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I was always a pretty sensitive person as far as emotions go. I'm always on some kind of extreme of happy, sad, angry, fearful, etc. But when I play my instrument I'm completely stoic. My face looks like :| at all times. So for the life of me I can't understand why some musicians make such weird/exaggerated faces when they play their instrument. Is there an explanation for this?

closed as primarily opinion-based by guidot, Tim, David Bowling, Todd Wilcox, Dom Feb 21 at 13:32

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    You're probably still too preoccupied with the technical side of playing your music. When that's completely mastered, you'll get inside the music and 'play from the heart', when the emotions that are missing now will start to appear - in body language and facial expressions. – Tim Feb 21 at 7:29
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    Is this on topic? – Todd Wilcox Feb 21 at 7:50
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    @ToddWilcox It is about music performance. – trw Feb 21 at 8:26
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    @ToddWilcox - yes, tangentially. 'Practice' here is 'what happens' rather than 'rehearsal'. (Maybe there's a more fitting word for the title?) However, I'm convinced it will be summarily closed. – Tim Feb 21 at 8:53
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    @Tim People do the similar faces when playing video games or juggling, so sometimes it is "from the heart" and sometimes just high concentration. – Viktor Mellgren Feb 21 at 9:48
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Performing technically demanding music requires a great deal of cognitive effort. The motor cortex, which you obviously need to physically play an instrument, is no small part of that. That some musicians lose direct control of things like facial expressions is no surprise. It’s the same as when you do any intense and consuming task and mindlessly chew on a pen or bounce your knee or wrinkle your brow, for example. If you make an effort to maintain a normal facial expression while playing, you divert concentration from the music and it may well hinder your performance. And not just technically. Audiences expect the expressions as part of the communication coming from a performer and may even disconnect emotionally if a soloist shows none of the intensity that these facial expressions suggest.

I’m not saying you’re hindering your performance unless you’re gurning; we’re all individuals. But a lot of musicians do it as a side effect of intense concentration.

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    The pianist, slowly lowering hands after the last chord, comes to mind. Makes absolutely no difference to the sound at the end - but is part of the performance. Facial expressions, though, are often involuntary, and not an 'acted' part of performance. – Tim Feb 21 at 8:32
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    Also the conductors hand and the players instrument, even the head and the eyes movements to the public. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 21 at 9:14
  • I don't disagree with your answer, but why don't we see contorted faces in other activities that require intense concentration and physical precision? You don't typically see programmers grimacing oddly, for example, even though they are expending a great deal of cognitive effort and require similar physical precision to use the keyboard quickly and without errors. – Nuclear Wang Feb 21 at 16:17
  • @NuclearWang Probably because of the time pressure involved, which is happening at fractions of a second. A 16th note at 120 BPM happens every 0.125 seconds. A comment above mentioned juggling and video games, which have similar time pressure. (That’s not to say programmers don’t have time pressure, but it’s not the same sort of thing.) – trw Feb 21 at 17:48
  • not sure I completely buy this because if they're doing that look due to cognitive effort then most students on a math test would make weird faces. but they don't. – foreyez Feb 23 at 7:18
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Some people put these faces on for show. Some people (myself included) unconsciously make odd facial twitches when playing anything challenging or unfamiliar, or just naturally as we play. Personally I know my mouth twitches when I'm playing something complicated that I don't have committed to muscle memory, but when I know something off by heart (even if it's complicated) my face is completely relaxed.

Basically, it depends.

On a side note, one of my favourite examples of someone with an extreme "guitar face" is Paul Gilbert. I can never tell if he's hamming it up or if he just naturally lets his face contort like that. Probably a mix of both to be honest but either way it's rather entertaining.

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I was always very ambivalent to the “emotional “ and mimicking expressions of musical artists. I always thought in a child’s naive way: this is just a show!

Contra:

Example:

  • Especially looking at rock guitarists and keyboarders: they’re usually acting as they were doing such a hard work! but it is not authentic, the electronic does all the job.
  • But also the flutists and clarinetists, aswell cellists, pianists sometimes are exaggerating, also singers (classical and pop).

  • It was looking so ridiculous and penibel to me that I preferred not showing a video to my school classes but only the audio version.

  • I preferred watching Knopfler of dire straits like he was just doing his job.

  • it is also a pleasure to me to watch a video where the string orchester is playing pretty calm, it looks like they are working and it looks cool.

Example:

Pro:

  • Well, one day I watched myself in the mirror playing my brassinstrument and I noticed how my eyebrows were accompanying my efforts to reach the higher pitch of the tune.
  • And I realized on playing piano e.g. the chopin etude op. 10,1 that the whole body has to fulfill the movement to make this piece possible for playing.
  • I told the women sonsters and the children choirs to show emotion when singing, having contact to the public, keeping smiling.

  • I’ve always accepted the mimics and gestures of a conductor to give the impulse to the musicians.

  • why then not understanding that the players need or want to support or show the impulse they have with their gestures to illustrate the gestures and dynamics in the music (marked as allegro, pp, ff, attacco, morendo to transport better the idea of the music or the composers???

Example:

So finally I can identify with the artists, especially the soloists and feel empathy with their expressions.

  • But it still seems quite ridiculous to me when I am watching a video of a string quartet, a chamber ensemble or one of those small choirs or singing (family)groups (egal if classical, pop or gospel): It always looks as a competition of show, self-promoters and reminds me of the selfies in facebook)

Synthesis:

I prefer a cautious expression of feelings articulating and underlining the dynamics of the music, relating to the necessary body movement to perform a piece with a natural contact, communication and interaction with the audience. This is an inherent part of performance!

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    I find it ridiculous myself. I think it can actually ruin a performance when a musician overly exaggerates it. it looks phony. – foreyez Feb 21 at 15:31

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