Artistic License - Music YKTTW Discussion

Artistic License - Music
Not everyone can play a musician.
(permanent link) added: 2011-08-02 03:21:05 sponsor: jimlapbap (last reply: 2011-08-13 17:57:44)

Add Tag:
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 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.


  • Kirk Douglas may do his own singing for the song "Whale of a Tale" in the movie '20,000 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. Furthermore, the song has an accordion back-up but no actual accordion anywhere in sight.
  • August Rush: Probably the Trope Codifier. Electric guitars without amps, a so-so composition that gets him into Juilliard without the audition process, his skill on guitar. 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 (as it's a percussive instrument, there is no key signature the instrument can follow).
  • Callum Kieth Rennie's portrayal of Billy Tallent, guitarist of the Canadian film Hard Core Logo's titular band barely even looks like he's trying during the performance scenes.
    • Hugh Dillion as singer/rhythm guitarist Joe Dick is much more believable, probably due to the fact that he's an actual musician.
  • Mr. Holland's Opus: It takes Mr. Holland 30 years to write a 3-minute orchestral composition, while 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 Last Song: Miley Cyrus playing a concert pianist...
  • 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.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: In the scene where Eddy 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.

Live-Action TV
  • Glee: A huge YMMV here though. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 80's hit those drums?
  • Parks and Recreation: Leslie is listening to bluegrass music, and the banjo is MIDI. YMMV, because it could be a case of Leslie not being able to distinguish real instruments from MIDI, but most $1.00 C Ds you can get at a gas station have real instruments.
  • I recall seeing somewhere on This Very Wiki something about Riker's tromboning on Star Trek: The Next Generation being way off. Not The Cast Showoff, although he's listed there too.

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 in it, when all the trumpets 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.

Western Animation

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.

Aversions would most be in dialogue (Type 2), otherwise it's The Cast Show Off or a really good faker of music:

  • Cannibal! The Musical: The conversation at the end of "The Trapper Song" is dead-on. Trey Parker and Matt Stone obviously know their basic music theory.
    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.
Replies: 24