Moving your mouth while playing music- Are you actually saying anything?

March 25, 2015 at 02:39 PM · Hello-

I have been playing violin for the past 9 years now (I am currently 16) and attend the Music Conservatory of Montreal. Since I was young, I would always notice that musicians, the best violin and piano interpreters that is, would almost constantly be moving their mouth while playing a piece, making movements that were very similar to speech. I was wondering if anyone else noticed this phenomenon and if it was the subject of a study recently, because I have always been trying to figure out what these musicians were saying (if anything)

Replies (21)

March 25, 2015 at 03:25 PM · Some are actually audibly speaking things they only would hear inside their head. You can hear things, but they are hard to understand.

While I am not an advocate of too much extraneous movement while performing, I find the piano/violin double standard VERY annoying. I have decided that, as long as it doesn't get in the way of the musical message, I should not care about whatever player is doing while performing, for they are not me, and it may work for them. Pianists are often allowed all sorts of gesticulations, while for many, the historical violin playing "poker face" is the ideal (not that I dislike those great players, BTW; all the contrary.)

Musical conservatism can be annoying. Too many are critical of those who wouldn't do things the way they "are supposed to be done."

(Which doesn't mean I enjoy the performances of some players who sway too much to my taste-it's however, their business, and the way they have chosen to play, for better or worse.)

March 25, 2015 at 03:31 PM · Yes, I too like the "Heifetz" approach. All of those people in that generation had a straightforward stage demeanor with minimal (if any) gestures, noises, or body movements.

But if a violinist is "talking" during the performance, it's probably something like....

"Why did my finger go there?"

"Eeewww, was that ever out of tune."

"C'mon, fingers!!!"



March 25, 2015 at 05:41 PM · You're got to remember that in this day and age all the pros are former Suzuki kids, and when they see four sixteenth notes followed by two eighth notes, they cannot help themselves, they have to say "Mississippi Hot Dog." And that's just for starters.

On a more serious note, I am a fan (and practitioner) of jazz piano, and there are many among the superstars who are very noisy while they play. That has more to do with intellectual honesty in the improvisation process.

I once saw a violist in a string quartet actually rise up somewhat out of his chair while playing a particularly expressive passage, and at a different time he puffed up his cheeks. I'm not sure what was up with that, but he did play quite well. I too prefer a little self-control but I don't expect players to be as stone-faced as Heifetz or Kogan.

March 25, 2015 at 05:41 PM · With some performers it's probably not a good idea to attempt to lip-read too closely ;)

March 25, 2015 at 05:46 PM · Yeah Trevor, they're probably cursing the conductor.

March 25, 2015 at 06:25 PM · OMG! I thought it only was me. My violin teacher contantly complains about that I'm moving my mouth while I'm playing. I don,t notice it myself until I look in the mirror... I don't know why I move my mouth, It's nothing I Think about until my teacher starts to complain..

March 25, 2015 at 07:26 PM · As long as no-one goes as far as the famous "Casals Groan" - a very audible chthonic moan that emenated from him on almost all his performances, whether solo, with orchestra or piano, or as a conductor. Must have been a nightmare for the sound engineers.

March 25, 2015 at 07:35 PM · Excessive breathing, even though musically intended, can be distracting as well-especially during a recording. Again, I dare not criticize the great musicians that do it, but I would advice against it if someone asked my opinion.

Mr. Gould was one of those pianists that made quite a bit of background noise during many of his recordings.

March 25, 2015 at 07:54 PM · I once read an recording engineering commenting how singers manage to breath inaudibly yet violinists make sure their sniffs are heard loud and clear.

March 25, 2015 at 10:49 PM · Good singers are trained not to make a sound not only because of recordings etc, but also because a noiseless breath is a good breath--breathing from the bottom of the belly and a few beats before entrance are the basics.

So I guess it's the training. :)

March 25, 2015 at 11:26 PM · Maybe violinists should learn how to sing. Actually, one violin pedagogue (don't remember who) said violin players should know how to sing.

March 25, 2015 at 11:58 PM · This video at 7:00 explains it well

March 26, 2015 at 11:00 AM · My French students have been drilled to think the note-names as they play. Disasterous: eye-to-solfege-(lips)-to-finger, instead of imagined-sound-straight-to-finger..

Some of us may be counting? or readjusting our teeth? Some of us are simply breathing and blinking..

March 26, 2015 at 10:20 PM · If the musical impulses are going to the mouth, then they are going to the wrong place. They should be going to the fingers. The reason this can happen is that our primary musical expression device is the voice. This can cause grunting, singing, gritting of teeth, etc. To eliminate this, practice with your mouth slightly open.It makes you very aware that you are chewing on your notes.

March 27, 2015 at 01:31 PM · I do this and I hate it. For me, it's a sign of tension. I don't think it's actually words. But it is related to the notes and what i'm telling myself. It happens in more difficult areas. I have resorted to biting my lip instead because it's embarassing, but that's not such a good solution, either. I'll have to try that open mouth thing. I wonder if it's related to the awkward breathing thing that my daughter points out every time i play.

March 28, 2015 at 01:22 AM · The performers that do this sort of nonsense, I think do so to distract the listener from how it sounds. The same goes for the ones that jump around like apes on stage. It's hard to play in tune to start with, but even harder when the instrument is a moving target. Physical exertion doesn't necessarily translate into great playing in my opinion.

March 28, 2015 at 05:14 AM · Obtain funding, then at enormous expense get lip-readers to analyse a great many videos of fiddle-players (the sample size has to be huge to have significance) and the resulting PhD-worthy theses might contain RUDE WORDS. Expletives !!

Oh S**T.

March 28, 2015 at 11:42 AM · Funny how many bodily actions we learn to control from our day one.

And then some are incapable of stopping it when doing one of the most sophisticated and beautiful things one can do - unbelievable.

I think if s.o. wants to control this, he/she will be able to.

I am absolutely sure that with many modern players the monkey movements and grimaces are done deliberately, like with rock stars. Look at Leila Josefowicz. Beautiful hair. Hmmm.

It seems that musicians from asia learn it that way. Some look like branches in the wind and underline every note with excessive gestures.

Btw. Flutists always seem to draw imaginary circles in the air with the end of their instrument. I can't watch them, especially if there are 2 playing duos. But I don't like solo flute anyway.

I like Heifetz. Or Eric Clapton.

March 28, 2015 at 03:02 PM · Aren't there neuroscience studies of why it's supposed to be hard to sing and play the violin at the same time? If violinists are moving their lips, I suspect there are two groups: those who are so good that they're hamming it up on purpose, and those who are moving their lips involuntarily due to tension.

I've seen way more pianists moving their lips while playing than violinists. Maybe there's a neurological explanation there too.

One of my advanced students would move his lips only during tricky passages and was mortified when he saw a video of it. He wasn't even aware he was doing it. He had to work consciously to contain it, but when nerves got the best of him, sometimes it would come back. It's not always on purpose.

March 30, 2015 at 09:29 AM · My violin teacher did the same,I never knew that musicians do move their mouth while playing. Thought it was kind of funny!

March 30, 2015 at 09:58 AM · I used to find my toung wiggled during trills!

Close-ups of Perlman sometimes show some incredible facial twitches. No comparison intended..

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