How to Play Musical Chairs

Children Playing Musical Chairs in Back Yard

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 14 mins
  • Total Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Musical chairs is a traditional game that, for several generations, has remained a popular choice for kids' parties. Its staying power is likely due to a combination of its simple rules, ease of set up, the use of music and, well, because it is just plain fun to play. It’s also an easy game to tailor to suit any party theme (having a princess party? Decorate the chairs with bows and call it musical thrones).

Ready to play? All you really need are chairs and music. That’s it. No fancy equipment or gear needed; just chairs and music, but the chairs do need to be arranged in a certain pattern.


No chairs? You can use almost anything in place of them for musical chairs. Arrange throw pillows on the ground, or scatter extra sweatshirts or other items as bases and have each player touch a base to continue to the next round.

Read on to learn how to play musical chairs properly, plus see creative variations to dress up the game a little bit.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Chairs (one less than you have players)
  • Speakers
  • Music


  • Decorations for chairs to match party theme (optional)


  1. Set up the Chairs

    Line the chairs up in a side-by-side row, but alternate the direction each seat faces. For instance, if the first chair faces the front of the room, the chair next to it will face the back of the room, the third chair in line will then face the front, and the fourth chair will face the back. This pattern will continue until you have placed all of the chairs you need.


    Remember: You want one fewer chair than you have players. A game of 10 players will require 9 chairs, and so on.

  2. Play Music

    Start the music. Someone will have to stand by and control the music player as it is used during the game.

  3. Start Walking

    Line kids up at one end of the chairs and have them walk in a circle, around the chairs, as the music plays.

  4. Pause Music at Random Intervals

    The person in charge of the music will stop the music at random intervals.

    Any time the music stops, the players must sit in a chair. Because there is one less chair than needed, this will cause kids to hurry to find a seat. The alternating pattern can either help or hinder this, depending on the luck of a player’s position when the music stops.

    When all the seats have been claimed, one player will be left standing. That player is out of the game.

  5. Begin Second Round

    Take away another chair, start the music, and play as many rounds as it takes until you are left with one chair and two players. The player who lands in this last chair when the music stops wins.

Some Variations for Playing Musical Chairs

As kids’ parties have evolved, so have the versions of musical chairs. This game can be adapted in many ways, oftentimes in versions that don’t use chairs at all.

  • Musical hats: Kids walk around a circle of hats instead of chairs. When the music stops, they place a hat on their heads. The player without a hat is out. This can be played using baseball caps for a baseball-themed party, cowboy hats for a cowboy party, or any other type of hat that suits the party theme.
  • Musical hay bales: A farm, fall, or western party might use small hay bales instead of chairs to play this game.
  • Musical sleeping bags: Line up sleeping bags to turn musical chairs into a fun slumber party game.
  • Musical pirate ships: Use chairs, but tape images of pirate ships to the backs of them to play this as a pirate party game.
  • Musical toadstools: Having a fairy or gnome party? Place small, round pillows on the floor and call them toadstools.
  • Musical surfboards: For a beach party, use foam surfboards that kids have to stand on and strike a surfing pose when the music stops. You can also play musical beach towels or use inflatable pool rings for a pool party.

The variations are seemingly endless, which makes musical chairs a great choice for your next kids’ party, no matter the theme.