Warm-up Games Composing at KS1 & 2 (Teachers) >

A collection of musical warm up games for the primary classroom. 

Activity Panel

Follow me & Change

This game and its extension help to:

  • get children to focus, watch and listen
  • explore vocal sounds and body percussion
  • establish a sense of being an ensemble
  • explore different musical textures

Follow me

Go through a series of sounds and movements using your body and ask the children to copy all the sounds you make and all the actions you do. For example:

  • rub hands
  • clap hands
  • tap hands
  • tap knees
  • stamp feet
  • make wind sounds while swishing hands
  • making trilling sounds while wiggling fingers

Make sure that you:

  • don't start until everyone is watching
  • give the children enough time to establish the idea
  • move cleanly between sounds/actions
  • vary how long you spend on each sound/action
  • create contrasts between fast/slow sounds/actions and loud quiet ones
  • use stopping and starting
  • finish with stillness


This time instead of asking the children to change when you change, ask them to change only when you say the word change. This can be challenging but helps develop the musical skill of doing one thing whilst someone else is doing something different. 





Don't Clap That One Back

  1. Clap a 4 beat rhythmic pattern and ask the children to clap it back. Continue doing this with different rhythms until the children are confident at clapping the patterns back
  2. Clap the rhythmic pattern of the sentence 'don't clap that one back'. Crotchet crochet quaver quaver crotchet. Long long short short long. Practice this this rhythm with the children saying the words until they are confident with it
  3. Tell the children that when they hear this rhythm they should not clap back
  4. Play this as a game - if no one claps the group gets a point, if anyone in the group claps back you get a point. Best out of five.

Circle Clap

  1. Stand in a circle
  2. Turn to the person next to you and clap once to them 
  3. Ask them to clap to the person next to them and so on around the circle
  4. See how fast you can send the clap around the circle
  5. Now send a different sound the opposite direction, e.g. a shush
  6. Now try one sound in one direction and another in the other direction
  7. You could also transfer this onto instruments then move to the Car Park Game.

Long & Short

  1. Stand with the children in a circle with their instruments (they should have either an instrument that they can play a short and a long sound on, or two different instruments, one which can play a long sound and one which can play a short sound).
  2. Demonstrate and play together a short, staccato note, explaining the technique of how to do this well.
  3. Ask each person to play their short note one at time around the circle. The only rule is that you cannot play your note until your neighbour has played. Ask the children to send the short note around the circle as quickly as possible! Do this a couple of times, changing the direction the second or third time.
  4. Now play the game again but this time using a long note. Each person can decide how long their note is. Again, each person must wait for the preceding note to finish before they can play.
  5. Now each person can choose whether to play a short staccato note or a long note. Again, the only rule is that you must play as soon as possible after the preceding note has ended. Encourage the children to choose whether to play a short or long note depending on what has preceded it. Describe the patterns created and the effect of the combinations of short and long notes.

Car Park

  1. Ask the children to imagine that their long sound is a lorry and their short sound is a car and that the silent space is a car park.
  2. The aim of the game is for everybody to park their car and lorry in a silent space without bumping into anybody else's car or lorry. i.e. they need to wait for silence before playing their sounds.
  3. Use a signal to show the children when the car park is open and they can play their sound. You might also want to have a signal for closing the car park. 
  4. At first the children's sounds will 'bump' into each other. This should improve once they play it a few times. Revisit the game.
  5. This is a listening game but the effect of the sounds can be interesting too. Again, ask them to describe what they hear.



This warm up activity supports the children exploring the range of sounds and colours they can make on their instruments in preparation for later activities.

Make sure that all the children have an instrument or selection of instruments to play. Explain to the group that when you open your hands they are to play – very quietly when they are close together, very loudly when far apart - everything in the middle. They should be silent when your palms are together. Practice going from loud to quiet then quiet to loud. Try to get the full range of dynamics in – can they play any quieter, any louder?

You could ask the children also to conduct using these signals to create short pieces exploring loud and quiet.

Now try this again but instead of loud and quiet use:

  • Lots of notes to few notes
  • Spiky sounds to smooth sounds
  • Shiny sounds to rough sounds
  • Random notes to notes of a C major chord
  • Any other opposites the children suggest

Don’t be satisfied with what happens the first time you do this. Challenge the children to be as spiky as possible, or as smooth as possible, to go from a mass of notes to very sparse notes.

Conducted gestures 1

Start and Stop

This warm up starts in a similar way to Contrasts but then develops differently. Show the group a clear conducted ‘start’ signal, and a clear conducted ‘stop’ signal. The simplest way to do this is have closed hands (palms together) for stop (or silent) and open hands for play.

hands shut1 hands open1

Ask the group to start and stop precisely when you give the signals. The children can play anything they like or an idea you have jointly chosen, but must you watch very carefully.

Ensure everyone can see you clearly. Be strict, especially about the stop signal! Ask children with resonant instruments to stop their sound ringing and demand accuracy.

As you conduct, vary the length of the playing time, and the length of the silences to make the activity challenging, to encourage excellent watching and to demonstrate the creative use of silence.

Now ask one or two of the children to be the conductor. Each time ask them to demonstrate the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ signal before the group plays. Encourage strong, clear gestures, and ensure that the whole group is watching the conductor.

 Louder & Quieter

Carrying on from before, explain that as you move your hands further apart, they should play louder and when they are closer together they should play quieter.

Ask the children to play and match the dynamic as indicated by your hands. Be playful - allow some extended loud playing as well as controlled quiet playing, with lots of mixing up in between. Keep using silences of different lengths.  Try to encourage the full spectrum of dynamics from very very quiet to very loud. You may need to practice the very very quiet playing a few times. Ask one or two children to conduct.


Introduce a new signal – the chop. Explain that when you do a single chop with one hand (like a karate chop) everyone will play one short note (on any pitch) altogether. Practice conducting single chops with varying lengths of silence in between. Be very precise about the ensemble sound and make sure that the group is exactly synchronised on your ‘chop’.

Ask one or two children to conduct some chops. Again, make sure their gestures are clear and strong.

Combining Signals

You can now experiment with combining the different signals explored so far to create an improvised piece - chops, continuous sounds with varying dynamics and silence. Invite different children to try this. Comment on their effective use of dynamics, silence and the mixing of the two gestures.


Conducted gestures 2

Ask the whole class to play very short quiet sounds with gaps in between, like raindrops, all at different times. Ask them what conducted signal could represent this texture e.g. dotting your fingers in the air. Try a few ideas out and decide on the most effective. Practice starting and stopping together using the new gesture. Discuss with the class what other kinds of sounds you could use to create a different musical textures e.g.:

  • Short trills with gaps in between
  • Rising or falling scalic figures
  • Loud sustained notes
  • Legato wavy figure moving between two notes
  • Accented zigzags moving between a high and a low notes

Collectively decide on a distinctive conducted gesture for each new texture, then practice starting and stopping each one using the new gesture. Invite children to conduct/compose their own compositions using the different gestures.

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