Is this the best name game ever?

The following warm-up game is one that I have been using since I first started training in musical leadership at the Guildhall, oh-so-many years ago. It is a simple name game, but its simplicity belies the depth of its messages I suspect! I call it Names in the Space.

Names in the Space establishes all sorts of skills and values:

  • taking turns,
  • the importance of contributing as an individual,
  • the importance of responding as a group and working in unison,
  • a call-and-response structure
  • the skill of maintaining a pulse and a rhythm,
  • the skill of timing your voice to land at a certain point in the rhythm.

But more importantly perhaps, it is a demonstration that every voice here is important. Everyone has a chance to speak. Everyone’s contributions will be affirmed by the group. It also establishes a group focus and settles the group.

'Names in the Space' being played at the recent Music Construction Site workshop.

How to play Names in the Space:

1.    Sit or stand the group in a circle.

2.    Establish a simple 4/4 rhythm – 2 claps, 2 spaces: | | – –

3.     If we are sitting, I rest my hands, palms upwards, on my knees during the two spaces, so that the children have a visual reference for the rests.

4.    I always go first. I say my name in the 2-beat space between the claps, ensuring that my voice lands exactly in that space and that I say my name so that it fits in the space and doesn’t extend over into the next claps.

5.    In the very next space, the whole group says my name back to me.

6.    It will then travel either left or right (it doesn’t matter which – if I have students in the group who are unfamiliar with the game I will choose the direction that has the most ‘old hands’ in it, so that the new children get to hear lots of examples before it is their turn. In this way, they usually  figure out what is going on and can join in without needing an explanation). I indicate the direction (to my left or to my right) by looking at the person I want to go next.

7.    In this way, we go around the circle, hearing and repeating each name.

8.    If someone hesitates or pauses, you have two choices. You can hold the 2-beat rest longer, to give them time to say their name in a space, or you can keep the 2-claps, 2-rests pattern going, until they are ready to say their name in the space. It doesn’t matter if they take a few spaces to work out when to speak – just wait for them and encourage them. I usually use the former tactic with ESL children, so that they don’t feel pressured or overwhelmed, and I usually use the second tactic with older children, or music-specialist kids. For some, working out how to get their voice to speak in the space is a significant musical challenge, one that is worth persevering with. It’s always achievable it just takes a certain kind of concentration and coordination.

9.    There are all sorts of variations to this game. Children can sing their names; they can create a rhythm with the syllables; you can use it for ‘categories’ where instead of a name, each child says a word from a particular category (eg. a kind of fruit); they can say their name and do a gesture (better to be standing up for this version).

I know it doesn’t sound like the most exciting or vibrant of warm-up games – but I urge you to give it a try. It’s been a major part of my ‘tool-kit’ for over 15 years now. I am always amazed by the power of this game to settle a group – especially younger groups. My co-teachers and volunteers frequently comment on how effective it is at focusing the group and building positive atmosphere. It is a magic game, pure and simple!

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1 comment so far

  1. […] start many of my music workshops with a very simple name game. Over the years I’ve tried variations on this game, but I came back to the basic version much of […]


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