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One-Man Band

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Goofy is his own melody, accompaniment, and drummer.

"Ever seen one pony play ten instruments?"

Say you need some cheerful music to draw attention, but can't find anyone to help you. Then do it yourself! The cliche one man band is a Street Musician who has a bunch of instruments creatively strapped all over their body with levers and cables attached to each limb. More common is a simpler set-up, such as a singer strumming a guitar as they tap the beat on a tambourine with their foot.

Some definitions of One-Man Band define it as "being able to play two or more instruments at once." Others say "three or more instruments at once," and some purists even define it as "three or more instruments at once while able to remain mobile while cranking out the jams." To achieve this, complicated contraptions are often needed to play drums or cymbals strapped to the person's back.

"At once" is definitely the real key phrase needing to be emphasized here; while it's true that, through the magic of overdubbing each instrument one at a time, such musicians as Todd Rundgren, Prince, Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney have played all the instruments on some of their albums, we wouldn't refer to any of them as One Man Bands. (In fact, we have another trope entirely about them.)

In the 2020s, digital technologies have given one man bands more options. A one man band can have MIDI triggers attached to their clothes and shoes, with the triggers causing synthesizer sounds or samples to play back through speakers. This can enable one man bands to produce a wider range of instrument sounds than their 19th century predecessors, who had to use heavy mechanical drums, strummed instruments, and wind instruments.

Of course Rule of Funny says the more instruments the funnier — and of course they're all badly tuned and played with no sense of melody or rhythm, prone to causing the person stuck in such an arrangement to tumble and get tangled in the resulting mess. Pretty much a Dead Horse Trope these days (except for the very occasional Street Performer), but a Period Piece or Historical Fiction may still have them as background characters or Comic Relief.

Compare with I Am the Band, where one musician plays each instrument separately and combines the tracks to sound like a full band. Subtrope of Street Performer. For a lethal variant see One-Man Army.


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    Anime & Manga 

  • Rich Hall did a bit about these, talking about how "playing the guitar and harmonica at the same time is the sign of a genius, but as soon as you put some cymbals between your knees for accompaniment..."

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin, the Genie briefly turns himself into a one-man band to celebrate Aladdin's engagement to Jasmine.
  • In Ernest et Célestine, this is how Ernest tries to make a living off during winter at the start of the movie. Unfortunately, not only he fails to impress anyone who passes by, eventually all of his instruments are confiscated by police officers.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • El Chinchhinero from Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman is a one man band and Professional Killer who uses his bass drum as an Instrument of Murder. He is part of the Carnival of Killers who is sent after the Machine Gun Woman.
  • At the beginning of Mary Poppins, Bert is seen operating a one-man band (consisting of an accordion, a bass drum, a bicycle horn and several cymbals, just to name a few instruments).
  • While not quite "one man", several The Three Stooges shorts feature two of the Stooges practicing performing as a "Two Man Quartet", each playing multiple instruments at once in this manner.
  • Wee Sing in the Marvelous Musical Mansion features Andy Bandy Man, a miniature one-man band in a music box that comes to life with a hand motion. When Aunty Annabella forgets to deactivate him, he becomes jealous of the other music boxes in Uncle Rubato's collection and attempts to add their instruments to his collection of instruments.

  • The Berenstain Bears: The Big Chapter Book And the Giddy Grandma reveals that Grizzly Gran used to perform in vaudeville under the stage name "Wanda the One-Bear Band", wearing roller skates and a suit that included a giant drum, a harmonica, a saxophone, a horn and a bell. She still has the old outfit in her attic, and when Sister asks about her past for a school report, breaks it out and performs in it once again for a local adults-only talent show, much to her husband's annoyance.
  • The Discworld We R Igors Diary 2015 has a bit about a one-man-band who was made "better" by an Igor and can now play the guitar and concertina simultaneously.
  • The Dresden Files: In Dead Beat, Butters constructs a suit to make himself into a One-Man Polka Band. He then proceeds to use it to control a zombie Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window: The titular Totto-chan causes trouble in class when she spots a one-man band under the window of her classroom and calls him over for a performance.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Christopher Lillicrap as the title character in the 1980s CBBC series Busker had the full one-man band kit including the bass drum on his back, as he told stories outside a railway station.
  • The Animated Credits Opening for The Mickey Mouse Club features Goofy as a one-man band.
  • A one-man band once visited Shining Time Station and played music with a bass drum on his back, smashing cymbals, a harmonica strapped at his neck, and more.
  • Ted Lasso has real-life one-man band performer Cam Cole appear as a busker and then emergency main musical event during Rebecca’s benefit for underprivileged children.
  • The Two Ronnies claimed to be the only "Two Man One Band".

  • Basically the whole point of theatre pipe organs (properly called 'unit orchestras'). Some church organs, also, especially late 19th/early 20th C. examples.
  • A feature of Orchestrions (see the article on The Other Wiki), where they are designed to replicate an entire orchestra within them.
  • Also a feature of Photoplayers, a related device meant to not only play music, but provide sound effects when silent films played in the theatre.
  • The Cigo Man Band from Croatia. He plays the guitar, tambourine, kazoo, drum, harmonica and bike horn as well as singing! He plays all these instruments and is still able to walk around the city squares he performs in!
  • Jazz musician Roland Kirk would often play two saxophones at once, while also wearing a third one.
  • Australian singer/songwriter Xavier Rudd sings, plays slide guitar, didgeridoo and percussion all by himself.
  • John Schooley & His One Man Band plays guitar and sings while playing the drums with his feet.
  • Brazilian singer/songwriter/musician Ana Sucha is a mix of this trope and I Am the Band in her live performances: Before playing each song, she records some instruments' lines/riffs/beats in a foot-controlled sampler. Then, in the song, she plays one or two instruments plus the sampler.
  • Wilbert Harrison, who hit #1 with "Kansas City" in 1959, performed in this configuration later in his career, including on his other Top 40 hit, "Let's Work Together". He used a pedal-based drum kit (bass drum and hi-hat cymbal with a tambourine on top), plus a guitar and a harmonica in a neck holder.
  • One-Hit Wonder Timmy Thomas performed his 1972 hit "Why Can't We Live Together?" entirely on a Lowrey electric organ, using one of its rhythm presets to flesh out the sound.

    Music Videos 
  • Kids Praise: In a supernatural way, Psalty the Singing Songbook himself qualifies, as musical song accompaniments spontaneously start around him when kids near him praise The Lord. A straighter example of this is his Songmobile, a vehicle made of musical instruments, but even that still requires the user to be praising God for it to work, and interestingly, Psalty said the Songmobile was designed primarily to help write songs; actually performing them is a secondary purpose.
  • Ray Davies plays one in the video for The Kinks' song "Do It Again".

    Video Games 
  • Bloons TD 6: With the Psimbals skin, Psi can use their psychic powers to play a wide variety of instruments all at once. They start out with just cymbals, but gain a tuba, a trumpet, and a marching band drum as they level up.
  • Don't Starve: The One-man Band is an item of dark magic that, when equipped, causes the player character to play an accordion, drum and cymbal all at once. This music attracts creatures that can be followers (Pigmen, Bunnymen, Merms) who will do your bidding while the music goes on, but will decrease the user's sanity drastically. It has limited uses.
  • Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!: The opening credits show Al Lowe playing drums, trumpet, and saxophone at the same time as he walks by. This is a joke based on the fact that the game was designed, written, directed, and produced by him.
  • Mortal Kombat 11: Kollector's Friendship has him doing this.
  • Big Band from Skullgirls is a fighting version of this; he keeps most of his instruments underneath his detective's longcoat.

    Web Animation 
  • AstroLOLogy: One of the 2016 prototype shorts features Aquarius having invented a one-man band machine so he can perform for money. When Taurus sees him playing a song, he sees that Aquarius pushes a button rigged to expand the machine with more instruments and some speakers to make the music louder.

    Web Original 

    Web Video 
  • Critical Role: In the Darrington Brigade one-shot, the dwarf bard Hazel Copperpot wears a one-man band rig. Along with a self-invented wax cylinder recording and playback device. And yet, thanks to some bad rolls, the Owlbear, the brigade's rogue and Batman Expy, is less stealthy than her.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Bugs Bunny did this several times in various shorts, often using his prehensile ears to play additional instruments.
    • Characters attempting to wake up a Heavy Sleeper are often seen employing a one-man band (after trying Banging Pots and Pans, blowing a party horn, crashing cymbals, or other loud noises), to no success. Variation: In "Back Alley Oproar", Sylvester has been keeping Elmer up all night with his loud singing. At one point he lulls Elmer to sleep with a lullaby... and just as Elmer happily drops off, Sylvester jolts him up with a raucous one-man-band routine. Carl Stalling's score then goes hilariously berserk as Sylvester — still carrying all his instruments — has to run from a shotgun-wielding Elmer.
  • The aptly-titled Paul Rudish Mickey Mouse short "One Man Band" is about Mickey working as a one-man band in London, while struggling to find a way to play his instruments without any interruptions. Fortunately, the Queen of England admires his dedication and declares him royalty at the end.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Pixar Shorts:
    • In a short called "One-Man Band", there are two of these competing with each other.
    • In the earlier Pixar short "Tin Toy", the eponymous toy is a one-man band. This turns out to be a disadvantage when he encounters a scary baby and tries to hide, because he can't move without playing a tune.
  • The Replacements: In "Tasumi Unmasked", Todd starts a one-man band with guidance by C.A.R, who reveals he once was an unmanned one-man band that nobody took seriously. Todd soon finds himself in a rivalry with another one-man band. It ends in a musical showoff, where C.A.R. exposes Todd's opponent as a fraud; there was a record player hidden inside his drum.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Bart Gets Famous", Homer has a flashback to his teenage years where he played in a one-man band (and tried to do a cover of "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells). He had a bass drum on his back, a guitar in his hands, a harmonica in his mouth, cymbals on his legs, and a bicycle horn at his feet. Not only did crowds not like it, but he ended up getting attacked by an Italian organ grinder's pet monkey.
    • In "Springfield Up", Homer does it again in another flashback to 16 years before the show's present, trying to be a rock star by being the whole band. This time, he plays the instruments one at a time in quick succession. First he strums the guitar, then he drums for a few seconds, shouts "Yeah, yeah!" into the microphone, and plays harmonica before falling down in exhaustion.
    • During a Whole-Plot Reference to Mary Poppins, Groundskeeper Willie played a one-man band in the park, playing "Maniac" by Michael Sembello, followed by a Shout-Out to the water scene in Flashdance as he dumps water on himself while lying back on a chair, still wielding his one-man band paraphernalia.
  • Tex Avery MGM Cartoons: "Cellbound" has a lone prisoner forced to perform an imitation of several TV shows, including a concert, which he achieves by effortfully playing several instruments at once, "off-screen".
  • Work It Out Wombats!: In "Zadie and the Really Big, Really Loud Noisy Thing," Zadie's Really Big, Really Loud Noisy Thing enables her to play multiple instruments at once.


Video Example(s):


Pixar Short Trailer: One Man Band

A little girl encounters two competing street performers who'd prefer the coin find its way into their tip jars.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / OneManBand

Media sources: