Dem Bones are a varied bunch - some are mindless necromantic Mooks, some are powerful liches, some are snarky talking skulls, some can dance, and some are Skeletal Musicians. The skeletal musician may sing (despite the Fridge Logic involved in singing without lungs or vocal cords) or play an instrument - xylophones improvised from their own or another skeleton's rib cages are a popular choice. A group of them may serve as the backing band for The Dead Can Dance. See also Ethereal Choir and Ghost Song, which can both accompany this.
This is an old trope - dating back at least as far as the Dance of Death depictions of the late Middle Ages - and still in use in the 21st century. Skeletal musicians are normally free-willed undead and are more likely to be comedic than scary. Expect a joke about trombones at some point.
Skeletal Musicians don't have to be true undead - skeletal versions of the Grim Reaper count; as do symbolic figures such as the denizens of the medieval Dance of Death and Jose Guadalupe Posada's satirical cartoons. If they're bony and making music, they qualify.
Please note that while skeletons are a common feature of Real Life musicians, characters whose bones are covered in layers of meat and skin do not qualify for the trope.
Not to be confused with underfed Starving Artists, or with "Bones Trombone." Tends to overlap with Xylophones for Walking Bones, although that trope doesn't require the music to be played by - or on - a skeleton. Many examples also tend to be Friendly Skeletons.
- Brook of One Piece (pictured) is a nearly nine-foot-tall skeleton with an afro and a multi-instrumentalist (who favors the violin and guitar) who can use his music to create supernatural effects. It helps that he was part of an entire pirate crew that loved music in life and later had fifty years of free time to practice after his resurrection thanks to the Revive-Revive Fruit. He also makes incredibly lame puns about his skeletal state, he could say something took all the air out of his lungs, and then immediately reminds everyone he doesn't have any lungs to begin with. The guy also has a great singing voice even without his vocal chords.
- In Seconds, as time is altered and the restaurant becomes situated in an infernal landscape some skeletons provide musical atmosphere.
Katie: How is a skeleton playing a woodwind?
- Corpse Bride:
- The backstory on Emily the Corpse Bride is given to us by a singing skeleton equipped with one eyeball and one very snazzy bowler hat, accompanied by skeletal instrumentalists.
- Bonejangle's pianist in Corpse Bride is a dead-ringer (cough) for Ray Charles. The choreography also has a couple of Shout Outs to The Skeleton Dance.
- Little Tibia and the Fibias, the skeleton rock band from Mad Monster Party?.
- Manolo still plays guitar after he dies and becomes a skeleton in The Book of Life
- Every musician from the Land of the Dead in Coco, most notably Ernesto de La Cruz. Miguel the music-loving protagonist almost became one as well, as his spending time there slowly turns him into a skeleton.
- The horde of undead animated by the Necronomicon in Army of Darkness includes some skeletal bagpipers and drummers.
- In the Discworld novel Soul Music, Death, who takes the form of a tall skeleton dressed in a cowl, plays a rockin' guitar solo with a pick made from the blade of his scythe. Subverted because while Death plays the guitar, he does not play music as such (he can't).
- Wayward Children: In the Magical Land of Mariposa, Calacas spend the nights in great festivals of song and dance. It's said that their songs both nourish the skeletons and sustain the land itself.
- Some of the supplementary art for The Black Parade features skeletons with musical instruments alongside the more famous skeleton drum major.
- Oingo Boingo. The cover art for the album Dead Man's Party has a mariachi band providing music for the party of the title.
- In the music video for "Touch of Grey," The Grateful Dead appears now and again as skeletons playing their instruments.
- An 1985 video versionof Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals suite, narrated by Gary Burghoff, features skeletal dinosaur musicians during the "Fossils" movement (which begins at 18:59).
- The music video for Domino's Sweet Potato Pie features a singing skeleton and his girlfriend.
- Die Kammer's music video Sinister Sister features skeletal versions of the band and some additional skeletal musicians.
- Avenged Sevenfold also has some skeletal musicians in their video to A little piece of heaven
- Two of Grave Digger's covers feature bagpipe-playing skeletons, namely Tunes of War and The clans are still marching. Also, the reaper on Symphony of Death plays the violin.
- Miniature manufacturer Ral Partha had a set called "The Grateful Undead" consisting of three 25 mm skeleton rock musicians modeled after The Grateful Dead psychedelic rock band.
- Musicians in skeleton units in Warhammer. These can range from the logical (gongs, bells, and drums) to the absurd (enormous war horns, being played by creatures with no lungs).
- The Eberron NPC Fiddlebone plays with this trope. The skeleton was intended by its creator to be a musician, but since most skeletons in Dungeons & Dragons are mindless, the creature is an unimpressive performer.
- In Rune Wars The Miniatures Game, a musician is one of the possible upgrades for each army. Since one of the armies, Waiqar the Undying, is an undead faction, this is obvious (the skeleton musician is a drummer).
- The Songs and Silence sourcebook for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons (focused on bards and rogues) notes that undead have limitations when it comes to this; skeletons don't have lungs, lips, or tongues, so most woodwinds and brass are out, for example. Drums and string instruments are still possibilities, though, for those undead with bard levels.
- The Old Mill ride at Kennywood Park is themed to skeletons in The Wild West with a few skeletons playing musical instruments.
- Grim Fandango has this as Book Ends: The opening titles play over a still shot of figurines of a skeletal mariachi band, then the final scene has an actual skeleton mariachi band playing in the background.
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge includes a sequence where Guybrush dreams his parents turn into skeletons and give him a message via a song and dance number.
- The Sanbone Trio from Gitaroo Man, a trio of robotic skeletons who play themselves like xylophones. They're considered That One Level by most players.
- One random event in King of Dragon Pass involves a man with a troupe of skeletal musicians offering to play a concert on your tula. If there's a Humaktinote on your clan ring, they will not be pleased; if you allow the concert, your Humakti will tell you "Don't talk to me unless you're here to tell me I can kill them all."
- The Saturn game Mr. Bones is about a skeleton who plays guitar to make an army of evil skeletons Heel–Face Turn.
- The demo Bones on the BBC Micro.
- The 7th Guest has a minor scene in which a skeleton plays a pipe organ in the mansion's creepy chapel.
- Darkest Dungeon has the Squiffy Ghast, a Ghost Pirate enemy that only appears in Champion-level expeditions into the Cove. While unable to cause physical harm, its music is so unnerving that it causes large amounts of Stress damage to your party.
- Undertale has Sans the Skeleton, who is revealed to be a trombonist during the player's "date" with Papyrus.
- Skylanders has Fiesta, whose primary inspiration is the Day of the Dead. He's a calavera-themed skeleton who leads a mariachi band while also being a trumpeteer, and also works as a Musical Assassin with his trumpet while in combat. He can also summon "Amigos", small skeletons that fight alongside him while playing instruments like tambourines, guitars, and bugles.
- Skeletons playing instruments are very common in Dia De Los Muertos artwork.
- Mexican cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada depicted Dem Bones engaged in many mundane human activities (for satirical purposes), including playing the guitar.
- Arnold Bocklin's Self Portrait with Death, the Fiddler is an example from a non-Mexican artistic tradition (Bocklin was Swiss).
- Older Than Steam: The skeletal bagpiper from this◊ 15th century Totentanz.
- Lewis of Mystery Skulls Animated is a suit-wearing ghost skeleton with a purple pompadour who sings and plays the violin.
- Discussed in Unwinder's Tall Comics. Unwinder discovers that his favorite character from the After Dark book series is not a saxophone-playing skeleton as he previously thought, but instead a shapeshifter who takes the form of a skeleton. He's so disappointed with this twist that he quits reading the series.
- Ravensblight sometimes has a band playing in the area, composed of musicians who tired of laying around in their graves not making music. They have a unique sound, given that they are composed of:
- a punk on drums
- a greaser on bass
- an 80s hair metal guitarist on lead guitar
- A 70s lounge/disco man on keyboards
- A blues man on rhythm guitar, who can play anything
- a hippy on acoustic.
- In The Skeleton Dance, a skeleton plays a xylophone made of bones.
- The Columbia Cartoons short Skeleton Frolic (a remake of The Skeleton Dance) features rib-cage xylophones, among other skeletal shenanigans.
- Sartana of the Dead in El Tigre. She has a cartoonishly skeletal appearance and a guitar she can strum to create undead minions.
- This occurs three times in the Cartoon Network Groovies short "El Kabong Rides Again".
- A skeleton plays a guitar at the beginning.
- During the "La Fiesta" sequence two skeletons blow on horns.
- At the very end, one skeleton is playing a guitar and one is blowing on a horn.
- The Bare Boned Band from Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies are a trio of skeletons who play bone-themed instruments.
- In Adventure Time, Marceline animates skeletons to serve as accompaniment for a performance.
- Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King: The band in the monster bar that Scooby and Shaggy stumble into while searching for the Goblin King's castle are skeletons.
- The Skeletunes from Ruby Gloom.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Battle of the Bands" reveals that Grim is an extremely skilled guitar player.