[[quoteright:350:[[Film/TheShawshankRedemption http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/f9100e9199a23d25a7b220b196d03163.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:350:Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Except for this little beauty.]]

->''(Prisoner plays harmonica)''\\
'''Homer:''' That's sorta nice. What're you in for?\\
'''Prisoner:''' Atmosphere.
-->-- ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'', "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, [[color:blue:Blue]] Fish"

When various characters are trapped or held captive (say, during a jail scene) the harmonica may be played, as BackgroundMusic if not by an actual character. It's also done in isolation, such as being stranded or lost in the wilderness. Or just camping or boredom, which borderline qualifies as the previous. Sometimes associated with WildWest or DeepSouth settings.

See also BrigBallBouncing, another pastime used to illustrate a character trying to fill in empty time while in confinement or prison.


* A drunk driving PSA features a man sitting on a small bed in a dark, empty room, throwing a ball against the wall as a harmonica soundtrack plays in the background and a narrator talks about the consequences for drunk driving including "doing time". This is revealed to be a parody of the trope's normal use when we hear his mother yell at him to stop bouncing the ball: Turns out he's not in jail, he just had to move back in with his parents because a large fine (probably combined with no longer being able to drive to work) caused him to no longer be able to afford rent.

[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* ''Anime/DigimonAdventure'': Yamato's IconicItem was a harmonica that he often played during particularly troubled or uncertain times, such as the first night after they become TrappedInAnotherWorld or while being [[WorkOffTheDebt enslaved at a restaurant]].

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* When ''ComicBook/TheJoker'' was sent to a regular prison after being framed for murder (yes, ''framed''), he stuffs the harmonica down the player's throat.
* In ''ComicBook/TheQuestion Returns'', the title character spends a night in a small town jail with a BlindBlackGuy who identifies himself as "The River Spirit" mouth-harping away in the next cell over. [[LampshadeHanging The general hokiness of the situation]] is part of what convinces Vic [[AllJustADream that he hallucinated their entire exchange]].

[[folder:Fan Fiction]]
* When Kyon went to talk with an inmate in ''FanFic/KyonBigDamnHero'', the inmate in the cell next to his is shown playing the harmonica. They use the music from it to prevent anybody from hearing Kyon's conversation.
* Socrates does this while jailed in ''Fanfic/CalvinAndHobbesTheSeries''.
* In ''Fanfic/ShadowchasersAscension'' Tiberius - a major villain from the previous fic of the franchise - is in the maximum security wing of prison and starts to get annoyed by a prisoner in the next cell, playing a harmonica. (The conversation is a VillainousBSOD for him, as he realizes no-one is frightened of him anymore):
-->'''Tiberius:''' Will you stop playing that thing?
-->'''Inmate:''' Do you mind? I'll play this "thing" as much as I please.
-->'''Tiberius:''' If I could get over there, Iíd strangle you.
-->'''Inmate:''' Yeah? Well, you canít, so shut up.

[[folder:Film -- Animated]]
* Parodied in ''WesternAnimation/ChickenRun''.
* [[DeadpanSnarker Hamm]] plays one in ''WesternAnimation/ToyStory3'', while incarcerated in Sunnyside. He is promptly told to knock it off.
* Ike plays a harmonica while hiding in the attic in ''WesternAnimation/SouthParkBiggerLongerAndUncut''.
* Played with in ''WesternAnimation/{{Wishology}}'': The harmonica turns out to be music coming from a record player, whose turntable is being operated by the captive fairies.
* The fish in the pound does this in the ''WesternAnimation/ShaunTheSheep'' movie.
* Peter in ''WesternAnimation/TheCamelBoy'', after he was imprisoned in an Arabian jail for sneaking into the country.

[[folder:Film -- Live Action]]
* In ''Film/RikiOhTheStoryOfRicky'', our titular character is typically seen blowing on a folded leaf in this manner - and pulls it off fairly well. (Probably because he broke his harmonica killing half the prison population off-screen.)
* In the movie ''Film/ClubParadise'', Creator/RobinWilliams imitates playing a harmonica with his own voice while locked up. (He loves this gag, apparently, see ''Series/MorkAndMindy'' below.)
* In ''Film/PoliceAcademy'', Larvell Jones uses his own voice to imitate a harmonica while held at a police station.
* It's likely Music/EnnioMorricone was the TropeCodifier here; he liked to use harmonicas a lot in his SpaghettiWestern scores, along with whistling, to draw attention to a solitary protagonist. The harmonica is used in ''Film/TheGoodTheBadAndTheUgly'' as Blondie and Tuco get marched into the Union prison camp, and in ''Film/OnceUponATimeInTheWest'' it's given centre-stage as Harmonica's trademark.
* Horror film ''Film/{{Prison}}'' has a whole captivity band which appears couple of times.
* Jesse from ''Film/FreeWilly'' plays harmonica. Played with in that as a youth he's obviously not in jail (or if he would be it would be in juvie), but is placed with a foster family that he initially rejects and forced to work at a water park to make up for earlier vandalism. The sounds attract the killer whale he end up befriending.
* Subverted in ''Film/TheShawshankRedemption'' when Andy learns that Red used to play harmonica before he went to jail, and gets him one as a gift. Red declines to play it.
* ''Film/BattleBeyondTheStars''. SpaceTrucker Cowboy [[FaceDeathWithDignity plays his harmonica]] while [[SpacePirate Jackers]] wear down his shields.
* Variations
** Luke's banjo in ''Film/CoolHandLuke''
** Hilts throwing a baseball against the cooler cell wall in ''Film/TheGreatEscape''.
* ''Film/SuperMarioBros'': during the brief scene when the Mario Bros and Toad are in prison, Toad is playing one and singing a song about how's in jail with the plumbers. He stops when he can't think of a word that rhymes with dimension.
-->'''Mario:''' Tension. And I'm full of it, so shut up.
* In ''Fled'', Dodge (Stephen Baldwin) and Piper (Lawrence Fishburne) are fleeing captivity while handcuffed together, and Dodge complains that if they don't establish a rhythm to their running, he'll get his hand ripped off. Piper replies "here's your rhythm, convict", produces a harmonica, plays it and runs in time.
* In ''Film/TheFlintstonesInVivaRockVegas'', Barney plays the harp when he and Fred are falsely arrested.
* Fozzie does this in ''Film/TheMuppetMovie'' when he, Kermit, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy are stranded in the desert after their car breaks down.[[note]]To be exact, he does it while, and after, Gonzo sings "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday".[[/note]]

* In the novel ''Literature/ForrestGump'', Forest learns to play harmonica from his buddy Bubba in Vietnam. Forest plays it for Bubba as he lies dying. Not used in the movie.
* It appears, half by accident, in the ''Literature/ApprenticeAdept'' books. Stile is trapped in the Black Adept's dungeon chambers, with no food and very little to do, but he still has a harmonica that he found a few chapters earlier.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* The titular ''Series/{{Titus}}'' plays one when he and his brother Dave are forced to do all of Papa Titus's chores.
* ''Series/TheTwilightZone1959'':
** In "Shadow Play", one of the prisoners plays a harmonica. The main character, who claims it's AllJustADream, lampshades this by saying the harmonica-player was taken from "a bad movie I saw once".
** In "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby", a man abducted by aliens despondently resorts to this trope... the sound of which turns out to cause them physical pain. [[ItMakesSenseInContext It's less contrived in context]].
* [[LampshadeHanging Lampshaded]] in the ''Series/{{NCIS}}'' "Frame-Up". [=DiNozzo=] is framed for murdering a woman and is held by the FBI because all signs seem to be pointing to him. [=DiNozzo=]'s typical target for jokes, [=McGee=], strolls past the jail cell playing harmonica, then gives it to [=DiNozzo=] as a "present".
* While he's not a captive, Richard O'Brien from ''Series/TheCrystalMaze''.
* ''Series/MysteryScienceTheater3000'':
** In the episode ''Film/FutureWar'', when the hero and heroine are hiding out in a boxcar, Mike and the bots riff "Well, I suppose one of us has to play harmonica".
** In a scene cut from TheMovie, the crew is forced to go into a shelter as the Satellite of Love passes through a meteor shower. As a harmonica plays, the camera pans over Mike checking on Gypsy, Servo hoarding canned food, and...[[SorryILeftTheBGMOn Crow playing the harmonica]].
* Mork imitated playing the harmonica with his voice while locked up in several ''Series/MorkAndMindy'' episodes.
* In "Parrot Island," the second part of the pilot episode of ''Series/TheSuiteLifeOnDeck'', London Tipton plays a harmonica while imprisoned on the titular island. She plays it surprisingly well, given [[UpperClassTwit the character's]] [[TheDitz history]].
* Played on ''Series/HaveIGotNewsForYou'' (and surprisingly well) by outgoing former MP, Lembit Opik, in mourning for his former employment.
* Les Stroud, star of ''Series/{{Survivorman}}'', is actually a professional harmonica player. So a lot of times when he's stranded out in the wilderness and all, he'll just jam with it for a few minutes to cheer himself up.
** Once produced a particularly amusing situation. Les was out in Alaska or some other very snowy region. Before climbing into bed in his snow shelter(!), he took it out and played it for about 10 seconds before suddenly stopping and saying:
---> '''Les''': I just forgot--[[BearsAreBadNews polar bears]] [[OhCrap are attracted to strange noises]].
** In one episode, when he had to disassemble a harmonica to obtain material for one of his survival techniques, he called it "the ultimate sacrifice".
* In ''Series/DrakeAndJosh'', Josh plays one in a jail cell. The prisoner next to him crushes it and then gives it back.
* In an AlternateRealityEpisode of ''Series/BoyMeetsWorld'' in which the main characters are soldiers fighting in WWII, Cory plays the harmonica because he's separated from his {{High School Sweetheart|s}} Topanga.
-->'''Alan:''' You really miss her, don't you?
-->'''Cory:''' [[LampshadeHanging You don't play the harmonica when you're happy]].
* In ''Series/MarriedWithChildren'', when Buck runs away and ends up in the pound, it's very prison-ish, complete with harmonica-playing pooch.
* ''Series/{{Farscape}}''. in the episode ''Different Destinations'', our heroes find themselves under siege and "Harvey", the neural-clone of Scorpius trapped in Crichton's mind, whips out a harmonica and plays "Home on the Range".
-->'''Harvey:''' ''(after he's finished playing)'' Aaaahhh John! If this situation hadn't reminded you of all those old westerns you watched as a youth, I never would have heard that!
* In one episode of ''Series/HotInCleveland'', Elka plays the harmonica in jail to which Mary Tyler Moore's character tells her to stop.
* In one episode of ''Series/PowerRangersZeo'', after the MonsterOfTheWeek and some Mooks capture Bulk and Skull and throw them in a makeshift cage, Skull starts playing a harmonica he just happened to have - which ''really'' starts to annoy Bulk. ("Do everyone a favor!" he shouts, [[CallBack "stick to the piano!"]]) Fortunately, the Rangers find them before he drives Bulk nuts.
* ''Series/MidsomerMurders'': A flashback in "Death in a Chocolate Box" to when the second VictimOfTheWeek was in prison shows him playing the harmonica. When his new probabtion officer (the first VictimOfTheWeek) enters, he pays a mocking note.

* Given Music/{{Supertramp}}'s "School" is about an AssimilationAcademy, the harmonica opening is probably invoking this.

[[folder:Newspaper Comics]]
* In a series of strips of ''ComicStrip/{{Kudzu}}'', Maurice gets thrown in jail for [[FelonyMisdemeanor singing the blues without a license]]. While in a cell, he starts to play a harmonica and is told "no blues." There's a list of acceptable songs on the wall, which include [[{{Musical}} showtunes]] and Peter Paul And Mary.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In ''VideoGame/AmericasArmy'' if you shoot an instructor during the training missions the mission will end, the screen will fade to black and then reveal you to be in a jail cell with harmonica music playing in the background.
* Kaori uses a flute to the same effect in ''VisualNovel/EienNoAselia''.
* In the game over screen of ''[[VideoGame/DonkeyKongCountry2DiddysKongQuest Donkey Kong Country 2]]'', a harmonica plays over a shot of Diddy and Dixie in a jail cell.
* Some of the background music of ''VideoGame/RedDeadRedemption'' includes harmonicas.
* There is a hobo playing a harmonica at the run-down hobo camp in ''VideoGame/LANoire''.

* Other instrument variation: In ''Webcomic/GirlGenius'', a man in the cells under Sturmhalten is playing what appears to be a Captivity Mandolin, seen [[http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20060726 here]].

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'':
** During an episode the kids are sent to school by a prison bus rather than the usual school bus, and look as if they were sent to an actual prison. One of the kids plays the harmonica.
** Lampshaded in another episode, see the quote above.
** When Bart gets sent to juvenile hall in "The Wandering Juvie", a harmonica is amongst the personal effects the warden confiscates. He plays a few bars of the traditional incarceration tune before putting it away.
* The main character of ''Pizza Boy in: No Tip'', a ''WesternAnimation/WhatACartoonShow'' short, does this after being sent to jail for assaulting a couple who refused to give him a tip after he made a long and dangerous delivery. When the prison chaplain accidentally presses his BerserkButton by mentioning the word "tip", he ''swallows'' the harmonica before having another epic freakout.
* Occurs in ''WesternAnimation/JimmyNeutron'': After being thrown into the brig by the Junkman, Sheen does this.
* In an episode of ''WesternAnimation/{{Mucha Lucha}}'' Rikochet, Buena Girl, The Flea, and Pulgita are mistaken for being burglars and arrested on their way to a big match. While in jail, Pulgita is playing a harmonica.
* ''WesternAnimation/TinyToonAdventures'' had Buster producing a harmonica after being framed for theft. When the guard gets sick of it, he stuffs it down Buster's throat [[DinnerDeformation (and he spends the next scene with a harmonica-shaped bulge in his neck).]]
* ''WesternAnimation/SouthPark'':
** Played straight in the film version, although the harmonica player in question is Ike the baby.
** And again in "Whale Whores", with Cartman playing the harmonica in question. "Oh, I'm in Japanese prison, lord, don't belong here, [[CrossesTheLineTwice my eyes are round...]]"
** In the season three episode "Jakovasaurous" which opens with the boys out camping, and Cartman playing a calm little tune on a harmonica. He then introduces a new song he just wrote; "I Hate You Guys" (which uses the opening chords from Bad to The Bone)
--> '''Cartman''': I hate you guys! *tune* You guys are assholes! *tune* Especially Kenny!
* One episode of ''WesternAnimation/HomeMovies'' has Brendan making a prison movie, in which he is making harmonica noises.
* One episode of ''WesternAnimation/{{Daria}}'' featured Daria playing the harmonica while grounded. Her parents lift the grounding just so they don't have to listen to her play.
* In an episode of Creator/HannaBarbera's ''WesternAnimation/TopCat'', the crew lands in jail. One pulls out a harmonica and begins to play: "What? [[LampshadeHanging They always play harmonica in prison movies!]]"
* Played by the koala in the zoo/prison in ''WesternAnimation/TheLifeAndTimesOfJuniperLee'' episode "The Great Escape".
* Played by one of the Sirrians when Glenn and Lincoln are locked up in the Pound in the ''WesternAnimation/{{Dogstar}}'' episode "The Beagle Has Landed".
* Parodied in ''WesternAnimation/TheRealGhostbusters'' when the four guys are locked up in a ghost world prison.
-->'''Peter:''' Whoever's playing the crummy harmonica, knock it off!
-->'''Egon:''' Uh...Peter?
-->'''Peter:''' What!?
-->'''Egon:''' It's their version of elevator music.
* In ''WesternAnimation/ZekesPad'', Zeke's dad plays a harmonica when they are trapped inside the snowbound house in "The Artful Dodger". It gets [[TongueOnTheFlagpole stuck to his lips]].
* Invoked in one episode of ''WesternAnimation/AmericanDad'' by Steve and Klaus after spending several days locked in a closet.
* Used as BGM in a ''WesternAnimation/FamilyGuy'' episode where the four men are put into a chain gang.
* In ''WesternAnimation/PhineasAndFerb'', Dr. Diminutive plays one when he and Doofenshmirtz are thrown in a cell together in "Norm Unleashed". At the very end of the episode, Doof tells him to knock it off.
* The opening of ''WesternAnimation/{{Cellbound}}'' has the jailbird protagonist playing a wistful tune, though just for show; as soon as nobody's looking he drops the harmonica and continues going over his escape plans.
* Used in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/JohnnyTest'' which used '''''every''''' [[PrisonTropes prison gag]] in the book. Dukey even lampshades it.
-->'''Dukey:''' It's in ''every'' great prison movie.
* ''WesternAnimation/LooneyTunes'': At the start of "D'Fightin' Ones."
* ''WesternAnimation/FostersHomeForImaginaryFriends'': Used with Coco in the episode "My So-Called Wife" when she, Mac, Bloo, and Mr. Herriman end up in jail for trespassing inside an elderly rich man's mansion.
* The ''[[WesternAnimation/QuickDrawMcGraw Snooper and Blabber]]'' short "Person to Prison" ends with the duo sentenced to jail, with Blabber playing the harmonica.
-->'''Snooper:''' Hey Blab, do you think you'll learn to play that harmonica?
-->'''Blabber:''' Well, I got 30 years to practice.
* "WesternAnimation/ThePenguinsOfMadagascar": [[spoiler: Manfredi]] plays on one when [[spoiler: is revealed, that he and Johnson are real and alive but captured in Seaville]]
* "WesternAnimation/BojackHorseman": part of the BGM in the episode where [[spoiler: Todd]] goes to jail.
* Parodied in the ''WesternAnimation/SonicBoom'' episode, "In the Midnight Hour". Sticks ends up being arrested and betrayed by her own friends, ending up in jail with the typical harmonica in the background... which turns out to be a vinyl record she was playing to try and cheer herself up.
* Happens in ''JohnnyBravo'' when Johnny becomes mayor (due to a bizarre clause in the town charter that says that the village idiot become mayor if the mayor and the town council become incapacitated by bad tuna) and drafts a law saying that it's now illegal for nerdy dweebs to be seen in public, leading to Carl getting tossed in prison. Cue him playing a harmonica in a jail cell with a pissed-off cellmate looking on.
* In skit in the ''WesternAnimation/TheAmazingWorldOfGumball'' episode "The Extras" features a bunch of criminals finding a way to pass time in the local jail by grooving out and starting a somber jail tune together. They start humming, then finger snapping, then lead up for one person to play a harmonica solo. The guy can't play the harmonica at all, and completely whiffs, but the others continue grooving to the mood.
* In the ''WesternAnimation/{{Arthur}}'' episode, "To Tibble The Truth", Tommy and Timmy worry that they'll go to jail if they continue to lie. An ImagineSpot is then shown of Tommy playing the harmonica, until Timmy fights over it with him. The prisoner in the bunk above them then takes the harmonica from them and crushes it.