Activity Idea: Musical Hot Potato

*Hot potato not required

Here’s one of my go-to activity ideas for music groups. Based on the well-known hot potato game, I use this activity to get people alert and interacting with each other and with an instrument. I’ve seen it work well with groups of kids and adults of various ability levels.

Here’s what you need:

  • Recorded music
    • Choose music that is upbeat to encourage quick instrument passing. You can also select music to match the theme of your activity.
  • A passable instrument 
    • Choose instruments that your group members can manipulate and play easily. My favorites are egg shakers, jingle bells, and my goat toenail rattle.

Here’s what you do:

1. Pass the selected instrument around the circle while the music plays. Sometimes people need cues to keep the instrument going around the circle – I usually encourage them to, “give it a shake and pass it on.” You might also need to bridge the gap between two participants seated far apart or help someone with limited mobility pass the instrument.

2. When the music stops, whoever is holding the instrument is “it.” What you decide to do next will depend on the type of musical response you want next. Here are some ideas that I’ve tried:

  • The person who is “it” gets to choose another instrument from a table/bag/pile then starts a band in another part of the room, playing along (and stopping) with the recorded music. For each round of the game, another person joins the band, until everyone has an instrument.
  • The person who is “it” gets to play a short solo on a melodic instrument.
  • The person who is “it” gets to choose a song for the whole group to sing together.
Tips for making this activity work:
  • As always, know your group members. My older adult clients usually encourage each other to pass the instrument and are not upset when they have the instrument when the music stops, but I’ve had younger clients who are either super-competitive about not getting “out” or who try to hold onto the instrument so they can be the first to pick an instrument and start the band. Add additional rules as necessary.
  • Be mindful of how you set up the group. This activity works best when you can seat group members in a circle, close enough to pass an object easily. Be aware of where your participants are who need help passing the object, and ask any staff members or visitors for help if needed.
  • Wield your power as the music controller wisely. It’s okay to let the music play a longer or shorter period of time to have it stop on a particular person. This is about encouraging social interaction and musical play, not someone winning a game.
This activity is great for getting group members to interact with each other, rather that just with you. It can also raise the energy level of the group and add interest to what might be a more run-of-the-mill singalong or instrument activity. This activity is also particularly nice for intergenerational groups – young and old are probably already familiar with the traditional hot potato game, and their strengths complement each other here. (The young folks can add to the excitement and keep the instrument moving along, and the older folks can model patience and non-competitiveness.)
Have you tried this activity with your groups? Please share any other tips or suggestions in the comments section!
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