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(Prisoner plays harmonica)
Homer: That's sorta nice. What're you in for?

Prisoner: Atmosphere.
The Simpsons, "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish"

When various characters are trapped or held captive (say, during a jail scene) the harmonica may be played, as Background Music if not by an actual character. It's also done in isolation, such as being stranded or lost in the wilderness. Or just camping or boredom, which borderline qualifies as the previous. Sometimes associated with Wild West settings.

Examples of Captivity Harmonica include:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

Fan Fiction

  • When Kyon went to talk with an inmate in Kyon: Big Damn Hero, the inmate in the cell next to his is shown playing the harmonica. They use the music from it to prevent anybody from hearing Kyon's conversation.


  • In Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, our titular character is typically seen blowing on a folded leaf in this manner - and pulls it off fairly well. (Probably because he broke his harmonica killing half the prison population off-screen.)
  • Parodied in Chicken Run.
  • In the movie Club Paradise, Robin Williams imitates playing a harmonica with his own voice while locked up. (He loves this gag, apparently, see Mork and Mindy below.)
  • In Police Academy, Larvell Jones uses his own voice to imitate a harmonica while held at a police station.
  • It's likely Ennio Morricone was the Trope Codifier here; he liked to use harmonicas a lot in his Spaghetti Western scores, along with whistling, to draw attention to a solitary protagonist. The harmonica is used in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as Blondie and Tuco get marched into the Union prison camp, and in Once Upon a Time in the West it's given centre-stage as Harmonica's trademark.
  • Hamm plays one in Toy Story 3, after realizing the truth about Sunnyside. He is promptly told to knock it off.

"Silence, musical hog!"



  • In the novel Forrest Gump, Forest learns to play harmonica from his buddy Bubba in Vietnam. Forest plays it for Bubba as he lays dying. Not used in the movie.

Live Action TV

  • In The Twilight Zone episode "Shadow Play", one of the prisoners plays a harmonica. The main character, who claims it's All Just a Dream, lampshades this by saying the harmonica-player was taken from "a bad movie I saw once".
    • In "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby", a man abducted by aliens despondently resorts to this trope... the sound of which turns out to cause them physical pain. It's less contrived in context.
  • Lampshaded in NCIS. DiNozzo is framed for murdering a woman and is held by the FBI because all signs seem to be pointing to him. DiNozzo's typical target for jokes, McGee, strolls past the jail cell playing harmonica, then gives it to DiNozzo as a "present".
  • While he's not a captive, Richard O'Brien from The Crystal Maze.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Future War, when the hero and heroine are hiding out in a boxcar, Mike and the bots riff "Well, I suppose one of us has to play harmonica".
    • In a scene cut from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, the crew is forced to go into a shelter as the Satellite of Love passes through a meteor shower. As a harmonica plays, the camera pans over Mike checking on Gypsy, Servo hoarding canned food, and...Crow playing the harmonica.
  • Mork imitated playing the harmonica with his voice while locked up in several Mork and Mindy episodes.
  • In "Parrot Island," the second part of the pilot episode of The Suite Life on Deck, London Tipton plays a harmonica while imprisoned on the titular island. She plays it surprisingly well, given the character's history.
  • Recently played on Have I Got News for You (and surprisingly well) by outgoing former MP, Lembit Opik, in mourning for his former employment.
  • Les Stroud, star of Survivorman, is actually a professional harmonica player. So a lot of times when he's stranded out in the wilderness and all, he'll just jam with it for a few minutes to cheer himself up.
    • Once produced a particularly amusing situation. Les was out in Alaska or some other very snowy region. Before climbing into bed in his snow shelter(!), he took it out and played it for about 10 seconds before suddenly stopping and saying:

Alan: You really miss her, don't you?
Cory: You don't play the harmonica when you're happy.

  • In Married... with Children, when Buck runs away and ends up in the pound, it's very prison-ish, complete with harmonica-playing pooch.
  • In one episode of Hot in Cleveland, Elka plays the harmonica in jail to which Mary Tyler Moore's character tells her to stop.

Newspaper Comics

  • In a series of strips of Kudzu, Maurice gets thrown in jail for singing the blues without a license. While in a cell, he starts to play a harmonica and is told "no blues." There's a list of acceptable songs on the wall, which include showtunes and Peter Paul And Mary.

Video Games

  • In America's Army if you shoot an instructor during the training missions the mission will end, the screen will fade to black and then reveal you to be in a jail cell with harmonica music playing in the background.
  • Kaori uses a flute to the same effect in Eien no Aselia.
  • In the game over screen of Donkey Kong Country 2, a harmonica plays over a shot of Diddy and Dixie in a jail cell.


  • Other instrument variation: In Girl Genius, a man in the cells under Sturmhalten is playing what appears to be a Captivity Mandolin, seen here.

Western Animation

  • During a The Simpsons episode the kids are sent to school by a prison bus rather than the usual school bus, and look as if they were sent to an actual prison. One of the kids plays the harmonica.
    • Lampshaded in another episode, see the quote above.
    • When Bart gets sent to juvenile hall in "The Wandering Juvie", a harmonica is amongst the personal effects the warden confiscates. He plays a few bars of the traditional incarceration tune before putting it away.
  • The main character in No Tip, a What a Cartoon Show short, does this after being sent to jail.
  • Occurs in Jimmy Neutron: After being thrown into the brig by the Junkman, Sheen does this.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures had Buster producing a harmonica after being framed for theft. When the guard gets sick of it, he stuffs it down Buster's throat (and he spends the next scene with a harmonica-shaped bulge in his neck).
  • Played with in the Fairly Oddparents Wishology: The harmonica turns out to be music coming from a record player, whose turntable is being operated by the captive fairies.
  • Played straight in the film version of South Park, although the harmonica player in question is Ike the baby.
    • And again in "Whale Whores", with Cartman playing the harmonica in question. "Oh, I'm in Japanese prison, lord, don't belong here, my eyes are round..."
  • One episode of Home Movies has Brendan making a prison movie, in which he is making harmonica noises.
  • One episode of Daria featured Daria playing the harmonica while grounded. Her parents lift the grounding just so they don't have to listen to her play.
  • In an episode of Hanna-Barbera's Top Cat, the crew lands in jail. One pulls out a harmonica and begins to play: "What? They always play harmonica in prison movies!"
  • Played by the koala in the zoo/prison in The Life and Times of Juniper Lee episode "The Great Escape".
  • Played by one of the Sirrians when Glenn and Lincoln are locked up in the Pound in the Dogstar episode "The Beagle Has Landed".
  • Parodied in The Real Ghostbusters when the four guys are locked up in a ghost world prison.

Peter: Whoever's playing the crummy harmonica, knock it off!
Egon: Uh...Peter?
Peter: What!?
Egon: It's their version of elevator music.

  • In Zekes Pad, Zeke's dad plays a harmonica when they are trapped inside the snowbound house in "The Artful Dodger". It gets stuck to his lips.
  • Invoked in one episode of American Dad by Steve and Klaus after spending several days locked in a closet.