10 Fun And Easy Sub Lesson Plans For Elementary Music

sub plans for elementary music

I don’t know any other job where it takes more work to take a sick day than to just go in. 

But the pandemic and distance learning taught us that it’s important to take those days to care for ourselves. 

Still, having some good sub plans for elementary music in your back pocket is critical for helping your students and guest teacher have a good musical experience without you. 

With this in mind, I decided to share 10 of my favorite sub lessons to leave when I know I’m not getting a musical sub. 

Not all subs are music educators, and with these plans, they don’ have to be!

Note: All of these are totally FREE!

Save time with these 60 FREE Music Resources to use in your room right away!

Stop searching the whole internet to find good activities. I’ll help you cut to the chase with my favorite 60 FREE resources.

Blue Man Group

If you don’t know about Blue Man Group, where have you been? 

They’re a percussion performance group known for painting themselves all blue and never speaking during their shows. 

Building a sub lesson around them is easy! 

It’s so much fun; I’ll admit I use this lesson myself. 

Here is how the plan looks: 

  1. Watch the first video together demonstrating the famous Drumbone. 
  2. Go to this Kiddles article and read/discuss together some facts about this group. 
  3. Watch this next video of what it takes to be a Blue Man (in the guise of a stormtrooper trying to join the group). 
  4. Discuss what it takes to be a Blue Man. (Focus on the combination of acting and music skills. 
  5. Watch the marshmallow video. 
  6. Watch the PVC pipe holiday songs. 

Here’s the playlist: 

Pro-tip: Kiddles is a great, safe search engine for kids to find facts and pictures of things on. 

It’s like Wikipedia for school-safe material. 

Rhythm Games

Sometimes, you don’t have a lot of time to plan for your sub, and if you have technology such as 1-to-1 Chromebooks or interactive whiteboards (and what school doesn’t at this point?), you can save yourself some trouble by sharing a bunch of rhythm games. 

It’s still a great way to practice quarter notes, eighth notes, and more without having an actual lesson plan.

Here is a quick list of my favorites: 

Check out more ideas in our article on the best online music games (which also make good sub plans!). 

These make great emergency sub plans.

Blast!

Blast was a broadway show featuring band instruments playing classical and popular songs in a manner best described as indoor-drum corps. 

I love sharing this sub plan because it’s so easy. 

The whole video is the perfect length for a 45-50 minute music class, so you may even be able to get two music lessons out of it. 

The show is split into different “colors,” which each fit a theme. 

I recommend the sub pause it in between each color and discuss: 

  1. What instruments did you see?
  2. How did the music they played match the color?
  3. What did you like about it? Dislike?
  4. What do you think was the most difficult part of the performance?

Or if you have a bulletin board with listening questions posted for reference (which is a best practice), then the sub can just use those in between each piece.

Here’s the full video: 

Among Us Rhythm Games

For as much bad that the pandemic put into our world, there has been good in the form of creators making online resources available to all. 

One trend that is perfect for sub days (or at least part of the lesson) is the Among Us rhythm imposter videos and other rhythm playalongs. 

Adding one or some of these to your elementary music sub plans will help the kids stay engaged while still practicing rhythms. 

It’s a fun way to bring rhythms into the music room even when you’re not there.

Pro-tip: Have the sub split them into small groups to help each other out and use basic rhythms while you’re not there.

This will help them feel successful and less confused.

Here’s an example: 

Little Einsteins

For your younger kids, sometimes it’s just easiest to have the sub show them a cartoon. 

There are a lot out there, but if we want to keep things musical, there aren’t many shows out there better than Little Einsteins. 

There are a number of them on YouTube, or you can buy them online for streaming later. 

Either way, my younger students (grades K-2) love it. 

To be honest, my older ones have picked to watch it on reward days, and they love it too. 

If you haven’t watched the show, they choose a classical piece as the recurring theme for the episode as they take an adventure and solve the problem. 

They’ll also talk about some musical elements as well, and they practice a lot of the steady beat.

Is the show geared toward teaching music? 

No, but it’s great exposure, especially to classical music a young grade level.

Don’t worry; the show won’t replace us elementary music teachers.

Art teachers will love this show too, as it features art from a variety of cultures.

This is my favorite one: 

Teach The Sub A Song

There are times I know the sub I’m getting, and I know they can handle a bit more work in keeping the class under control while doing normal music things. 

If I have a substitute teacher for general music such as this, I’ll instead do elementary music lesson plans based on the idea: 

Teach your sub this song and game. 

For this, you’ll have to think about what you’ve played in your classroom. 

Stick with fun activities that are simple and easy to explain. 

Also, you should probably avoid any chase games or songs with instruments. 

Pro-tip: Include detailed instructions to help the sub facilitate these lesson ideas with the kids.

A few of my favorite songs are: 

Save time with these 60 FREE Music Resources to use in your room right away!

Stop searching the whole internet to find good activities. I’ll help you cut to the chase with my favorite 60 FREE resources.

Tune Buddies

Instrument families are something I talk about a lot with my older students, but I talk about it a fair bit with my younger ones as well. 

We all want our students to know about the instruments and also be excited about the prospect of joining band and continuing our music education (and yes, I do show choir videos a lot, too!). 

I’m also a little extra motivated since my elementary music classes feed into my wife’s band classes, but there it is! 

Tune Buddies is a cheesy, cringe, entertaining, and factual series of videos on each instrument family. 

Each video is about 25 minutes long, so if your classes are much longer, consider supplementing with some crosswords, coloring pages, or online activities. 

Here’s the whole series: 

Books And Coloring Pages

Having a solid collection of music books makes planning easier too. 

Check out the best books for elementary music

Coloring pages, crossword puzzles, and word searches also do a great job of entertaining kids without using technology. 

To be honest, I usually just search “brass family crossword” or “orchestra coloring page” and print off what I find in Google Image Search. 

I don’t have any of my own made up (yet!); be on the lookout! 

If you have to pay to print, this may use up your classroom resources quickly, though so be careful.

Most people have this stuck in their music sub tub.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs

For another video, I find this one about Beethoven’s process for writing his 9th symphony to be fascinating, and the kids usually like it too. 

It comes in at 50 minutes long, which is perfect for most of us who have 45-minute classes. 

This is more of an older student video, though. 

I wouldn’t show any younger than third grade; they wouldn’t get it. 

Note: The audio is in English, but the subtitles are in Greek. 

Chrome Music Lab

Chrome Music Lab is awesome. 

It’s got a ton of fun music exploration activities. 

My kids could spend literally hours playing on it, and many of them do! 

This is another good lesson that pairs up well with something else (like a shorter video or sharing some songs). 

Pro-tip: Have them bring headphones if at all possible. 

The sounds get to be a bit much without them. 

Save time with these 60 FREE Music Resources to use in your room right away!

Stop searching the whole internet to find good activities. I’ll help you cut to the chase with my favorite 60 FREE resources.

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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