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Xylophones for Walking Bones

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They're silly all the same.

Homer: I share your xylophobia!
Lisa: No, Dad, you mean "xenophobia". Xylophobia would be the fear of xylophones.
Homer: I am afraid of xylophones. It's the music you hear when skeletons are dancing!
The Simpsons, "Coming to Homerica"note 

For the proper reading experience, play the music from this video while reading on.

It seems that a lot of works have featured xylophone music to go along with skeletons. This is especially true wherever skeletons are featured dancing. Often (especially in 1920's - 50s' animation) this would be because a skeleton's rib cage would be played as a xylophone, and as a result, the association between skeletons and xylophones has stuck.

The music is usually played In-Universe by having a character hit a skeleton's bones, often the ribs, with mallets of some sort. It may even be a Skeletal Musician playing their own bones. However, this isn't always the case. As long as it's a scene with skeletons or bones that uses xylophone music in some way, it counts.

This performance tends to be the opposite of scary, and the dancers who move to cheerful or outright silly xylophone melodies are usually Friendly Skeletons.

The song "Dem Bones" is commonly played, due to it being about skeletons. While most people know it only as a fun Halloween song, it's actually connected to The Bible - specifically, Ezekiel 37:1-14, in which Ezekiel visits the Valley of Dry Bones (no, not those Dry Bones), and prophesizes that God will resurrect the skeletons there (which then immediately happens). The song's bouncy melody and cheerful mood make it perfect for a xylophone rendition.

Compare Ominous Music Box Tune and For Doom the Bell Tolls.


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    Comic Books 

  • Eddie Potter, a comic strip from The Dandy had a strip where the titular character holds Pop Idol style talent show auditions at his school, which is populated by macabre creatures including werewolves and living skeletons. One of the acts involves a group of skeletons using their own bones as musical instruments.

    Fan Works 


  • "Remains of the Day" from Corpse Bride is sung by a Skeletal Musician and heavily features xylophone music. There's even a part where some dancing skeletons play each others' ribcages!
  • The Lion King (1994): A xylophone can be heard throughout "Be Prepared", but while bones are seen throughout, there aren't any living skeletons. One quick scene does come close, though: two hyenas are playing with some antelope skeletons, pretending to make them dance. There's also a hyena playing the xylophone part on an elephant's spinal column.
  • In Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, Doofenshmirtz and his alternate dimensional self does a musical, in which at one point they both played xylophone music on a creature's ribcage.

  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: Frantic xylophone music plays when Sinbad fights the animated skeleton.
  • ABCs of Death 2: In "X is for Xylophone", after the grandmother murders her granddaughter, she turns her body into a gory mockery of a xylophone: playing on the bones of her ribs.

  • Sent up in Discworld, when in Soul Music, Susan Sto Helit recalls a visit to her grandfather as a child. She asked for a xylophone: her grandfather took his robe off and gave her two little hammers. It began to dawn on her that there was something odd about your grandfather being an animated skeleton, as Death is usually depicted.

  • "Spooky Scary Skeletons" by Andrew Gold uses xylophone prominently, fitting for a song about creepy skeletons. The song's many remixes, despite changing the genre, still usually incorporate the xylophone.
  • The Madness song 'Waiting for the Ghost Train' features a rhythmic rattling sound over the line "keep the hungry children from the skeletons in the bed", reminiscent of this or of maracas.
  • The Magnetic Fields have a song called "Xylophone Track" with these lines: "I've done so much crying/Flesh has left my bones/I can play my ribcage/Like a xylophone."
  • In the video clip for Robert Palmer's "Looking For Clues" a human skeleton dances to the xylophone section.
  • Camille Saint Saens wrote two pieces that serve as the Trope Codifier:
    • "Danse Macabre", based on a poem about skeletons dancing, makes use of the xylophone in several short sections.
    • "The Fossils" from Carnival of the Animals, composed in 1886, samples the xylophone theme from "Danse Macabre" to frame a medley of "fossil" tunes which were once popular in France.
  • SiIvaGunner: While "Legendary Ghost" from Cuphead is played on xylophone, it accompanies a ghost rather than a skeleton. SiIva's high-quality rip, however, contains the melody of "Spooky Scary Skeletons," making it an example of this trope.
  • In Igor Stravinsky's music to The Firebird, the xylophone part mostly serves to emphasizes the sinister aspects of Koschei the Immortal and his monstrous Evil Minions. The xylophone gets a big workout in "Dance of Koschei's Retinue."
  • Will Wood: "Laplace's Angel" has an undercurrent of marimbas in multiple parts of the song, although they're most clearly heard in the first two verses. The music video prominently features skeletons and skulls. Real ones. Notably, a group of skulls sing backup during the chorus, and there is a brief Stop Motion sequence of a skeleton hitting some skulls like a xylophone.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: Magnus threatens to do this to the Emperor after he is accused of being a crybaby. He quickly shuts up after getting smacked with a pair of drumsticks.
  • In the PONY.MOV animation SHED.MOV, there are a bunch of skeletons in Fluttershy's shed. When Fluttershy sings her Villain Song, the skeletons suddenly come to life and provide musical accompaniment on their bones, creating xylophone sounds.
  • "Xylophone" by Worthikids is about two musicians who discover that the entire audience for their concert is made up of skeletons. They wonder why it's all skeletons... until they remember that their last album made liberal use of the xylophone, implying that skeletons just really like xylophones purely because of this trope. They try to escape, but get Pushed in Front of the Audience and play this song, which opens with xylophone music. The crowd loves it.
    Mike: We really should've splurged on the full-sized marimba and not gotten that dinky xylophone!
    Todd: We should've. We totally should've. Now look what's happened to us. This is karma.
    Mike: If we just run, are they gonna chase us?
    Todd: They're skeletons, Mike! They're unpredictable!!

    Western Animation 

  • Animaniacs: The Warner Siblings sing a song about the structure of the human skeleton. When they reach the chest, there's a brief instrumental break as one of them plays the ribcage like a xylophone.
  • Doubles as a Mythology Gag in The Lion Guard's pilot episode. In the song, "Zuka Zama", Bunga is seen playing an animal's skeleton like a xylophone, similar to a background hyena in the first movie, as mentioned above.
  • Family Guy: When Lois shows off how much weight she has lost since becoming a supermodel, her friend happily plays her visible ribs like a xylophone.
  • In the The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy "Hill Billy", everything starts turning into a retro cartoon and Grim does a Skeleton Dance Shout-Out alongside some other nameless skeletons which includes them playing each other's bones like xylophones.
  • The Mad Doctor uses xylophone music in some of the skeleton scenes. It's mainly used to play quick notes indicating the skeletons' movements.
  • The Pink Panther short "Pink Panic" uses a Variable Mix of the Panther's usual leitmotifs, with the two antagonists accompanied by extra instrumentation when they appear onscreen: The ghost gets a spooky theremin and the skeleton has a tinkling xylophone.
  • Discussed in a couple of different The Simpsons episodes where Homer remarks that he's afraid of xylophone music because of its association with dancing skeletons.
    • In an earlier episode, obsessive Itchy & Scratchy fans can't get over that while Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he hits twice the same rib, but still gets two different notes.
  • The Skeleton Dance features skeletons dancing to March of the Dwarfs by Edvard Grieg, which features xylophone in some parts.

     Real Life 
  • The art collective Meow Wolf included a plastic mammoth skeleton that can be played as a xylophone in their "House of Eternal Return" interactive art installation.


Video Example(s):


"Remains of the Day"

"Remains of the Day" is sung by a Skeletal Musician and heavily features xylophone music. There's even a part where some dancing skeletons play each others' ribcages!

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / XylophonesForWalkingBones

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