Getting ready to make music: musical warm-ups

Before we start to make music, warming up our voices and bodies is a great way to prepare our muscles and vocal chords so that we’re ready to play and sing! This is a collection of fun musical warm-up activities that you could use at the start of a music session to get everyone focused and relaxed before making some music together. You can use a combination of music instruments and body percussion in these activities.

Tempo warm-up

Use this warm up to introduce the concept of tempo to your workshops. Tempo means the speed and pace at which music is played. Give all participants an instrument of any kind. Lead the group in a basic 4/4 beat (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…) with claps or percussion, and ask the group to join you and follow your pace. The group can participate by playing short rhythmic notes on an iPad using an OrchLab Soundmaker, on any percussion instrument, or by tapping their knees. Gradually increase your tempo, getting faster and trying to stay together as a group. Then gradually decrease the tempo, going more slowly. 

Rhythmic warm-up 

Call and response rhythm games help encourage your group to interact with each other and develop listening skills from the outset in your music session. 

Set your group up in a circle formation, and begin by tapping a simple, short rhythm on your instrument – keep it straightforward to start with. Ask the group to repeat this back after you. Repeat this a few more times with the same rhythm, then ask the person next to you to come up with the next rhythm which the group will then copy back. Repeat this until each person in the circle has had a turn at leading the group. 

You can develop this exercise into a name game. Play a short rhythm and add your name in the gap, for example: 1, 2, 3, ‘Joy!’ (with the group repeating this back). Continue this around the circle until each person has called out their name with the group repeating it back to them. 

It may be helpful to have a continuous metronome in the background whilst playing this game. You can create this yourself by stomping your feet (left, right, left, right…) or triggering a beat from the Garageband iPad app. However, background metronomes are not accessible to everyone and may become a distraction, so adapt to your group accordingly. 

Free improvisation

Group improvisation offers a fun opportunity to explore musical instruments freely and to play without having to think about ‘rules’. 

Invite all the participants to choose an instrument. When the group is ready, encourage everyone to play in whichever way they would like. The music leader can use an instrument to provide musical structure, for example a deep drum to hold a steady beat, or a xylophone to provide a simple repeating tune. 

You can also structure the start by asking everyone to start playing one by one: one person will start, then the person to their right will join in after a few moments, continuing around the circle until everyone is playing together.

Body percussion

Play a repeated rhythmic pattern, using a combination of clapping your hands, tapping your knees or chest, and stamping your feet (you could start with a ‘Pat – Pat – Clap’ pattern, like that used in Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You.’)

Then teach your pattern to the group, step by step, until everyone is playing together. The pattern can be as simple or as complex as is appropriate for the group. It should be simple enough that most group members are able to do it after a few tries, but still challenging enough that everyone needs to concentrate. You could also incorporate vocal sounds or instruments into the pattern.

Hand gestures and conducting

This exercise gives everyone in the group an opportunity to control the music in the room. You can choose to conduct either the pace or volume. You can conduct using your hand or whatever is accessible to you, which could be your head, elbow or small movements with a conductor’s baton. 

Instruct the group to get louder as your hand moves upwards, and quieter as it moves downwards. Give other participants an opportunity to conduct if they want to volunteer themselves. You can vary this exercise by making musical responses to any movement the participant chooses. 

Thematic material

You could incorporate specific themes into your warm-ups, to encourage the musical imaginations of your group. Following the ‘Free Improvisation’ activity above, ask the group to play music that ‘sounds like’ a theme, e.g. summer. 

Change to a contrasting theme, eg. winter, and allow the group to freely improvise and interpret the word musically. 


Pick two percussion instruments: one for start, and one for stop. It’s best if you can use some brightly coloured instruments which have a distinctive sound, that will cut through the sound of the group or are different to the instruments the group currently has. 

Let the group play freely and instruct them to stop when they hear ‘this noise’, and start when they hear ‘this (different) noise’. Give other participants the instruments so they can have a turn at stopping and starting the rest of the group. 

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