Musical chairs

Musical chairs

Musical chairs is a game played by a group of people (usually children), often in an informal setting purely for entertainment such as a birthday party. The game starts with any number of players and a number of chairs one fewer than the number of players; the chairs are arranged in a circle (or other closed figure if space is constrained; a double line is sometimes used) facing outward, with the people standing in a circle just outside of that. A non-playing individual plays recorded music or a musical instrument. While the music is playing, the players in the circle walk in unison around the chairs. When the music controller suddenly shuts off the music, everyone must race to sit down in one of the chairs. The player who is left without a chair is eliminated from the game, and one chair is also removed to ensure that there will always be one fewer chair than there are players. The music resumes and the cycle repeats until there is only one player left in the game, who is the winner.

Other meanings

"Playing musical chairs" is also a metaphorical way of describing any activity where items or people are repeatedly and usually pointlessly shuffled among various locations. It can also refer to a condition where people have to expend time searching for a resource, such as having to travel from gasoline station to gasoline station when there is a shortage. It is also used to refer to political situations where one leader replaces another, only to be rapidly replaced in turn due to the instability of the governing system.

"Musical chairs" is or was formerly also known as "Going to Jerusalem." Laura Lee Hope describes it under that name in chapter XIII of The Bobbsey Twins at School, as does John P. Marquand in chapter XXXI of Wickford Point.

In the musical Evita, during the song "the art of the possible" Juan Perón and a group of other military officers play a game of musical chairs which Perón wins, symbolizing his rise to power.

In the documentary Money as Debt, Andrew Gause is quoted as saying: "One thing to realize about our fractional reserve banking system is that, like a child's game of musical chairs, as long as the music is playing, there are no losers.

In mathematics, the principle that says that if the number of players is one more than the number of chairs, then one player is left standing, is the pigeonhole principle.


Instead of using chairs, one version of the game has players sit on the ground when the music stops, the last to sit being eliminated. This is known as 'musical bumps'. In 'musical statues', players stop moving when the music stops, and stay standing in the same position. If any player is seen moving, they are out of the game.

In the non-competitive version of "musical chairs" one chair but no player is eliminated in each round. All players have to "sit down" on the remaining chairs, while their feet must not touch the floor.

A Cold Wind Blows is another non-competitive substitute for "musical chairs."

The game's name in different languages

  • Türkçe: "Müzikli Sandalye" (Musical chairs)
  • Cantonese: 爭凳仔 (literally fighting for chairs)
  • Catalan: "El joc de les cadires" (The game of the chairs)
  • Danish: "Stoledans" (Chair dance)
  • Dutch: "Stoelendans" (Chair dance)
  • Filipino: "Trip to Jerusalem"
  • French: "Chaises musicales" (Musical chairs)
  • German: "Reise nach Jerusalem" (Journey to Jerusalem)
  • Greek: "Μουσικές Καρέκλες" - Musikes Karekles (Musical chairs)
  • Hebrew: "kisot muziklayim; כסאות מוזיקליים" (Musical chairs)
  • Hindi: "Sangeet ke saath Khursi" (Music with the Chairs)
  • Italian: "Il gioco della sedia" (The Chair Game)
  • Japanese:"Isu tori game"(The game of stolen chairs)
  • Norwegian: "Stol-leken" (The Chair Game)
  • Portuguese: "Dança das cadeiras" (Dance of the chairs)
  • Russia: "Скучно так сидеть" (It's boring sitting like this)
  • Romania: "Pǎsǎricǎ mutǎ-ţi cuibul" (Birdie, move your nest)
  • Spanish: "El juego de las sillas", "El juego de la silla" (The game of the chairs); "La sillita musical", "Las sillas musicales" (The musical chair); in Argentina: "El baile de las sillas" (Dance of the chairs)
  • Swedish: "Hela havet stormar" (The whole sea is storming)
  • Thai: "Kao'ee Dontri" (Musical chairs)


See also

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