There are a lot of movies, where characters play musical instruments professionally. I'd like to know about Whiplash and La La Land. Did actors there really learn to play musical instruments, or are there some special filming techniques?

  • 1
    This is too broad as written, since your title says "in movies" (implying ALL movies) and your question starts with "a lot of movies" (also implying all movies where someone plays an instrument). You may be able to narrow it down to a particular movie that you are wondering about. Jan 25, 2019 at 13:06
  • @BrettFromLA LIke that?
    – Ver Nick
    Jan 25, 2019 at 13:10
  • Good! I'll remove my "close" vote. (Usually questions focus on a single movie, but I think this question is fine -- and someone already provided a good answer for both movies!) Jan 25, 2019 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


For the two films that you mentioned, it appears that the actors really did play the instruments. In general, I think this is going to vary by film.

For Whiplash, I found a few publications that indicate that Miles Teller really did play the drums:

So, long answer short, that is, indeed, Teller playing the drums -- but with help from some great editing and no small amount of hard work.

Source. Additional information here and here.

For La La Land:

"In fact, there's not a single close-up shot of [the character] Sebastian's hands in the entire movie that's a piano double," director Damien Chazelle said at a press event for the movie. "It's all Ryan." Even John Legend, who has a smaller part in the film, was impressed: "I was jealous, man," he said. "Watching him play, I was like, 'Wow, this guy is really good and he just learned this in the last few months.' It's pretty amazing."


Please note that if you read the nola.com article that I linked above, you can find at least one film where the actor (Dooley Wilson in Casablanca) was not actually playing the instrument in the movie (despite being an actual musician). -

  • There is also a review of Whiplash by Adam Neely youtube.com/watch?v=SFYBVGdB7MU&t=21s where he point out that some actors (who are actors because they have speaking role) don't know how to play, some main actors learn a little bit and some are really musicians but are not actors because they are not part of Actors Guild in US so they don't have speaking role. Jan 25, 2019 at 9:20

Ralph Macchio had no clue what he was doing in Crossroads (1986), as evidenced by his hand movements.

I think it varies widely. There are actors who can play instruments, and there are actors who can't. Some may take lessons just to get a feeling for the instrument they're supposed to be playing, and some may not. Some actors are method actors and immerse themselves in their character, and some are not.

There are ways to fake it, using angles that don't show their hands or don't show their hands touching the instrument. The scene in Deliverence (1972) with the weird kid playing Dueling Banjos, they had a musician sitting behind the kid and doing the actual playing, while the kid just kept his hands at his sides. There's all sorts of ways to fake it if necessary.

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