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So, you're watching this show where someone appears to be The Cast Showoff, then you notice that their hands aren't matching the notes at all. Sometimes, to the point where they didn't even try. Or, perhaps someone is talking about music and it turns out it's just musical Techno Babble.

Generally a musical trope of they Did Not Do the Research. To people not familiar with music, it doesn't bother, likely because it's not relevant to the plot, but to musicians it's obvious. It also mostly applies to instrumental music, because not everyone knows the technical skills and what it looks like to play an instrument, and instruments can be easily substituted in on the soundtrack because of the uniformity of sound. Guitars sound much more like each other than voices do.

  • Type 1 is on the performance end, where an actor is playing a performer and is obviously NOT playing it in real life. Sometimes this is Lampshaded for comic effect, and thus Breaking the Fourth Wall.
  • Type 2 is on the writing or editing end, where the writer or editor is not familiar with music. This applies to incorrect terminology, obvious dubbing or computerized music. This is less common because usually higher-end productions come with a composer, sound editor, music supervisor, etc, and have decent sound libraries.

Note: Lip-synching does not apply here, because most people know how to lip synch, and music videos almost always are the voices of the artist.



  • Bruce Campbell recorded a commercial for Old Spice where he's playing "Hungry Like the Wolf" on a piano. About twenty seconds in, he lifts both his hands off the keys to point at his audience, while the piano keeps playing.


  • In Divinity, Hinata, Sakura, Ino, Tenten, and Temari all are learning musical instruments...but since nobody else plays the harp, Hinata's stuck teaching herself instead of being tutored. The girls are seven or eight at the oldest.[1]


  • August Rush: Electric guitars without amps, a so-so composition that gets him into Juilliard without the audition process, his sudden professional-grade skill at all these things without any previous training. Generally the movie did not play well with musicians.
  • Bedazzled (the remake): Brendan Fraser is playing guitar during one of the fantasies, and he has his hand above the capo.
  • Drumline: The printed music that comes out of a snare drum solo in the middle of the movie has sharps and flats, despite the fact that a snare drum has only one note (roughly, "bang").
  • Mr. Holland's Opus: It takes Mr. Holland 30 years to write a 3-minute orchestral composition, which the actual composer Michael Kamen probably wrote in two weeks.
    • Of course, that is not the point of the movie, but to show that his real "Opus" was the impact on his students as a teacher, not his ability to compose. And to show the importance of music education. Even Kamen's foundation he founded after the film was about education, not composing music.
    • Some musicians don't like the fact that Mr. Holland conducts left-handed, but they definitely do exist.
  • The Parent Trap: Hayley Mills is not moving her fingers when playing guitar Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Then on "Let's Get Together" her strumming does not match the music (in addition to not moving her fingers).
  • Waiting for Guffman: In the overture, someone decided to dub in MIDI instruments. This is either a gigantic In Joke to musicians, or an Epic Fail on behalf of the music editor. It's not Lampshaded.
  • Johnny Cash referenced this trope when he first heard of the biopic Walk the Line; he said that he hoped that whoever portrayed him knew how to hold a guitar correctly. The movie itself averts it, as both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (who portrayed Cash's wife, June Carter) worked for several months with producer T-Bone Burnett to learn how to sing and play instruments.
    • However, the film does play it straight several other times, including one scene where Waylon Payne (as Jerry Lee Lewis) is backed by an electric bassist, but an upright bass is heard instead.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: In the scene where Eddie Valiant is mingling with the toons at Maroon Studios, he comes across a saxophonist standing next to the enchanted brooms from Fantasia. However, the saxophonist isn't doing anything else besides just swaying his body while playing the saxophone. The thing is, he isn't even moving his fingers while he was playing the saxophone.
  • In the Canadian film Hard Core Logo, Callum Keith Rennie's portrayal of Billy Tallent, guitarist of the eponymous band, barely even looks like he's trying during the performance scenes. Hugh Dillion as singer/rhythm guitarist Joe Dick is much more believable, as he's an actual musician.
  • Kirk Douglas may do his own singing for the song "Whale of a Tale" in the movie Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but he certainly doesn't handle the music. Like most fake guitar players, he remembers to strum, but almost completely ignores the existence of the frets.
  • In the film version of Ghost World, the actor portraying the guitarist/singer of Blueshammer has never played a guitar in his life.
  • Averted in Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany took lessons on the violin and cello, respectively, so that they would at least appear to have some experience. When the scene was filmed, they played along with the recording which would be dubbed over for the finished product. Both turned out to be decent musicians anyway, particularly Bettany. In fact, the artificially polished performance of the film made the characters better musicians then their literary counterparts. In the novels, both men are little more than enthusiastic amateurs, rather than Regency-era versions of Yo Yo Ma.
  • Dooley Wilson, who played Sam in Casablanca, was a drummer, not a pianist. It's fairly obvious.

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of Bones has Dr. Brennan claiming that by knowing how to play the akonting (a West-African 3 stringed, non-fretted lute), she could play blues-style electric guitar. While the writers were trying to Show Their Work by knowing what an akonting is, the instruments are too distant in style, culture, structure, and tuning to pull that off.
  • Glee: Calling what they do a "glee club" is like calling a rock band a "string orchestra." The term is "show choir" (which they do acknowledge in show) "Show Choir" probably didn't sound as cool a title.
    • Though, it could be a Truth in Television, or Defictionalization, as a lot of show choirs in the U.S. are calling themselves "Glee Clubs."
    • More recently, Glee had a madrigal choir competing against New Directions at a show-choir competition. There are other competitions for typical school choirs (not show choirs), where one would think that a madrigal choir, with their use of classical repertoire and lack of dancing, would fit better.
  • Heroes: Emma playing the cello is to a lesser degree. She does move her fingers some, and some of the open strings match what is heard, but what she was playing would in real life like sound like this.
  • Parks and Recreation: Leslie is listening to bluegrass music, and the banjo is MIDI. It could be a case of Leslie not being able to distinguish real instruments from MIDI, but most $1.00 CDs you can get at a gas station have real instruments.
  • Kelsey Grammer's fake piano playing is actually pretty convincing in Frasier but if you look closely you can see that it's dubbed. Definitely not Lampshaded.
  • The Hot in Cleveland episode where the girls form a band seems to have been this trope. It's most obvious for Betty White's character. You really gonna make a woman in her eighties hit those drums?
  • When Montoya plays the violin in the first episode of Queen of Swords, he just draws the bow across the strings in no particular rhythm, and doesn't even bother moving his fingers.
  • Type 1 is averted and then played straight in the Mysterious Ways episode "Free Spirit": in the first few scenes of Miranda playing the violin, the finger movements and bow strokes match the music, but when she plays later in the episode she's obviously faking. Since her face is only clearly shown in the later scene, the difference could be explained by the use of a Talent Double.
  • An episode of ER featured a gifted young violinist. At the end of the episode, he performs a piece - his fingering movements are completely out of sync with the music.
  • In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Leonard is playing in a string quartet with the hairs on his bow facing outwards. The bow hair on the string is what makes the sound on the cello.

Music Videos

  • Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love". Some people criticized the video because the "musicians" (portrayed by fashion models) were not correctly playing their guitars. VH-1's "Pop Up Video" said that a musician was hired to teach the models basic guitar fingering techniques, but "gave up after about an hour and left".
  • The music video for "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry has one of the band members playing an accordion. Even the least musically-inclined person can tell there's no accordion in the song (it's a ballad; why would they even use one?).
  • Similarly, Scatman John's "Scatman" video has a trumpeter, upright bassist and drummer in it, when all of the instruments are obviously synthesized.
  • And in the video for The Bellamy Brothers' "Old Hippie (The Sequel)", one of them is strumming a resonator guitar in the video. This is doubly wrong; besides the complete lack of said instrument in the song, resonator guitars are usually played horizontally (like a lap steel guitar) or finger-picked, not strummed.
  • Rebecca Black's song (no, not Friday) My Moment. At the beginning of the song you see Rebecca Black in a recording studio with a guitarist, a drummer and a bass player. Absolutely nowhere in the song can you hear a guitar or a bass.
  • Richard Swift's "Knee-High Boogie Blues" video has a lot of closeup shots where it's obvious the drumsticks are not touching the drum head at any point, and the guitarist isn't touching the strings at all. It's so obvious that one can only assume that it was intentional.

Video Games

  • Donkey Kong 64: Two of the playable characters' instruments don't sound like their real life counterparts. Donkey Kong's bongos are much more melodic than real bongos, but it's particularly egregious with Chunky Kong's triangle. It actually makes the sound of a celesta, a completely different instrument!

Western Animation


 Frenchy:Nutter was singing in the wrong key!

Nutter: No I wasn't. It was Loutzenheiser. I was singing in E♭ minor.

Frenchy: The song's in F♯ major!

Bell: I think they're the same thing. I mean, E♭ is the relative minor of F♯.

Frenchy: No, it isn't. The relative minor is 3 half-tones down from the major, not up!

Noon: No, it's 3 down. Like A is the relative minor of C major.

Loutzenheiser: But isn't A♯ in C major?

Bell: Wait, are you singing mixolydian scales, or something?

Frenchy: A# is tonic to C major. It's the 6th!

Humphrey: No it isn't!

Swan: Well, it'd be like a raised 13th if anything.

  • In performances of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Schroeder's miniature piano is obviously fake, and an orchestra piano is what's actually playing; some of the notes aren't even possible on a piano the size of his.
    • Toy Pianos like Schroeder's generally can't play accidentals (Sharps and flats). it's even pointed out in one comic strip that the black keys are just painted on.
      • and in the Christmas Special his toy piano is versatile enough to sound like a classical piano and a pipe organ in addition.

Real Life

  • Early in Stan Freberg's career he was in a big band as a singer and guitarist; but he couldn't play guitar, so he just mimed it. It took them a while to catch on.
  • Muse were told on an Italian TV show that the would be lip-synching. So, to mess with everyone, they switched instruments and exaggerated all the movement. Apparently, the Italian director of the TV show didn't notice.
  • The Finnish dance musician Darude once "played" his hit tune "Sandstorm" live on Finnish TV with a synthesizer; however, anyone with any knowledge of synthesizers could see it was not even plugged in.
  • A fair number of bands didn't really think much of Top of the Pops when it was on air, but since they had to promote their singles, they often decided to make the most of it by invoking this trope. Highlights include Marc Bolan performing with the lead from his amp going into his back pocket and members of the Faces stepping back from the microphones when they sang.
  • There is also this little gem thanks to Nirvana. They clearly just don't care.


  1. let's not even get into the whole theoretical part, either. Or how when Hinata has trouble learning a piece, everyone else teases her for being bad at music. UGH.
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