Warm Up Routine for Elementary Music

There are so many ways to open a class musically.

Just like our morning routine sets the tone for our day as teachers, the opening activities of your music class set the tone for the rest of the lesson.

We want those activities to be:

  • Musical
  • Engaging
  • Purposeful

Here is my opening warm up sequence for my room.

Keep in mind that every teaching situation is unique, so if you choose to add any of these to your classroom, feel free to edit and adapt them for your needs.

I use these lesson plan templates to write down my warm up routine each lesson. The format is flexible enough for me, while still providing a lesson structure.

Let’s jump in!

Warm Up Routine for Elementary Music

1. Beat or Rhythm

We always start with either a steady beat or rhythm activity.

When we enter, my young students copy my motions. After a few actions from me, I let other students be the leader instead.

At the beginning of the year, all my students will enter keeping a steady beat, even the upper grades. However, upper grades don’t copy my motions. Instead they create their own body percussion pattern. After a few lessons, upper grades make up a rhythm pattern on body percussion as they walk in instead. 

(If you read this post, you’ll remember that I’m going into my second full year at my school. My older students are still working on many beginning concepts so I don’t mind spending this time to reinforce steady beat.)

Music for Steady Beat and Rhythm

Recorded Music

Anything from John Feierabend’s Keeping the Beat CD is great for this! 

For older students I like to add a few more genres to the mix. Here are just two of my favorites.

If you do a composer study or a music history study throughout your year, this would be a perfect time to add that music! 

Classroom Songs:

Sometimes we also enter by singing one of our favorite songs. This is especially fun to do if your song has a quick, active game you can play at the end of your warm up routine.

You can read about some of my favorite songs to use at the beginning of class here

Music Teacher

Teacher Talk: Mix it Up! 
All of us need change from time to time. One of my favorite ways to do this in the warm up routine is to have a bucket of rhythm sticks at the door. Students grab a pair as they enter and we do the same routine with instruments.

It also works just as well to have other unpitched percussion instruments laid out in a circle. Students enter keeping a steady beat, but once they get to their spot they use the instrument to do the activities. Every so often, have students pass their instruments to the right so more people get a chance to play different instruments.

2. Sing

We always sing hello as a part of our warm up routine, and I always use the tone set we're working on in class for our greeting. 

For example, if 2nd graders are working on do, I’m sure to include do in my greeting. If 3rd grade is working on low la, I’ll include that.

What do we sing?

I sing hello to my students, and they sing hello back. From there, I can sing any question I want such as:

  • How are you today?
  • What did you have for lunch?
  • What’s your favorite video game?

Students respond (singing) however they want. Sometimes I take individual responses if I think we have time.

I also like to include a few tonal patterns for students to echo (again, using the tone set they’re working on). For this I use my voice, my alto recorder, or a slide whistle.

First Day of School Visuals-07.jpg

Teacher Talk: When a Student Doesn't Sing

If a student doesn’t sing during this part of the lesson, I don’t draw any attention to it. I just make a mental note, and look for vocal participation later in the lesson.

3. Play

Again, here I like to use rhythms that we are working on in class.

For example, 1st grade rhythms will stick to 4 beat phrases, and use ta and ta-di. In 4th grade many of our patterns will be in 3/4 time. 

Students copy my body percussion pattern and we go through a few phrases before moving on to the next activity.

This is a great transition to the next section of the lesson. Here are some quick examples: 

  • Students create a four beat pattern that becomes an ostinato to accompany the song
  • Students create a four beat pattern with a partner that they later put on percussion instruments
  • Students copy the teacher’s pattern and then figure it out on rhythm syllables.
  • Students copy the teacher’s pattern and then figure out what song it is
  • Students copy the teacher’s pattern while moving to their spots

You can find more transition ideas in the Music Teacher Resources Page, or watch this video from my IGTV channel. 

Music Teacher Talk

Teacher Talk: Mix it Up!

Students don’t have to copy you all the time. It’s also fun to ask students to answer your rhythmic question, or you can have a student lead the class in a four beat pattern. You could also clap a pattern and have students echo you on the body percussion of their choice. Enjoy mixing it up!

4. Extra - If We Have Time

Normally we end the warm up with rhythm patterns.

However, if I want to add anything else (like reading patterns or running through a performance song) we do it here.

How Much Time Does This Take?

Though it seems like a lengthy process, in the classroom it actually takes a short amount of time.

This whole routine takes about three or four minutes. If I want to add in something extra, the whole routine takes five minutes maximum.

After the warm up routine we start our regular lesson. You can look at the typical flow of my lessons by downloading my first day of school lesson plans in the Resource Page.

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You can also grab the lesson plan templates I use in the Elementary Music Planning Kit.

Happy teaching!

My First Day of Elementary Music Lesson Plans

Today I'm giving a glance into my first day of school lesson plans, from TK - 5th grade. In the first day of music class, students are arguably the most attentive they will be all year. This puts a unique pressure on the first day's lesson plan to set the tone for the rest of our time together.

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Psst - On the go? Listen to this post instead of reading!

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All the templates I use are available to purchase here as part of the Elementary Music Planning Kit. 

You can also download my completed lesson plans at the bottom of the post, or make your own from scratch! 

Let's jump in! 

music lesson plans for the first day of school

My Goals for the First Day of Music Class: 

Teach music in such a way that it is not a torture, but a joy for the pupil
— Zoltan Kodaly
  1. Establish expectations - From the moment students walk in to the moment they leave, the first lesson sets the tone for the rest of the school year. Even our youngest students are aware of the environment, our nonverbal communication, the physical space in the room, and the whole-class attitude. We establish expectations right away.
  2. Be musical - This is music class. The class shouldn’t be taken up with rules and procedures. It shouldn't be taken up talking about music. It should be spent making music.
  3. Have fun - Music is a legitimate subject in the academic world. It has an established theory and history and pedagogy like any other subject students explore in school. But music is also fun. I want students to experience that fun on the first day.
  4. Be creative in a safe place -  I’m going to ask a lot out of students throughout the year. I’ll ask them to take risks. To be vulnerable. To create. To share some of their creations. To evaluate their creations. To try, fail, and try again. That type of creative learning can happen when students know they are safe and supported. I want that learning to start the first day. 

The Lessons

1: Start with a Musical Experience

Warm Up (4 minutes):

First Day of School Visuals-07.jpg

Through this whole process I don’t give any verbal directions such as “now echo me”, or, “now copy my motions”. I jump straight in, and find that students copy very naturally.

I jump into my regular warm up routine right away on the first day of school. Here's a breakdown of what that looks like: 

  • Steady Beat: Students enter the class in a straight line, keeping a steady beat.
    • Younger grades copy my motions.
    • Older grades create a body percussion pattern of their choice.
  • Hand Signs for Sit and Stand: In Kindergarten and TK I introduce my class hand signs at this point. This is done without giving specific directions. I simply model the sign and over exaggerate sitting and standing. They naturally copy me for a few rounds of sitting, standing, sitting, standing, until they’re all giggling and out of breath.
    • Other grades review this step as well, but we don't spend much time on it since I don't need to teach it from scratch.
  • Sing a Greeting: From there we sing greetings based off tone sets we learned last year.
    • For example, with first grade I'll sing "hello, first grade" on sol mi sol mi. With third grade I'll sing "hello third grade" on mi mi re do. Students sing their response to me. I'll sing a question such as "How was your summer?" or "How are you today?" and students sing their response. 
  • Body Percussion: We'll quickly echo a few clapping patterns or body percussion patterns.

Game Time (5 minutes)

The clapping or body percussion pattern we echo is the first four beats of our first song, and we've seamlessly transitioned into our opening game.

It's great to play games students remember from last year. If you’re new at a school, consider reaching out to last year’s music teacher. If that's not possible, just choose one of your favorite simple games or activities to start with. Look for songs or games that allow students to be active, as energy will be high at the beginning of the lesson.

Here are some of my favorites for the first day of music:

  • TK and K: All Around the Buttercup
  • 1st: Apple Tree 
  • 2nd: Charlie Over the Ocean 
  • 3rd: Alabama Gal 
  • 4th: Built my Lady a Fine Brick House 
  • 5th: Tideo 


All of the sheet music is available for free in the Sheet Music Library. You can click the button below to grab the music for your classroom! 

2: Seating Chart
and Rules

This is the very first time I verbalize instructions in the lesson. Up until this point I’ve been simply doing what I want my students to do, and they naturally copy.

Seating Chart (4 minutes)

Music Assessment and Seating Chart

In the first month or so of school my students have assigned seats. This is so that I can wrap my head around which students are in which class.

When I feel I am familiar enough with names, students are allowed to choose their own spot each class.

You can grab this seating and assessment chart in the Resource Library.

Rules (4 minutes)

I prefer not to spend a lot of time in this area. Here's why:

When students come see us in the music room, they have already spent time in their grade-level classroom talking about rules and expectations. Likely, they’ll also hear a different set of rules in P.E., art, library, and the cafeteria. Memorizing guidelines from such a variety of sources is a lot to ask of our students. 

Realistically, students are unlikely to retain a list of area-specific, detailed rules. So instead I opt for two rules that I refer back to every class over the course of the school year.

  1. Always do your best.
  2. Respect yourself, others, and the classroom.
music teacher talk

I ask students to give some examples of  how to apply the rules to the classroom. In addition to the scenarios students offer on their own, I always guide the conversation to include some specific areas: 

Instead of me listing out every single class rule I can think of, I have students apply two behavior expectations on their own

  • What does respect look like when we're sharing instruments? 
  • What does doing your best look like when you've had a bad day? 
  • How do we respect other friends in our group
  • How do we do our best if we feel nervous
  • What does respect look like when we play classroom instruments? 

3. Summer Vacation and Names (10 minutes)

TK - 1st: Bounce High Bounce Low

Bounce High, Bounce Low
Music Teacher Talk

It’s very rare that I change lyrics to folk songs. However, there have been TK classes that have played “roll fast, roll slow, roll the ball to Shilo” if I fear the bounce will be too advanced.

Bounce High Bounce Low is a song worth investing in on the first day!  I can bring it back for movement, singing voice, steady beat, and sol la sol mi patterns. It also gives me a chance to start putting names with faces. 

If students are standing to bounce, I ask them to jump every time the ball hits the ground. This keeps everyone engaged. If we’re seated, I ask them to move one hand up and down their arm (to “roll” with the ball).

With students standing in a circle, I go through the class roster and we play the game. Everyone gets a turn.

2nd - 3rd: Play Your Vacation 

Back to School Activities

(A section)

In second and third grade I want to jump into instruments on the first day. This activity works with any unpitched percussion instruments - I use rhythm sticks.

To play the game: 
Each person speaks and plays their summer rhythm, and the class repeats. Some rhythm examples are: 

  • "I went to the beach" (ta-di ta-di ta rest)
  • "I played video games" (ta ta taka-di ta)
  • "I slept in" (ta ta ta rest)

After four students, we do the A section again, and continue through the whole class. Having the class repeat each rhythm keeps everyone active, even though it makes the game last longer.

4th and 5th - Play Your Vacation:

In 4th and 5th grade we play the game exactly how 2nd and 3rd did. This version of the rhyme has an eighth note followed by two sixteenths (ta-dimi). 

back to school activities

(A section)

Tips for the Vacation Game in 2nd - 5th grades: 

  • I like to have the whole class try out a rhythm - and even share it with someone next to them - before they’re asked to do it individually in front of everyone. This goes toward my goal of making music a safe creative space.
  • If, for some reason a student doesn’t want to play alone the first day, I don’t make him or her. 
  • I keep a groove on the cajon to help establish a sense of pulse, but I don’t correct anyone if he or she plays outside a four beat phrase.
  • As they play this game I video with my ipad. It’s useful for me to see which students naturally stayed within a four-beat phrase. This isn’t a formal assessment, it’s more like a temperature read on where we are rhythmically as a class.

4. More Music, More Movement (10 minutes)

By now, we need to move.

Here are some of my favorite songs for closing the first day of school:

TK - 2nd Grades

TK, K, 1st, and 2nd grades will all review or learn how to move in open space. This is a concept I'll reuse throughout the year, so I like to introduce it right away.

I also want to give another opportunity for students to create in my class, so I look for songs with creative movement opportunities.

Read more about how to choose songs for your music room here.

TK and Kindergarten: 

Walk and Stop.jpg

You Walk and You Stop
You Walk and You Stop is one of my favorite songs for introducing open space. I tell students it's very important to look for open space when we move. We run through a few examples of what open space is (somewhere no one else is) and what it's not (touching a friend) before doing the song.

If I sense the class isn't ready for locomotor movement, we'll still sing the song but students stay in their spots and jump, walk, wiggle, twist, etc. in place.

Either way, after a few rounds of the song students give suggestions for actions to add to the song.

Johnny Works with One Hammer

Johnny Works with One Hammer
If we have time, I add Johnny Works with One Hammer. This is especially valuable if students aren't ready for locomotor movement, since the song is incredibly active but takes place sitting down. 

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star First Day of School

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
I like to add a song that students probably already know to the first day. Many students already know motions to this song from doing it at home. While we sing they either copy me or do motions they already know. This is a calm, musical ending to our first day. 

Just From the Kitchen.jpg

First Grade

Just From the Kitchen

This song allows students to improvise movement the first day. I like to call students two at a time at first, in case anyone is anxious about moving by themselves on the first day. 

I can also add phrases like "everybody who likes pizza" or "everybody who plays minecraft" toward the end. 

Second Grade

Rig a Jig Jig

Rig a Jig Jig.jpg

The first few times we do this song, we'll play it like normal.

Then, we make a change. Students say their names in rhythm, and come up with an accompanying movement. At the end of each song repetition, they create a name chain with their partner by saying their name and showing their movement two times each. The song begins again. 

3rd - 5th grades

In 3rd - 5th grade, we’ll go back to the song we used at the beginning of class. This time, I ask students to create a body percussion pattern as a B section to the game.

Third Grade

Alabama Gal

Alabama Gal.jpg
Orff Rhythm Building Blocks for Alabama Gal

First we play the game like we did at the beginning of class. Then students create an eight beat pattern with their partner using the words "Alabama" (ta-di ta-di) or "gal" (ta, rest). They can choose a movement or body percussion to go with their words.

We practice this as a whole class a few times, and students make any changes they need. Then we add the B section after each repetition of the game. 

Fourth Grade

Built My Lady a Fine Brick House

Built my Lady a Fine Brick House

Just like third grade, we'll play this game a few times as normal. Then, students create an eight beat pattern with their group using these rhythmic building blocks: 

rhythm building blocks for Built My Lady a Fine Brick House

Student groups change with each round of the game, so with each repetition students create a new rhythm.

Fifth Grade


Ti-de-o first day of school songs


Play the game like normal, then ask students to create an eight beat pattern with their partner using these rhythmic building blocks:

Rhythm building blocks for Tideo

They also have the option of adding body percussion or movement to their pattern.

Just like Built My Lady a Fine Brick House, students' groups change at every repetition of the song. I like this because it gives lots of opportunities for students to explore new combinations, body percussion, and movement.

5. Closing

What I'm Excited About. . . . (4 minutes)

Music Teacher Talk

If we're going to do awesome things in music, I need awesome behavior from my students. With a nod to the Responsive Classroom, I ask my students to think of how they are going to be able to do the things they're excited about. This ultimately comes back to the two rules we discussed at the beginning of class. Now, at the end of class, students apply them in a way that makes them excited about the whole year.

At the end of class I quickly ask students what they hope to do in music this year, and what we need to do to make those exciting things happen. 

  • In TK - 1st grade students raise their hand and sing something they're excited about. I ask what we will do to make it happen, and students raise their hands again to sing ideas.
  • In 2nd - 5th grade students finish the sentence, "I'm excited about _________ this year, so I need to ____________." (Example, "I'm excited about playing instruments this year so I need to show that I can respect them." "I'm excited about playing with my friends this year so I need to listen to everyone when we're working in a group.") They write their answers on sticky notes and attach them to the wall as they line up.

Lesson Plans

You can click the button or image to grab these lesson plans for free in the Resource Library. 


Lesson Plan Templates

Add To Cart

The lesson plan template is available to purchase as part of my Elementary Music Planning Kit. The templates are Google Docs so you can edit, save, and take them anywhere.

Happy teaching!