Wile E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam, or some other villainous cartoon character has decided to dispose of the Road Runner, or Bugs Bunny, or whoever. Normal methods have failed... it's time for the Xylophone Gag.
The villain screws a stick of dynamite to the C above middle C on a xylophone, puts the sheet music to "Those Endearing Young Charms" (itís very rarely another song) on the stand, and hides, cackling maniacally. Sure enough, The Mark arrives, sees the music, and begins to play... but instead of hitting the high note which would set off the bomb, he hits a flat note (or a sharp note, or a pair of clashing notes). The villain winces (as does the audience; it's a very dissonant note), and yells "No, that's all wrong! Try it again!" The Mark does, with the same results. Ultimately, the villain rushes out in frustration, grabs the mallet from The Mark, and says "This is how you do it!"
He realizes what he's doingjust as he hits the explosive note. Kaboom.
Sometimes executed with a piano instead of a xylophone, but while the exact outcome varies, the end results are the same — the smoke clears, the piano keys bounce off the unfortunate villain's skull (or land in his teeth), or the xylophone bars land in a cluster and repeat, or occasionally complete, the music line.
A subtrope of Musical Trigger.
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During the 1994 baseball players strike, Comedy Central ran a series of bumpers counting the days, showing empty stadium seats and organ playing. When the season was canceled, the last bumper had the organ playing "Those Endearing Young Charms", followed by a big explosion.
In a rare case of this trope actually working, Spy vs. Spy has White Spy rigging a piano so that when Black Spy plays two certain notes, nitroglycerin gets squirted into his mouth.
A typewriter varitation is played straight in a short story in a Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons spinoff publication. One of the Angel pilots has to type up a letter from Colonel White, not realising that the Mysterons have placed a bomb in the typewriter powerful enough to destroy Cloudbase. The bomb is set to detonate as soon as the letter E is typed, since E is the commonest letter in the English language. As luck would have it, the letter only has one word containing an E, right at the end, and our unsuspecting Angel manages to hit the W by mistake.
Live Action TV
In a rare live version of this trope, on Family Ties, Elyse plays "Those Endearing Young Charms" on guitar during a pledge break at her husband's PBS station. The guitar didn't explode during the key notes. Instead, Elyse went into labor.
Chang sets up a detonator key on his own keytar to burn down Greendale's records room. Instead of torching it right away, he plays an 8-minute keytar solo at his birthday party with the trigger as the last note. Nobody seems concerned that one of his keys is red and has a wire running out of it.
The Goon Show had the piano version, when Moriarty and Gritpype-Thynne tried to blow up the Chinese nationalist leader General Kashmychek. Following the failure of the "fiendish Chinese pianist" to get the music right, our enterprising villains are spared the necessity of playing the keys themselves by a musical individual from earlier, who offers to sing and asks for an A. Detonation ensues.
Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen" starts with "Those Endearing Young Charms", so Todd in the Shadows puts clips of "Show Biz Bugs" in his review of the song to confess he can't hear the intro without expecting Daffy blowing up.
Subverted, and given a massive Lampshade Hanging, in Animaniacs. Doug The Dog tries to pull this on Slappy Squirrel. Slappy, seeing the xylophone, notes that it's ostensibly a hatchet-burying gesture, and decides to play "Those Endearing Young Charms." Skippy, her nephew, insists she can't play the song, because it's surely a trap, but Slappy ignores him. She reaches the critical note, plays it right...and watches as Doug is the victim of a random explosion. "Old gag," says Slappy. "New twist." The episode goes on to double-subvert it again when Doug, after a later gag, is sent flying into the Xylophone, which rolls into a tree. Nuts fall from the tree, the pattern of their falling just happens to play "Those Endearing Young Charms" as well, stopping just before the final two (explosive) notes, just in time for Slappy and Skippy to walk past. Slappy tosses two rotten nuts behind her, and...
Played totally straight in an episode of South Park where the B-plot is a blatant homage to classic cartoons set in a summer camp for special needs children. Jimmy Vulmer's rival, Nathan, rigs Jimmy's ukulele with explosives. Jimmy, naturally, can't get the "Those Endearing Young Charms" passage right during his solo. (Note that Jimmy is playing "That Honolulu (or 'Tardicaca') Hula Gal" - but the solo section is still "Those Endearing Young Charms".) Nathan sends his Mook Mimsy to try to correct the situation by demanding the solo. Jimmy gives him the ukulele and asks him to do it. Just before Mimsy gets to the explosive part, Nathan runs in and grabs the ukulele from him. Frustrated with Mimsy's incompetence, he yells "If I want something done, I'm going to do it myself!", and without thinking, plays it himself with predictable results.
In the Season One episode, "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", Jimbo and Ned plan to sabotage a school football game by planting a bomb on the rival team's mascot. The bomb is set to detonate during the half-time show when Richard Stamos, John Stamos' brother, hits the high F note in the song Lovin' You. Unfortunately, Richard fails to hit the note, foiling their plan. At the end of the episode, Richard shows up announcing that he finally got the note right and blows up the mascot before Jimbo can stop him.
Used on the Top Cat episode "The Missing Heir", only the tune used is "While Strolling Through The Park One Day".
A cutaway on Family Guy has Stewie teaching piano (a missed note = electric shock). He also has a woodwind-type student hanging over a shark pit.