with rhythm! I’ll say “quarter notes or tas” and throw the ball to a student and his/her parent, all of us saying “ta” when we get the ball. Then I say “one”, toss the ball to the student who says “one” etc. When introducing time signatures, we’ll pass the ball saying “one, two, three, four” etc as it goes around. It’s also great for half notes and whole notes!

To reinforce the importance of counting (nobody else has a problem with that with their students, right?), both teacher and student can look briefly at the first one or two bars of the piece for which the student is (gently? obstinately?) refusing to count, get up and count the rhythm using the ball with the student.  For example, I hold the ball, say “one two”, throw the ball to the student who says “three”, throws it back to me and I say “four”.   Go back to the piano and voila!, the student counts out loud (well, it worked for me).

Are you starting to get excited? The possibilities are endless!  Sing a major scale!  If you aren’t good at singing, just say/chant the letters of the scale.  It’s a great way to reinforce the notes of major and minor scales.  If you know your student has a problem with D minor harmonic scale, for example, first chant the notes, throwing the ball back and forth, then go to the piano and play it.

See your students (and parents) smile, and beg to use the ball in piano class.  No, a tennis ball won’t work; it’s too small.  A beach ball is too big and light.  Dollar stores have half-size beach balls.   Have a ball with your students!  (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Update!  I had a student who was having problems with the Star Wars rhythm; triplet (bar line) half note ta triplet (bar line) half note ta triplet etc.  I had an eureka moment!  I asked him to stand up, got the ball, we both stood opposite each other but close enough to both put our hands on the ball.  I lightly pushed the ball toward his chest for the first eighth note of the triplet (I say “tripoli” or “blueberry” using the ball), he lightly pushed the ball toward my chest for the second eighth, etc.  Voila!  You can use the ball for reinforcing music with fast rhythms!   It’s an off the piano bench activity, and a kinesthetic activity which helps students physically feel the rhythm.

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