Taking proverbs as a topic may encounter similar hurdles to those present with strictly musical traditional activities. Because of their local cultural embedding, they are hard to tackle in full generality. Bear in mind that what comes below is a fragmented perspective of people who could and wished to contribute to this page. And please consider adding your voice.

Related usage

Common sayings, with their authorship lost to time, usually have no famous authority backing their survival other than a perceived usefulness — or sometimes a plain tendency towards a conservative social stance. Among them there might be some very general practical tips, of diverse effectiveness. "First work, then play" might help you plan your afternoon, but then there's a reminder that "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" to consider too. Meanwhile, "Standers-by see more than gamesters" is a good tip for designers to use at some stage of prototype playtesting (and this one is internationally recognized, see e.g. Chinese 当局者迷, 旁观者清).


An interesting role of proverbs is to be found within the game of Go. Catchy phrases were for a long time used there to help new players with the strategy. The game is Chinese in origin, but many of the proverbs come from Japan, where a lot of theory was developed. These range from very game-specific, like "Answer keima with kosumi" (referring to specific moves), to more general "Don't go fishing while your house is on fire". One of the Go sayings is neatly adaptable to music education, especially in improvisation-friendly contexts: "Don't learn joseki, learn from them". Joseki are fixed patterns, or sequences of moves (somewhat similar to chess openings). Likewise, we can say that it's better to "learn from genres" than genres themselves, or from licks etc.

Within music there are not many proverbs in common use, the role of inspiration might be examined in "Good musicians borrow, great musicians steal", another saying that gained notoriety could be "Repetition legitimizes". Hopefully in time we'll see here also proverbs from specific musical traditions. The more the merrier!

Practical in-game usage

There was a proverb culture around the game of Go, now, let's spend a bit of time with the role of proverbs within specific games, past, present, or soon to be. Proverbs serve a gaming function at least since parlour games of the Victorian times, and before movie titles took over, they were a staple of Charades and similar guessing games (Games and Puzzles for the Musical book has one such riddle).

We already may infer some drawbacks of using proverbs, both depend on the target players of your game:

  • If you hope for a culturally and linguistically diverse group of players to enjoy the activity, you may lose a lot in translation.
  • You need to be careful with outdated, problematic sayings.
  • The younger generation you aim at, the nerdier they need to be to enjoy the content…

But there are some advantages too, some general:

  • Cultural references are a form of enrichment.
  • The resource is easy to remember (often already known).

…and some advantages of proverbs are worthy of note especially for music games, as they often have:

  • rhythm,
  • rhyme, or
  • interesting sounds (alliteration, onomatopoeia…)

And here are some examples of English proverbs you may use in your words-adjacent game. You can have a whole editorial selection as a deck too. More languages welcome!

42 cues from this source

Random scores with cues from this source:

A Single Random CueGOTO ScoreBubblesHorizontal Vanilla

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