Warm Up Activity: Emotion Orchestra

The conductor and the Emotion Orchestra. Frank and Helena Cultura

Vocal warm-ups are routine for casts and theatre classes. They help focus the actors, get them working together, and give their voices some attention before rehearsals and performances.

"Emotion Orchestra" is ideal for groups of 8 - 20 performers or students. Age does not matter too much; however, younger performers really need to pay attention to the drama exercise to be effective.

How It Works

One person (the drama director or group leader or classroom teacher) serves as the "Orchestra Conductor."

The performers sit or stand in rows or small groups, as though they were musicians in an orchestra. Instead of having a string section or a brass section, however, the conductor will create "emotion sections."

For example:

  • Two performers are designated as the "Sadness Section"
  • Three performers comprise the "Joy Section"
  • Two more make up the "Fear Section"
  • One person can be the "Guilt Section"
  • Another performer can be the "Confused Section"
  • And the list of emotions could go on!


Explain to the participants that each time the conductor points or gestures to a particular section, the performers will make noises that communicate their designated emotion. Encourage participants to avoid using words and come up instead with sounds that convey their given feeling. Provide this example: "If your group has the emotion "Annoyed," you might make the sound "Hmph!" 

Assign the participants to small groups and give each group an emotion. Give everyone a little planning time so that all group members agree on the sounds and noises they will make. (Note: Although voices are the main "instruments," the use of clapping and other body percussion sounds is definitely permitted.)

Once all of the groups are ready, explain that when you as the conductor raise your hands high, that means that the volume should increase. Hands low means a decrease in the volume. And just as the maestro of a symphony does, the conductor of the emotion orchestra will bring sections in one at a time and also fade them out or use a closed hand gesture to indicate that a section should stop making noise. All of this requires the participants to watch closely and cooperate with the conductor.

Conduct the Emotion Orchestra

Before beginning, make sure that all your "musicians" are completely silent and focused on you. Warm them up by pointing to one section at a time, then add another and another, eventually building to a climactic frenzy if you wish. Bring your piece to a close by fading out one section at a time and ending with the sounds of only one emotion.

Emphasize that every musician in the orchestra must be certain to pay attention to the conductor and follow the directions given by the pointing, raising of hands, lowering of hands, and fist clenches. This agreement to abide by the directions of the conductor is what makes all orchestras - even this kind - work.

As the conductor, you may want to experiment with an established beat and get your emotion musicians to deliver their sounds while keeping the beat. You may also want to have one section keep a steady beat and other sections perform rhythmic sounds that work on top of that beat.

Variations on the Theme

City Soundscape. What sounds do you hear in a city? Ask participants to come up with a list of sounds like horns honking, subway doors closing, construction noises, footsteps rushing, brakes screeching, etc. and then assign one city sound per section and conduct a city soundscape orchestra in the same way as described above for Emotion Orchestra.

Other Soundscapes or Orchestra Ideas. The country or a rural area, a summer night, the beach, the mountains, an amusement park, a school, a wedding, etc.

Goals of the Activity

The "Orchestras" described above give participants practice in working together productively, following directions, following a leader, and warming up their voices. After each "performance," it's fun to discuss the effect of the creative combinations of sounds on both participants and listeners.