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Losing Horns

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"Ohhh, sad trombone!"
Bidiots Host, The Jackbox Party Pack 2

A series of sad notes heard on some game shows whenever a contestant has lost (the Bonus Round, generally). These come in several flavors:

  • Type A: Seems to be the most common, as far as game shows are concerned; these usually take the form of a "mock fanfare" resembling a bar from the show's original Theme Tune, with the last note a "sad trombone" glissando. Some examples of this type have only the "sad trombone".
  • Type B: A series of goofy notes that form a descending "Wah-wah-wah-wahhhhhh" (a "stock" example can be found here). Does not always have to be four. Non-game show examples (especially in cartoons) are likely to fall under this type.
  • Type C: A mocking tune, such as the Mocking Sing-Song, played on some instrument.
  • Subversion: A random sound effect is used instead.

Generally associated with Epic Fail. Some can qualify as Nightmare Fuel to younger viewers. Compare Letting the Air out of the Band, which can be used to similar effect in other media. Contrast with Big Win Sirens, which are the opposite reaction to the opposite outcome. Nothing to do with antlers falling off or the other kind of lost horn. Subtrope of Mocking Music, which uses more complete pieces instead of just two notes from the brass section.

Type A Examples:

  • The CBS daytime version of The Price Is Right has one of the earliest examples and easily the most recognizable, used after double overbids in the Showcase end game and many pricing game losses (especially ones involving cars or large amounts of cash). These were also used on several other Goodson/Todman game shows. Heard on Double Dare and the original version of Card Sharks in truncated form, and the 1980s versions of Card Sharks in full. It consists of the first four notes of TPIR's main theme on a tuba, followed by a trombone "groan". Listen to it here.
  • The Alex Trebek version of Classic Concentration: One "groan" played on trombones, similar to Price but much more ominous, is heard after a bonus loss. Recycled on the 1989 revival of Now You See It.
  • 1 vs. 100 had a slower version of the main theme, when the One lost to the Mob.
  • The American runs of Blockbusters had a different one for each version, each resembling that version's theme song.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? uses a quick musical cue whenever someone answered a question correctly, and a sad inversion of said cue when someone's final answer was wrong. The fanfare heard when someone wins the million is definitely Awesome Music, but should you happen to be the unfortunate soul who misses the million-dollar question, then you're in for one hell of a noise. Ken Basin was the first person in the US version to experience this disastrous outcome, although it came after he bragged like a douche he would get the million. Unfortunately, the new music package used by the U.S. version after it switched to the shuffle format doesn't have one.
  • History IQ
  • Game shows produced by Jay Wolpert almost always have unique ones:
    • Blackout: A synthesized one that descends VERY quickly.
    • Rodeo Drive
    • Shopping Spree has a comical one that is broken up into pieces.
    • The Doug Davidson version of The Price Is Right replaced the original horns with a groan on an electric guitar... and glass breaking. The cut that didn't make it to the air also featured the first bar of the theme played Shopping Spree-style and had even more horns... possibly the most evil example of this trope ever produced.
    • The first cycle of Wait Til You Have Kids had three: a one-note horn for no one getting a question right in the main game, and a stock foghorn followed by a standard theme-tune variation (therefore Type B mixed with A) for a bonus loss. When the show took a more "serious" tone, the one from the upfront game was removed (as were most of the other sound effects), and the bonus loss sound was changed to a series of standard buzzers followed by a barely-audible effect of someone "sliding down the keys" on a piano, and even this was buried in the Theme Tune reprise.
  • Greed has these, usually heard after about 20 seconds of silent suspense. And when contestants reach the life-changing dollar figures and lose it all, it is painful to hear.
  • Fort Boyard, while not ending its lose cue in a falling off, plays a sad version of its theme tune if a team loses in the Treasure Room, whether by an incorrect password, or any team getting trapped inside by getting too greedy and staying in too long. (A bell rings when the gate is starting to close, so if you hear the bell and don't get out of Dodge, then it's a pretty well-deserved loss.) Over time, this also began happening for teams that get below the house minimum value of €3,000. Although it's a technical win, it feels a lot more like a loss. As of 2016, you get a wonderful orchestral piece based off of the main theme's middle eight.
  • The Japanese show Panel Quiz Attack 25 plays a few short jazzy notes, followed by a trumpet falling off if the day's winner doesn't identify the subject of the final short film within five seconds. Also uses Type B for incorrect answers in the main game.
  • El gran juego de la oca used Type A in its original Italian incarnation as well as in its second and third seasons in Spain for failed challenges. The first season in Spain used Type B (although a Type A was used as a mock fanfare in that version when a Fan Disservice character was brought out for a challenge).
  • Catchphrase - the UK version had one as its time's-up buzzer in the bonus round that could only be described as a cross between a fart and a slide whistle.
  • 1000 Heartbeats has a zap sound that sounds like a machine powering down combined with that long "beeeeeeeeeeeep" sound you get when a heart monitor flatlines. (Appropriate, since the contestant's overall time limit for their game is based on their own heart rate.)
  • Sonic Unleashed has The E-Rank music, where a horribly off-key version of the main theme plays when you get a E-Rank.
  • The first two Sonic The Hedgehog games used a sad saxophone version of the main theme for Game Over or time running out. The 8-bit versions played an off-key version of the theme whenever you lost a life.
  • Adventure Island's death jingle is the last bar of the main theme with a trombone-style glissando at the end, while the Game Over fanfare is a mix of Type A and B.
  • Kid Icarus's Game Over fanfare, fittingly, is a "you lost" arrangement of the Grim Reaper's theme.
  • In DuckTales on the NES, the Game Over jingle is the first bar of the theme tune's chorus followed by the "life lost" sting. It also reappears in the remake if you lose all your lives on Extreme difficulty.
  • Punch-Out!! for the NES plays a depressing fanfare when Mac loses a match. Also used in I Wanna Be the Guy if you die to Mike Tyson.
  • On Square One TV, the Game Within A Show "Mathman" played an ominous electronic horn if Mathman incorrectly answered a question, followed by a two-tone groan when Mr. Glitch caught him.
  • 680x0 based Macintosh computers starting with the Mac II up to the pre-AV Quadras played an arpeggio known as the "Chimes of Death" upon startup failure, usually accompanying the Sad Mac icon. The SE/30, Portable, IIcx, IIci, and IIsi preceded the arpeggio with a Scare Chord, while on the LC's, Classic II, Color Classic, IIvx, Powerbooks, Performas, and Quadras, it was followed by the intro lick from The Twilight Zone (1959), sometimes used on its own.
  • When time runs out in the VHS Game Party Mania, you hear three alarm clock buzzes, followed by the "Charge" fanfare, ending in a falling off.

Type B Examples:

  • The Zonks on Let's Make a Deal, beginning with the 1976 Las Vegas season and, while with a different effect, continuing throughout the current version with Wayne Brady.
  • Losing the "nine keys" version of the Bonus Round on the Bergeron version of The Hollywood Squares.
  • The British version of Blockbusters used a three-note version as the Gold Run's time buzzer.
  • Heard on occasion when a challenge was lost on Nickelodeon's What Would You Do?
  • Bonus losses on MTV's Idiot Savants.
  • A two-note synth "fog horn"-like sound played whenever anyone hit the Whammy on Press Your Luck. Though it was no different with the fourth Whammy that eliminated a player, there were specialized Whammy animations for those situations (most notably the umpire Whammy). On the beta version Second Chance, a similar sound was used upon hitting a devil but it was more like "wah waaah."
  • On the Spanish version of Wipeout (called "Alta Tension", literally, "High Tension"), if the round ends by having all of the incorrect answers selected, or if the player loses the Bonus Round, several low-pitched "wah-wah" notes played, ending in a "falling off." Unusually, it's a fusion of two types of losing horns (A and B).
  • The Australian Wheel of Fortune had this when a contestant landed on Bankrupt.
  • The original version of The Gong Show had the whole band play one of these whenever someone got gonged.
  • BOOM! features these when a contestant detonates a bomb.
  • Family Fortunes uses the distinctive two-note "EHH-UHHH!" whenever a wrong answer is given.
  • In Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, incorrectly placing a marker during the Bonus Round resulted in two electronic horn notes that sounded like "uh-oh".

This type shows up outside the realm of game shows as well:

  • Cryptoland: The typical "wah wah wah waaaah" plays when Cristopher tells Connie he needs to take security more seriously.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000, the host and the bots sometimes imitate this sound to mock forced comedy in whatever movie they're riffing. Two memorable examples:
  • The Nostalgia Critic uses this as a gag a few times, in response to the the bad jokes in movies like Mortal Kombat: The Movie. Lost in Space however is so bad that instead of playing the horns he makes the noise himself (increasing the volume with every gag).
    • At one point he used the sound so often that it broke.
    • He has also used the ones from The Price Is Right at least twice.
  • In an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Swarm of the Century", Ponyville gets overrun with locust-like creatures called parasprites. The parasprites are eventually led back to the Everfree Forest, but by that point the town has been thoroughly ransacked, and Pinkie Pie literally plays a sad trombone to close out the episode. Considering it's the first instrument she said she had to find, but she doesn't use it for her One-Pony Band, the trope is borderline Parodied since she apparently saw it coming.
  • At the end of the The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode "Geshundfight", the Amoeba Boys lament how they're still not getting taken seriously as criminals, despite having just been indirectly responsible for a crippling plague. When Boss tells his comrades "I told you we shoulda taken the orange!", the narrator produces this sound and gently mocks the Amoeba Boys for their incompetence.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "I'm Your Biggest Fanatic", one of the Jellyspotters goes "Wah-wah-waaah!" every time their leader Kevin was humiliated, and at one point Kevin tells him to cut it out.
  • In the kung-fu movie Drunken Master, one of these sounds after the villain falls face-first into a pile of manure during a fight.
  • In the Cannon Group movie Enter The Ninja, a Type B sad trombone plays after the ninja hero defeats a bad guy in a fight then tosses the villain's artificial hook at his feet. Some critics think that, considering the uneven and frequently goofy tone of this cheap action film, director Menahem Golan used this sound unironically.
  • In Banjo-Kazooie, the "failfare" for when you fail a mini-game or task is a slow, low "wooop, wooop, woooooooh" sound.
  • In Fancy Pants Adventures, low, almost cello-like tones descend upon the loss of a life. It can be quite disconcerting compared to the upbeat tunes of the rest of the game.
  • Storage Wars plays this for laughs when someone is expecting a big haul on an item and it's worth considerably less.
  • Artemus Gordon plays this on the violin in "The Night of the Casual Killer" when, for once, his partner Jim West does not end up with the girl-of-the-week.
  • Featured prominently in the Debbie Downer sketches in Saturday Night Live.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Heard when the result of Ralph and Vanellope's endeavors in the go-kart factory produce a very messy-looking but still functional kart. Subverted, since Vanellope loves the resulting kart (and it works perfectly, too!)
  • Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf plays them every time Ralph the Wolf runs into a wall.
  • How about Lupin III: Part III? In episode 3, a girl clings to Lupin and forces him to take her home with him. When he tries to scare her away, she tells him his plan isn't going to work...cue the four-note horn motif.
  • On the Community episode "App Development and Condiments", dystopian chaos ensues over a student-developed mobile app where users rate each other on a scale of 1 to 5 "MeowMeowBeenz". When someone is given a rating of 1, a meowing Type B tune plays.
  • Sesame Street hasn't exactly Type B (sequence isn't entirely falling) but also the familiar wah-wah-wah-waaaaaah trombone. Often used when a character has an less-than satisfactory ending, such as Bert enduring Ernie's antics in the middle of the night.
  • The PlayStation 4, Xbox One & PC versions of Grand Theft Auto V allow you to put on the Type B losing horn as a car horn in Los Santos Customs.
  • Toontown Online plays this in too many places. Even going sad results in this.
  • In Undertale, if you visit Papyrus's house and look under the sink, the Annoying Dog will run off with part of Papyrus's bone stash. Sans will then mock his brother by sticking his head out of his room for the sole purpose of playing the losing horns on a trombone.
  • A Running Gag in the Wander over Yonder episode "The Good Deed" has a banjo version of the losing horns playing whenever Wander and Sylvia find one of their good deeds has gone awry.
  • One of the many Running Gags on Archer involves a spoken version: the phrase "womp womp" is used in place of a trombone by several characters when someone else loses out on something.
    • One episode also used "The Price Is Right" version twice, played by character holding up a smart phone.
  • North And South plays something like this when a player fails to take a fort before running out of time.
  • In the Homestar Runner cartoon "Cool Things", Homestar makes a "wah-wah-wah" sound after Marzipan orders him to help clean up the words "Cool Tapes" he painted on her living room wall.
  • Early PowerPC-based Macintosh Performas (all within the 5000 and 6000 series) often played a dramatic three-note descending brass fanfare followed by a Rimshot whenever they crashed or failed to start up.
  • The cry of Magikarp, a Pokémon stereotyped as being weak and utterly useless, almost sounds like a mocking sound.
  • SimCity's SNES port had a four-note descending horn fanfare accompanied by an emergency vehicle siren (used by itself in the original PC version) when a disaster struck.
  • In Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, the "Ms. Astro Chicken" arcade minigame plays a classic sad trombone when you lose a life. The main game uses Type A on the Game Over screen, as well as if you enter an invalid code in the Time Pod.
  • Team Fortress 2 uses this in the Soldier's Fubar Fanfare taunt.
  • Used frequently in Dingo Pictures films. Often used at hilariously inappropriate times, such as in Wabuu where it's used when Wuschel faints from pain after being crushed beneath a fallen tree.
  • LJN Toys' T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage uses five descending notes for loss of a life, and a longer variant for Game Over.
  • On Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the very first time Bulk and Skull get thrown—within a minute of their introduction in the pilot episode—by Kimberley and Trini, they get the synth version of the waah-waah-waah losing horns, telling you exactly where these two stand in the scheme of things right from the get-go.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Hungry Hungry Homer", Homer discovers a closetful of evidence that the Springfield Isotopes are planning to move to Albuquerque and tries to show the authorities, only for the team owner to get rid of the evidence before they arrive. And just to mock Homer further, he replaced them with a man who plays "Waah-waah" on a trombone when he opens the door.
    • In "The Mansion Family", when Homer realizes the Coast Guard ship he's asking for help is mocking him (he had earlier mocked them because they couldn't arrest him, as he was in international waters), the ship plays the waah-waah-waah sound.
  • In A Night at the Opera, an early version of the Sad Trombone motif gets ad-libbed into the overture to Il trovatore. (The orchestra plays the overture normally after this until suddenly changing to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game.")
  • Frequently used on World's Dumbest..., sometimes by the commentators themselves, for a particularly amusing Epic Fail (and there are plenty to choose from).
  • In Fester's Quest, the Game Over screen plays the main riff of The Addams Family theme ending with four descending "wah wah wah wah" notes.
  • Police Quest plays a six-note chromatic riff in certain Game Over situations.
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show used a stock two-tone foghorn, which also appears in the Licensed Game Veediots!.
  • In Lords and Ladies, we're told the Librarian has very specific tastes in theatre, demanding Slapstick in any performance "and especially that bit when someone takes someone else’s hat off, fills it with something oozy, and replaces it on the deadpan head while the orchestra plays 'WHAH…Whah…whah…whaaa…'".
  • NFL Blitz plays a "wahh wahh wahh wahhhhhh" when a play ends in a failed fourth down conversion, failed field goal, failed 2-point conversion, or safety.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time plays six descending notes on strings when Link dies.
  • Frank DeVol's stock incidental music for The Brady Bunch features such a four-note stinger.
  • The now-defunct Facebook Farkle game played a three-note version of this when a player rolled a Farkle.
  • In Joker (2019) a trombone player on Murray's show belts out a "wah-wah" in reaction to Arthur's unfunny joke.
  • Three different variants are used in the 1980s Curious George shorts whenever George gets into trouble: a three-note tuba, a four-note harmonica and a five-note trombone.
  • Paperboy plays six descending bassoon notes followed by a leap up an octave and a step down a major third if any customers cancel their subscriptions at the end of a day.
  • Sonic Shuffle plays a series of descending electronic notes if the Eggman card is drawn.
  • Heist!: If any member of the Caper Crew gets arrested, the game plays stock "wah-wah" horns in response.
  • Toy Story 4 (2022): Failing the Skill Shot sometimes causes the game to play the traditional "wah-wah-wahhh" horns.
  • This is Stevens' entire shtick in Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja, playing "Wa wa waa" with his trombone at opportune moments, as a Running Gag.
  • Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende: In the annual Batsu games, a two-note cue plays anytime the No-Laughing rule is violated.
  • Saturday Night Live: In the "Debbie Downer" sketches, a "wah-wah-wah-wahhh" or "wah-wahhh" trombone plays whenever Debbie shares a depressing fact or story.
  • Snake III: The losing jingle comes with a wah wah wah waaah fanfare.
  • Carry On Behind: "Wah-wah" music is heard when Carol and Sandra hold up the chicken which was to be their dinner after it was run over by a van.
  • The Railway Children: When Perks has to deliver the massive hamper to the Three Chimneys, and has to get through a very narrow stile with great difficulty. He does this by balancing the hamper and his hat on top of the stile, and squeezing underneath. This whole scene is accompanied by a "wah-wah" theme.

Type C Examples

  • Both Just Men! and the Davidson version of The Hollywood Squares used an electronic version of the Mocking Sing-Song if the champion's car didn't start.
  • Cram also played a Mocking Sing Song as soon as the clock hit zero at the end of the Bonus Round.
  • The Latinoamerican game show Sábado Gigante (Giant Saturday) has an actual character, El Chacal (The Jackal), a masked man whose purpose was to play a mock bugle call on-camera, in a setup similar to The Gong Show.
  • On the short-lived 1983 show Just Men! and on the John Davidson Hollywood Squares, a car that didn't start in the bonus round was ushered with a "Nyah nyah-nyah nyah-nyah nyah!" fanfare.

As with Type B above, this type also shows up outside the realm of game shows:

  • Mega Man 3 has a very jolly song playing over its "Game Over!" screen. brentalfloss' "What if X Had Lyrics?" series added hilariously over-the-top mocking as well.
  • The game over music for the original [1] invokes the losing horn, even though the 16-bit instrument used doesn't really sound like a trombone.
  • Salamander/Life Force's Game Over screen plays a cheery tune similar to "Unchained Melody".
  • Super Mario Kart: The game plays the first ten notes of "Entry of the Gladiators" if you fail to place on the podium.
  • Some versions of The Oregon Trail play a mockingly upbeat version of Taps when the last party member dies and their tombstone is displayed.
  • In the SNES version of Monopoly, two bars from Fryderyk Chopin's Marche Funèbre play when a player declares bankruptcy.
  • In Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards's Non Standard Game Over where Larry is Driven to Suicide over failing to lose his virginity, the beginning of "Call To the Dairy Cows" from Rossini's William Tell overture plays as the sun rises, followed by the first two bars of Chopin's aforementioned Marche Funèbre as Larry shoots himself in the head.
  • Stern's Super Bagman unexpectedly uses "Auld Lang Syne" for Game Over.
  • Circus, in one of the earliest video game examples, plays both an 8-bit Type A glissando and the beginning of Chopin's Marche Funèbre when a clown falls to their death. This was in turn referenced by Yellow Magic Orchestra in their songs "Computer Game (Theme from The Circus)" and "Acrobat".
  • In F/A-18 Hornet, if a pilot is killed in action, the last bar of Taps is played at the end of the mission debriefing.
  • Forza Horizon 4's custom vehicle horns include the aforementioned "Funeral March" as well as a trombone slide and "wah wah wah wah".
  • Pitfall! uses the first phrase of the Dragnet theme when the player loses a life. Also used in the arcade adaptation when Harry falls into a pit.
  • Glypha, an Egyptian-themed Joust clone for Macintosh computers, plays the first bar of "The Streets of Cairo" In the Style of a funeral dirge when you get a Game Over.
  • In Dubbelmoral!, a Swedish Macintosh game, a choir sings "Hallelujah!" when the player character dies or gets expelled from the University.
  • City Connection plays the German traditional tune "Flohwalzer (Flea Waltz)", known in Japan as "Neko Fujinatta (I Stepped on the Cat)", when the player collides with a cat. Likewise, a lick from "Turkey in the Straw" plays if you get wrecked by the cops.
  • Prince of Persia has two death fanfares: "Accident", which quotes the first three notes of "Taps" but in a minor key, and "Heroic Death", which blends "Taps" with Chopin's "Funeral March". Also, if the Princess's hourglass runs out, you are treated to the Heartbeat Soundtrack ticking to a halt, then a funerary dirge aptly named "Tragic End".
  • Pizza Tower has The Noise suffer this. After pulling a minigun on Peppino, the horns come in playing his Leifmotif when Noisette drags him off-screen screaming.


  • National Lampoon's Funny Money used the sound of a baby crying if the bonus picture was not guessed.
  • The children's version of Pictionary used a ship's horn for incorrect puzzle guesses and bonus losses.
  • Dick Clark's It Takes Two used the same horn for incorrect guesses.
  • Jay Wolpert also subverted the trope:
  • A harsh two-tone buzzer was heard on Bob Eubanks' version of Dream House upon the doors failing to open if the couple entered the incorrect combination to unlock them.
  • The New Treasure Hunt used a subdued version of its Big Win Sirens when the grand prize check was shown to have been chosen and passed up.
  • Not a game show, but The Electric Company (1971) used what sounded like a dejected duck when the actor(s) on screen failed to read the displayed word or sentence within five seconds.
  • Inverted on Beat the Geeks; stock Big Win Sirens played if the Geeks beat you in the Bonus Round.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker's Sinking Ships minigame had the minigame's host, Salvatore going "sploosh!" whenever you miss, leading some to call it the "sploosh minigame". Additionally When you lose, a an alternate, yet still triumphant sounding version of the victory fanfare is played.
  • In the American version of Wheel of Fortune, hitting Bankrupt results in a descending slide whistle.
  • Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? played a foghorn for the crook when the winning contestant pulled the chain to put them in jail.
  • Balloon Fight uses a slide whistle when a player falls out of the sky after losing their balloons. A similar sound is heard in Punch-Out!! when either Mac or his opponent is knocked down.
  • Formula Retro Racing uses a horn groan followed by a space zap sound when you run out of time in a race.
  • Later "Old World" Macintoshes, aside from the aforementioned PowerPC Performa horn failfare, used either bongo drums(Centris/Quadra AV), a car crashing(NuBus PowerMacs), or glass breaking(PCI PowerMacs) for their hardware failure sound.
  • Chockablock, a British children's series from the 1980s, is another non-game show example. Whenever Chockabloke or Chockagirl gives an answer which deviates from the Rhyme of the Week, or pictures of two non-rhyming things are spun in during the Rockablocks game, the titular computer responds by making a sound like someone blowing a raspberry.
  • In Pointless, a noise which sounds like a cross between a whoosh and a boom is heard whenever a contestant gives an incorrect answer. If this happens in the first two rounds, that contestant automatically adds 100 points to their pair's score. (Since the object of the game is to get the lowest score possible, this often leads to the pair being eliminated.)


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sad Trombone


A Sirius Accident

Ron rushes to tell Harry that Dumbledore's gotten into an accident, but when Harry asks if it was serious, Ron clarifies that it wasn't Sirius; it was Snape.

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