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Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.
Oscar Wilde, Personal Impressions of America

The Piano Player could very well be a large reel of paper, making the piano effectively a large music box.

When an actual person is used, they don't necessarily have more personality. This is a shame, as the ragtime music featured in most western saloons used heavy repetitions of notes that could very well be Level Grinding your arms into a level of badass.

Expect a competent professional musician in white shirtsleeves and slicked hair, often brought in from "out East" for the sole purpose of being able to play the latest songs as well as any request. (That doesn't stop them from playing almost the exact same tune in every bar.)

The Piano Player becomes an important device because although he is able to play for hours without a break, the mere mention of "Bad Bart" or any local Big Bad causes him to slam the keys once before the foreboding silence. Sometimes they comedically continue playing stoically while the bar behind them breaks out in a Bar Brawl, though they might also help out by playing more intense music while there's a fight. If one really wants to be nasty to the player, one could slam the wooden keyboard lid on their fingers.

However, their character is tied up in the piano and they rarely have any lines, with all questions about the bar being directed to The Bartender.

Examples of The Piano Player include:


  • Whenever he isn't being a lazy uptight snob, Austria is this.

Comic Books

  • A Lucky Luke story had Luke become friends with one of these, who had ambitions of one day playing at Symphony Hall. He finally gets his chance but on the day of his performance he gets stage fright and freezes completely. Luke correctly guesses he's used to playing in bars with perpetual brawls going on so he barges in on Jolly Jumper and starts firing into the air causing the room to descend to utter chaos...and the player to get over his stage fright and start playing. They throw him out, of course, but he managed to live his dream.
  • One storyline in the UK Transformers Generation 1 comic features one of these who actually is a piano. His purpose in the story is to get assaulted by a local bully, prompting our heroes to come to his aid and thus learn a lesson about how they must never sit by when injustice is being done.


  • Frank Sinatra had a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo as one in the 1956 film version of Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • In Bugsy Malone the piano player in Fat Sam's Grand Slam Speakeasy also sings two very catchy songs.
  • Casablanca, of course. (Dooley Wilson, who played Sam, was a singer but not a pianist in Real Life; his piano playing in the film was actually done by Elliot Carpenter).
  • Songwriter Paul Williams wrote the original music for The Muppet Movie; he also had a Cameo as the piano player at the "El Sleezo Cafe."
    • In the dive bar/club, there's a sign next to the piano reading "Don't shoot, piano player."
  • Phantom of the Paradise is about one of these (Winslow Leach, played by William Finley) who's actually a gifted musician desperately trying to make it in the corrupt, cutthroat music industry. He's discovered by the villainous music producer Swan (played again by Paul Williams, who again wrote all the movie's songs) while playing piano in the background in Swan's club, mostly ignored by the patrons, after the headlining band's big music act is over.
  • The Pianist (obviously enough) features a rare instance of the trope being Played for Drama, and Based on a True Story to boot. Classical concert pianist Władysław Szpilman is forced to take cheap gigs in bars and restaurants when the Nazis take over Poland, since they didn't allow Jews to be in the arts. (Then It Gets Worse. Much, much worse).
  • In Singin in The Rain Lina Lamont refers to Cosmo as this, even though he actually has a really big part!

 Lina Lamont: You piano player, you!

  • Doc Holliday takes a turn in this capacity in Tombstone.


  • In Robert W. Service's poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew a stranger walks in and takes over for the piano player. His hypnotic performance drives the rest of the plot.

Live Action Television

  • In the Doctor Who serial "The Gunfighters", there's a subplot about the saloon trying to find a new piano player because their old one was shot last week.
  • Brad from Glee, who has never spoken and tends to spontaneously appear whenever needed.

 Rachel: BRAD!

[He enters]

Rachel: He's just always... around.

  • In the Korean Drama Shining Inheritance, an autistic child who is a genius on the piano is taken in by a bar owner, and eventually reunited with his family who is looking for him.


Newspaper Comics

  • There was a Dick Tracy villain called 88 Keys, both in the comic strip and the Warren Beatty film.
  • The Far Side often features piano players in western gags. One particularly funny example combines this with Left the Background Music On: A desperado appears at the doors of a saloon, and the banjo player nervously remarks to the pianist, "Bad guy coming in, Arnie! Minor key!"
  • A George Booth cartoon for The New Yorker had an airline captain being interviewed on the tarmac in front of his plane: "Some nut shot the piano player, but that seemed to be unconnected to the hijacking."
  • Snoopy will occasionally enter a bar and either make a request of the piano player, or begin playing piano himself in the Peanuts cartoons.
    • The recurring pianist in Peanuts is Schroeder. He does get lines (usually trading Lucy's flirtations for sarcasm), but in big crowd scenes he tends to stay in the background, hunched over his instrument. In the video game "Snoopy Flying Ace", he gets this role in a traditional sense, playing in a bar while the other characters discuss things with one another and bartender Linus (the game being a loving parody of/homage to old war movies).


  • Wesley in the play The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan.

Video Games

  "You know, Neville Shute, the piano player... he's only doing his job."

Western Animation

  • There's a piano player in The Great Mouse Detective, and although the film is not a western, he certainly fits the trope.
  • Player pianos, the paper-roll automatic version, is used in Scooby Doo for their "ghost player" effect.
  • Captain Hook fills this role in the bar scenes of the Shrek sequels, perhaps as a shout out to the Affably Evil version in the Disney movie Peter Pan, or to the original book, where Hook is stated to be an accomplished harpsichord player, despite his disabilty. It's lampshaded in that, when sent with his men to capture Shrek and co. in the third film, they bring the piano along so he can provide music for the fight scene.
  • The Simpsons:
    • A food fight breaks out, complete with old-timey piano music. Halfway through the fight it cuts to Principal Skinner nervously playing a piano in the middle of the cafeteria.
    • A Treehouse of Horror episode, which features zombie Billy The Kid demanding Homer play the "piany", and getting angry when Homer starts playing classical music.

  "Not piano! Piany!"

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