How can I stop making those horrible faces when I play?

January 23, 2008 at 07:32 AM · I've been playing for a little over 5 years now - having started as a mature <*grin*> adult beginner. Although it's probably not my biggest problem, I'm really self-conscious about the grimaces I make while playing. What with all the other things I have to think about, having to devote any of my concentration to my face does not help my performance! Other than tension, are there any other reasons some of us do this, and how can I overcome it?

Replies (20)

January 23, 2008 at 04:34 PM · I see two issues here. One is why you make the faces. Do they reflect technique problems that you can work at solving? If not, I would simply not worry. I would hate for someone to record me playing to see what faces I make. Good luck!

January 23, 2008 at 04:39 PM · Send an e-mail to Maxim Vengerov. He may help you ;-)

January 23, 2008 at 04:45 PM · For what it's worth from an amateur, I've come to believe that making faces or grimacing is probably a natural, individual reaction based on the intense level of concentration and perceptual-motor coordination it takes to play. I think that most of us who grimace actually need to unlearn it. And I think that this means practice - just like you practice scales and bow changes and shifting and everything else.

It has always seemed to me watching old films of Heifetz that at many points he looks as if he is about to grimace, but then holds back. Considering what a perfectionist he was, I'll bet that he worked as hard on his stage presence as he did on his celebrated double-stops and vibrato.


January 23, 2008 at 04:54 PM · Good post, Sandy.

January 23, 2008 at 05:52 PM · Okay, Sandy, spoken wisely. Now tell me how to get rid of my own adult beginner problem: horrible, inadvertent double chin when I play. Honestly, I'm surprised the mirror doesn't crack! As if the sound I produce weren't humbling enough... : /

Rae-ann, I love that you've found an adult beginner orchestra. How great is THAT?!

January 23, 2008 at 07:34 PM · My sister claims I used to wiggle my ears in time when I played as a youngster. I wasn't self-conscious until she told me that!

January 23, 2008 at 09:39 PM · Forget your facial expressions.

Just be thankfull you can play.

Play oft-no need to delve in frivolity.

Ask them to try your piece;they won't even have the ability to make a note.

Others may make light of your performance.

Who cares,I think facial involvement counts !

January 24, 2008 at 02:44 AM · Thanks to everyone for those kind, helpful, supportive words.

Terez: Yes, the orchestra is wonderful. I think I'll start a thread about it in another area of this site, like 'Orchestras.'

January 24, 2008 at 03:00 AM · As long as other people aren't making horrible faces when you play, it could be worse. ;-)

January 24, 2008 at 08:06 PM · Especially the composer.

January 24, 2008 at 08:10 PM · In Summer 2007, my old teacher saw that I was making horrible faces and it annoyed her. So she investigated extra hard to find a way to make me stop doing it. During her investigation, she found that my face was making a frown because I was dropping my violin. So, she told me to hold up my violin and that fixed the horrible frowning Jasmine. I still make other faces, but atleast the frown is gone, which I gues a frown isn't good for performance.

January 24, 2008 at 09:40 PM · Another thought on faces: I once heard a cellist play and I thought there were quite a few note that were not right, but hey, what do I know. Her face was completely composed throughout - she never flinched (as I do when a note is sour) so there was nothing in her body English to give away her less than flawless performance. That's something to aspire to!

January 24, 2008 at 09:44 PM · Well, there can be a number of reasons you're making the faces. I had and still have ( but I've improved a lot) a tendency to look really angry when I play, no matter what I play. I've fixed a lot of it simply by look in the mirror when I play. Paderewski had the same problem. He fixed it the same way.

Looking in a mirror does two things. #1 You see yourself, #2 it takes your mind off of being OVERLY concentrated on your technique and music thus releasing some tension.

Hope this helps.

January 25, 2008 at 02:02 PM · Why would you want to get rid of strange faces and other odd gestures? Look what it's done for Nadia Slareno Sonnenberg's career!

Seriously, I second the motion re the mirror.

January 25, 2008 at 03:08 PM · My nickname is monkeymouth.

January 25, 2008 at 04:04 PM · Where would Gidon Kremer, Joshua Bell, and Yo YO Ma and LangLang be if they didn't make funny faces while playing?

January 25, 2008 at 11:49 PM · OK, let me play Devil's Advocate: What's so great about making faces (as well as jumping around on the stage)?

- First of all, it could be considered a distraction from the sound of the music (as any popular rock musician and pop crooner has learned; maybe for them it has the advantage of taking the audience's attention off of the actual musical sound).

- Second, it could be considered a sign of a lack of emotional and physical control.

- Third, it could be considered as detracting from (rather than adding to) the focal powers of the performer.

- Fourth, it just may be that jumping around and making all those faces keeps a violinist from giving their best, since a great deal of their body movements, coordination, and muscular energy is given over to extraneous movements and not to the efficient and single-minded focus on playing the violin.

- Fifth, a lot of the mugging and jumping around is just simply unattractive and silly for an adult.

Obviously, I prefer a violinist who walks out onstage and just plays the music, putting all of their focus (and the audience's) on the sound of the music itself. And so many of the greats did just that: Heifetz (of course), Milstein, Ricci, Menuhin, Oistrakh, Francescatti, and many others. If I want to watch people making peculiar faces, I'll watch a comedy.

All that being said, once in a while a violinist will make a slight gesture or face that adds to the performance. But that's rare.

That's my 2-cents worth.

It's freezing here in Chicago. Hope it's warmer where you are.


May 5, 2011 at 06:36 PM ·

 I believe that the more you can relax the less your face will have a life of its own. Next time you catch yourself making funny faces while playing, try to take a deep breathe and release those unnecessary tensions.

It's easier said than done. Most of us do it at one time or another.

May 5, 2011 at 11:39 PM ·

1) Practice with a mirror 2) Relax face 

May 5, 2011 at 11:53 PM ·

1. Change the grimace into a smile........that will help you relax.

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