So, you're watching this show where someone appears to be The Cast Show Off, 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 inaccuracy trope. To people not familiar with music, it doesn't bother them, 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. May also be Impractical Musical Instrument Skills, which are usually Played for Laughs as well.
- Type 2 is on the writing or editing end, where the writer or editor is not familiar with music performance or composition. 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. A good example, most obviously and notoriously, is the use of the phrase 'rising to/reaching crescendo' - crescendo refers to the rising of volume of a piece; it's a process, not a destination.
- Type 3 is on the conceptual end, where it's clear that the writing staff doesn't understand music physics and thus has the characters perform or compose things which are not actually possible in real life. Examples include:
- Arbitrarily scaling musical instruments up or down in size and then having those scaled models sound just like normal-size instruments. In reality, the pitch of most instruments is proportional to their size. A gigantic guitar would't just be a very loud guitar; the notes that the strings could create would be of different pitches, because the strings would be of different length. (And if the instrument is too large or small, the resultant notes would be at pitches inaudible to the human ear.)
- Adding impossible effects or dynamics, such as having a held piano note grow louder over time.
Note: Lip-synching does not apply here, because most people know how to lip-synch, and music videos are (almost) always the voices of the artist.
See also Music Genre Dissonance.
- August Rush: Electric guitars without amps, a so-so composition that gets him into Juilliard without the audition process. Generally, the movie did not play well with musicians. August is supposed to be a Child Prodigy, but he strains the Willing Suspension of Disbelief by being able to play several instruments with Impractical Musical Instrument Skills the first time he ever picks them up, and even composing for full orchestra within a few hours of the first time he ever sees music notation, before ever studying music theory or orchestration. (For reference, those are feats even the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart couldn't manage in real life.)
- Bedazzled (2000) (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"). Though the more ridiculous thing is that there is some sort of magic computer program that can perfectly transcribe what you're playing as you're playing it. No such program exists, or at least, it's not even close to accurate.
- 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 a fail on behalf of the music editor. It's not Lampshaded.
- Mostly averted by Ralph Macchio in Crossroads (1986), due to the fact that Steve Fuckin' Vai (who plays the Devil) coached him through it. But sharp-eyed guitarists can see several instances where he's off during the guitar showdown with said Devil.
- Walk the Line: Waylon Payne (as Jerry Lee Lewis) is backed by an electric bassist, but an upright bass is heard instead.
- Groundhog Day: during the big dance scene at the end, an upright bassist is shown but electric bass is heard.
- 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 is just swaying his body while playing the saxophone; he isn't even moving his fingers. (Although a toon saxophone probably would be able to play itself.) And, to add insult to injury, it's not even a real sax playing. It's a synth.
- 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 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.
- In Ghost World, the actor portraying the guitarist/singer of Blueshammer has never played guitar in his life.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, at the end, when Amazing Freaking Grace is played, James Doohan's fingers do not match the notes being played. For anyone familiar with the bagpipes, this is very, very obvious, but hardly a drama-breaker.
- Dooley Wilson, who played Sam in Casablanca, was a drummer, not a pianist. It's fairly obvious.
- The "banjo boy" character in Deliverance is clearly not playing the banjo part of "Duelling Banjos", which in turn is obviously being played on a resonator banjo. Both the banjo AND the guitar have capos, which would not be required for playing in G.
- Eagle Eye is particularly bad. The final scene involves a group of grade school students playing the national anthem. First, the song is difficult enough that grade-schoolers would almost certainly not be able to play it. Second, they play it absolutely perfectly, despite being children. Third, anyone who plays one of the instruments in question can see that their hand movements are completely random.
- In The Competition (1980), Richard Dreyfuss plays a classical pianist facing a last-chance, make-or-break competition. At times while he is "playing," he looks down at the keys as though the hands playing aren't his ... and they're not.
- In a unique version of this trope, the titular character of Mr. Bean's Holiday performs for money by lip-syncing to the opera aria Oh mio babbino caro while enacting a scene where he plays a woman who is apparently mourning her dead child. The trope comes in here since the show he puts on has absolutely nothing in common with the lyrics of the song which are actually about a girl threatening that she will commit suicide if her father will not accept the man she loves. The scene is played for laughs though, so it is forgivable.
- While it is less obvious, in the climactic scene of Back to the Future, Marty is clearly not playing the guitar. it becomes painfully obvious during the solo. Years later, Michael J Fox really did learn Johnny B. Goode and performed it at an event.
- A unique sort of Artistic License comes up in UHF, which threw in the music video for "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*". Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits only allowed the parody on the condition that he would play the lead guitar. Weird Al's usual guitarist, Jim West, had worked hard on perfectly imitating Knopfler's original performance; Knopfler himself did not. This is why, unusually for a Weird Al parody, the guitar part sounds quite different from the original song, especially noticeable in the opening riff.
- Cannibal! The Musical: The conversation at the end of "The Trapper Song" is an aversion. Trey Parker and Matt Stone obviously know their basic Music Theory (Parker was originally a film-scoring major in college, which helps).
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.
- Eegah!: During a camping trip, Arch Hall Jr. pulls out his acoustic guitar and sings a song. A phantom orchestra and choir can be heard accompanying him.
- Girl in Gold Boots: The final scene is Critter singing and playing an acoustic guitar. Somehow there's a harmonica playing as well, with no visible source.
- Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2: Music from a Medieval-esque string band plays in The Dark One's tavern, but the "band" is actually a lone fiddler. On closer inspection, his bow isn't even touching the strings.
- At one point in Knife for the Ladies, Seth is playing the violin without doing any fingering at all.
- In the film Amazing Grace, there's a scene where William Wilberforce sings the title song in a pub, using the familiar tune we all know. In fact, that tune wasn't paired with the text until the 19th century, a couple hundred years after the events in the film. The original melody that would have been sung in Wilberforce's time is lost to history, so that's probably a justified case.
- In The Producers (1968), LSD's backing band onstage for "Love Power" consists of a keyboard, a saxophone, and a guitar, but the song is clearly accompanied by a full orchestra with drums and bass and horns and even an extended flute solo.
- In Kids Incorporated, the actors aren't really playing the instruments. Ironically, some of the show's cast have gone on to have real-world music careers, though always as singers.
- Bones: An episode 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 use Shown Their Work, by knowing what an akonting is, the instruments are too distant in style, culture, structure, and tuning to pull that off.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Deja Q", Q ends the episode by appearing with a mariachi band and a trumpet of his own, and then playing it. Problem is, his finger movements both do not match the rhythm of the tones, and do not even match the fingerings that would make the tone in question. Though given it's Q, this could possibly have been an intentional feature.
- 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.
- 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.
- There's also the case of the Warblers, who are supposed to be an a capella group. This would be much more believable if half their backing vocals weren't so obviously synthesizers.
- Clifford DeVoe from The Flash (2014) is supposed to be a genius in every field, including music, but he still gets hit with this a few times.
- Part of his Establishing Character Moment is telling his wife that he finished Schubert's Unfinished Symphony because he listened to his entire body of work that morning. He's likely being sarcastic when he says it happened in one morning, but saying you could "finish" the symphony is like saying you can build an entire skyscraper because you've looked at every other skyscraper. What he did in his other works is immaterial because no one knows what he was planning to do next, meaning any attempt to finish it is pointless.
- During his massacre of the A.R.G.U.S. guards, he's conducting the Hallelujah Chorus (which he's making play in the background In-Universe). However, because the music has to jump around for cinematography reasons, he's conducting to an edited version and it's blatantly obvious that the actor does not know how to conduct music - in a piece written in four, he conducts in both five and two while remaining completely off rhythm. His idea of a cutoff is also about six seconds too long, again for cinematography reasons.
- In the show Okaasan to Issho, there's a skit for a music video called Rock N Roll Dragon that has the hosts pretending to be a rock band. Mitani and Itou are the guitarist and bassist and obviously have no clue how to play, and they don't even fake it (they simply hold the guitars rigidly). Kobayashi behind the skins seems to know what he's doing, though
- 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.
- 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. Are 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. This is doubly surprising given that Johnny Galecki is a trained cellist and is seen using it correctly at least once. Not to mention that after half of the quartet left, he and Leslie practice with just the two of them - and the full quartet's sound. Playing with the wood of the bow instead of the hair (col legno) is used occasionally in classical music, so it might have been just one of those pieces...
- Love Me Licia (the Italian live sequel to Ai Shite Night) zigzags this. In the first seasons is mostly played straight (like musicians' fingers moving incorrectly, or not moving at all), but the drummer averts this, because he can really play the drums. This trope becomes less evident in later seasons, which mostly feature different band members, and where even the photography evolves to show that yes, this time the guitar virtuosisms are real.
- Slater from Saved by the Bell is so good at playing drums that we hear the beats before he even hits the drums.
- Although the musical numbers featured on Later... with Jools Holland are notable for not having the artists use prerecorded music or vocals, it doesn't mean that the various effects and session musicians aren't fair game. This performance by Blur not only features a painfully missed cue where lead singer Damon Albarn strikes a pose and waits in vain for the song to start, but also a string section that starts playing a good couple of beats after their parts have started playing.
- Often done deliberately by performers on Top of the Pops, in protest at being required to mime. Many an instrument was seen to play itself, without any help from its performer.
- In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, when Valencia strums the guitar and sings "Women Gotta Stick Together", there's a straight Type 1: Gabrielle Ruiz's right arm keeps perfect time but her left-hand fingers hold the same chord shape throughout the song. Averted in Greg's song "What'll It Be", where even if Santino Fontana didn't play the opening piano break on the recording, he mimed it perfectly.
- When Right Said Fred performed "I'm Too Sexy" on Pointless Celebrities, the line-up of guitar, bass, and drums (but no keyboards), very obviously didn't match up with almost entirely synthesised backing track. Probably because even Right Said Fred like to invoke Rule of Cool.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 loves to make fun when on-screen performers don't match up with the movie soundtrack.
Jonah: That fiddle player in the back is the real talent. I mean, how's he getting all these sounds from one instrument?
- In Eegah, when Arch Hall Jr.'s acoustic guitar song is accompanied by female backing singers: "It's a good thing he brought along the Andrews Sisters."
- In The Girl in Gold Boots, when Critter sings and plays guitar, with an invisible harmonica accompanying: "I love the way you play the harmonica with your ass." The SOL crew get in on the act themselves in one host segment: Mike plays a sad acoustic guitar song until Crow interrupts to say he made nachos. Mike rushes off to grab some, and the song keeps playing without him.
- In Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2:
Crow: And the fiddler's doing all that without even touching the strings! Bravo!
- Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love". Some people criticized the video because the "musicians" (portrayed by fashion models) were not correctly playing their guitars. VH1'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 Perrys playing the accordion, despite the song not having any accordion parts.
- Scatman John's "Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop)" video has a trumpeter, upright bassist, and drummer in it when all of the instruments are obviously synthesized.
- In the video for The Bellamy Brothers' "Old Hippie (The Sequel)", one of them is strumming a resonator guitar. 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 "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.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic has often had to mime playing guitar for the various artists he imitates. His fake fingerings are most obvious in the video for "The Saga Begins".
- Helloween lean on the fourth wall while miming playing in their video for Halloween as the drums keep going after they stop playing on screen, and the band looks around in mock bewilderment.
- Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty." The video features musicians "playing" the (sampled) saxophone solo... on trumpets.
- In Trent Tomlinson's "One Wing in the Fire", the angles make it hard to tell whether or not he's faking his piano playing. However, of the three pianists credited on the album, none of them is Trent himself.
- In Jeff Foxworthy and Alan Jackson's "Redneck Games" (which consists of snippets of a Foxworthy routine on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics set to music, with a sung chorus by Jackson), Foxworthy repeatedly lip-syncs several of Jackson's sung lines.
- Billy Squier's Performance Video for "The Stroke" has him occasionally miming harmonica during instrumental sections, despite there not being a harmonica anywhere in the song. According to Pop Up Video, this was because he wasn't miming his guitar part in the video, but still wanted to be depicted playing something.
- The music video for "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry has a couple of examples: one person is strumming an electric guitar, an instrument that does not appear in the song at all, while the piano player's hand movements clearly do not match up to his parts.
- Cledus T. Judd has played with this a few times:
- Averted in "Paycheck Woman". Although Judd is not normally a guitarist, his strumming does seem to match up to the chords of the actual song.
- Zig-zagged and Played for Laughs in "(Weight's Goin') Up Down, Up Down". Again, his rhythm guitar appears to be on par, but his family is standing behind him with bored expressions, barely paying any attention to their instruments (which include a ukulele and hand drum, neither of which is actually in the song).
- 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!
- Grand Piano Keys: The game uses a piano with much fewer notes than a real piano, and the keys don't always match the music. This is done to make the game simpler to play.
- Mōba plays a heavily stylized shamisen (which didn't exist during the time period the game is set in) by plucking at the strings by hand.
- Apparently Yōkinshi can play a guqin standing, holding it in one arm while playing with his free hand. You can't really blame the guy, because he fights with the stuff. He plays it properly when given the chance to sit down.
- Rock Band and Guitar Hero avatars are designed by real musicians who took painstaking care in making the avatars come as close as possible to miming the music...it's only noticeable when the song has instruments that aren't in the game design (like banjos) or the drummer is hitting a piece of percussion that's not present in his kit, instead going to the closest facsimile. And of course ghost orchestras, horn sections, etc (although in Rock Band 3 you could chalk them up to samples from the keyboard player).
- Alida is an obscure Myst clone which takes place on an island shaped like a giant guitar. Puzzles involve using large machinery to pluck the 'strings' and thus play the guitar. In real life, a guitar with strings this large would not actually be able to play audible notes.
- Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: Kaede Akamatsu, the Ultimate Pianist, is forced to play "Der Flohwalzer". The majority of the piece is played with black keys, but Kaede only presses white keys that are nowhere close to the keys used to play the piece.
- 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. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, his toy piano is versatile enough to sound like a classical piano and a pipe organ (Rule of Funny is in full effect for the scene in question).
- The sound of Roger's acoustic guitar in RENT is obviously an electric guitar being played offstage; he doesn't even strum the strings.
- Ashens and the Quest for the Game Child, when Stuart unlocks the door with a piano, the paper that he is using for reference reads ABADGH. He actually plays ABABCB and then the highest key, which is marked with an H. As well, him playing a B is taken as incorrect, despite it being a correct note. It's worth noting, however, that H is a letter used in some musical spellings, where it stands for B-flat. (Bach naturally took advantage of this to write fugues based on spelling his name on the keyboard.)
- Googlebrains's background music is literally either flat out copyrighted or a bunch of songs mashed together.
- Played for Laughs in the companion video to The Key of Awesome's "Somebody That I Used To Know" parody, which had a selection of soft toys and hand puppets sharing a guitar.
No-one is in contact with the strings/Yet somehow we can hear everything.
- Looney Tunes has this to the level where they obviously just did not care. There is nothing even remotely accurate about the way any of the characters play any musical instrument. But then, they weren't trying - Rule of Funny is the single most important element of Looney Tunes shorts.
- Josie and the Pussycats: The band consists of a guitarist, drummer, and tambourine player. Despite this, the songs clearly use instruments that they shouldn't (and often Valerie's tambourine isn't even present). Eventually subverted with their comic incarnations. They're shown with various instruments, and Valerie eventually traded her tambourine for a guitar.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Friendship Games features at one point a marching band playing behind Rainbow Dash. All of them are just generically looping while music plays in the background, most egregiously being the snare drummer who is completely out of time with the song and is barely moving his sticks while the snare drums of the song are loud and performing complex rhythms.
- One episode of The Transformers features a scene with a marching band, with the show's "Military parade" BGM repurposed as the music they're playing. The animation and the music are blatantly mismatched, with the most obvious example being the flute section at the beginning being apparently played by trumpets.
- On The Beatles cartoon, this goes through the wringer due to its low budgets. As John, Paul and George play their stringed instruments, there are no guitar picks used. The strings and frets aren't even seen on many longs shots. In any recorded song where one Beatle is singing with overdubs, all four of them are shown singing ("Mr. Moonlight" is especially egregious—John's opening is coming out of Paul).
- In Miraculous Ladybug, Plagg reveals himself able to play the piano. Being a tiny fairy, he can only hit one key at a time, but chords are heard regardless.