Help! I have resting bitch face when I play!

January 7, 2018, 4:00 PM · Sorry for the language but I recently videoed myself playing and I have the biggest b*^%#* face ever!!! I’m performing a concerto w an orchestra in May and I want to have some video/photos from it but not looking like what i saw! Friends have told me to “smile when you play” but that’s hard to do! Any advice???

Replies (38)

January 7, 2018, 4:20 PM · You shouldn’t smile too much when you play a meditative piece, IMO.
January 7, 2018, 5:27 PM · Watch April Verch. She's got that same Mona Lisa smile on all the time. Probably something she cultivated for just the same reason.
January 7, 2018, 6:27 PM · Gil Shaham almost always has a smile on his face when playing, a trait I've tried to emulate without much success so far. I guess like anything else on the violin, you just have to practice.
January 7, 2018, 7:38 PM · I'd smile too if I could play like that.
January 7, 2018, 7:44 PM · Expression is in the eyes, not the lips. Try to "throw" with your eyes to whoever is watching what you are feeling in that passage. Once you can "talk" with your eyes, the rest of the face follows.
January 7, 2018, 8:50 PM · I didnt recall seeing videos of Oïstrakh smiling. Neither of Heifetz. Or Kogan. Or Menuhin. Or Ginette Neveu. Why do you need to smile if you dont feel like it? Just do what comes to you naturally, as long as it doesnt make you tense or causes damage.
Also, with all due respect, accepting the notion of resting bitch face is accepting a fundamentally sexist term.

January 7, 2018, 9:07 PM · I think you can practice smiling. I had a similar experience several years ago when I first started recording myself on video for an online contest. I hated the expression on my face when I played. I blogged about it here, in what I hope is a humorous way:

Since then I've been practicing smiling--not a big grin, just a little smile, with the eyes as well as the mouth as someone said above, and it has gotten easier. I don't hate videos of myself as much anymore. But I think some of that is self-acceptance, too.

January 8, 2018, 2:33 AM · Folks often say that violinists look sad, when they are really just concentrating. Which is usually a good thing!
January 8, 2018, 7:47 AM · I look like a little kid trying to hide candy in her mouth when I play. Happens on both violin and my second instrument piano :/
Edited: January 8, 2018, 9:34 AM · Adrian is right. So is Tammuz. It's concentration, intense focus. You can see it on the faces of most skilful musicians in performance. Don't worry about it! Stay focused on the music. You are doing something profound, which requires the full force of your mind and body, not grins or smiles. Leave the smiles for after the performance.
Edited: January 8, 2018, 1:31 PM · This is the funniest topic name I've seen here so far=)
January 8, 2018, 1:30 PM · could be worse-

January 8, 2018, 1:35 PM · I always liked that I looked angry when playing. I wouldn't want to smile, personally.
January 8, 2018, 1:43 PM · Clearly this is something that troubles you, but as i understand things it is common for solo instrumentalists to sometimes display facial postures and expressions which they have little control over. I discussed this once with a former colleague who worked in neurology, as we had both seen a concert by a UK string quartet whose first violinist made unusual expressions throughout the concert. She explained it as overspill from the limbic system, explaining that concentrating on music sometimes allows neurological systems which we are not usually aware of to affect the motor system and others.
I'm not a neurologist myself, so can't say more than I have reported, but other members may be able to correct, fill in, or further explain this aspect of performance behaviour. Not that this addresses the 'aesthetic' concerns, but it may at least help in that strange facial expressions are normal in musicians.
January 8, 2018, 1:51 PM · I don't have RBF, but I do play expressively and make faces (which are not exactly flattering) - hoping to work on that because if there's a passage that I'm having trouble with it shows on my face. :/
January 8, 2018, 2:12 PM · I practice my grimaces at the gym in front of the mirrors. If one doesn't make convincingly painful grimaces, how would others know that you are making any sort of serious effort? ;-)
Edited: January 8, 2018, 3:45 PM · One of the many things I find annoying about the Andre Rieu orchestra is the fixed smiles on all the musicians, who have clearly been instructed to play that way. A rictus is not a good look on a violinist IMO.

Don't worry about how you look. Worry about how you sound.

Edited: January 8, 2018, 2:28 PM · I also don't have RBF, but I was shocked to discover after the first time I videoed myself that I was doing the very best social media duck face! Not a good look on a 60 year old fat bloke.

Figured out it was due to concentrating so hard. Learning to relax and also looking around (music, L hand, bow position), together with consciously smiling occasionally helped to cure it.

I do understand your concern about the facial expressions you make when playing.

Personally, and here I'm bracing myself to be stoned as a heretic, I can NOT watch Joshua Bell because of his wildly excessive movements and facial expressions. Fantastic player; can listen to him for hours; can't watch him for more than 30 seconds.


Edited: January 8, 2018, 2:36 PM · If you are doing it while you play, it is NOT a Resting Bitch Face.

It is a fully active bitch face!

Embrace it like Ludwig!

Smiles are for the lukewarm and wishy-washy types.

January 8, 2018, 2:52 PM · My natural smile looks more like a leer. It's getting dangerous to go anywhere. ;-)
January 8, 2018, 3:35 PM · RBF is so behind the times. Duck face is so much in vogue in selfies :)) - should classical violinists jump up on the bandwagon?


... or fish face??

fish face

January 8, 2018, 4:58 PM ·
Tongue Posture might help. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth, instead of resting behind the bottom row of teeth.

Practice in a mirror and you will find it may be very difficult to do bitch face with your tongue at the roof of your mouth, compared to having your tongue at the base of the mouth.

January 8, 2018, 6:30 PM · I'm surprised no one asked you to post a video. It seems to be the latest go-to thing around here when someone has a technical problem. Why not for RBF :-D
January 9, 2018, 11:37 AM · I think that as long as you aren't making your face tense or your body tense, then it's pretty irrelevant. Although, I bet a good number of soloists do at some point cultivate a particular kind of stage persona, but I think that's for the people in the audience that are asleep until it's time to give the standing ovation.

I've seen some musicians that are almost painful to watch because of their "dancing", but I usually just close my eyes and listen if the playing is good.

January 9, 2018, 4:36 PM · Overspill from the limbic system? Really? When my limbic system overspills it usually affects my third finger, not my facial expressions.
January 9, 2018, 5:37 PM · I’m a smiler......I smile at dogs playing, people at the drive through....even at kids behaving badly (it is kind of funny)......literally smiling most of the time even for no reason. But I look very similar to the “active bitch face” as per Ludwig above when playing. Personally I’m proud of having a bit of a bitch face once in a while.....ironic it happens when I’m at one of my happiest times though........:)
January 10, 2018, 2:09 AM · We are not Broadway actors. As long as you're not actually glaring at the audience, nobody will care.
Edited: January 10, 2018, 9:44 AM ·

Hi Mari,

You should check out some video footage of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix when they are playing long guitar solos.

Jimi had a recurring tendency of making an "O" shape with his mouth and keeping it open as if he was waiting for a man to insert "something" into it. I am a big fan of Hendrix but when i saw that on video, i wondered, 'What the heck is THAT all about?'

When Stevie played a solo, his face usually looked as if he was either in great pain or if he was sitting constipated on the toilet.
I tried to turn on a girlfriend to his music but when she saw the video, she told me, "But he makes such ugly faces. I don't like to watch him."
Here's a good example of Stevie. He plays such an awesome solo. During the solo, he spins once and then faces the audience with his guitar behind his back after flawlessly re-attaching his guitar strap, and he just continues the solo as if nothing happened, then he steps up to the mic and starts singing still with the guitar behind his back while the audience ROARS with applause.
Check out his main solo and face at 3:37 on the timer.

Violinists are taught to focus on so much technique but i doubt they are taught stage presence by their teachers.

I saw a South Korean pianist, Yeol Eum Son, playing a Mozart concerto on YouTube the other day and i was sure she was, literally, having an orgasm while playing some (actually most) of the passages, just by how her face looked - her eyes closed, chin up, mouth open and smiling, her eyebrows raised.
(rolls eyes)
I thought she looked rather ridiculous, to be honest, but the audience liked her perfomance.
I suppose people would say that she's "feeling" the music. To me, it looked really contrived - she wasn't just playing piano, she was "acting", as well. I highly doubt she acts like that while alone in her studio.

Learn to act.
Play in front of a mirror, and then videotape yourself and see how it looks.
Practice smiling in the pleasant passages. Frown during the dramatic passages. Laugh when you play happy passages.
Mix it up. I am 100% sure the audience will enjoy what they see, as well as, what they hear from you.
They might even attend your concerts just because you are so expressive with your face.

Vanessa Mae seems to have mastered the expressive face. I like watching her play because she is so expressive with her face - it's entertaining. I am sure when she's practicing her repertoire, she practices her facial expressions while playing.
It seems to me (and i am probably wrong) as if she might have notes marked above certain passages on her manuscripts as to when to smile, when to be serious, when to laugh, when to be flirty etc, etc.
Her act is just so polished. I say "act" because i rather doubt that when she's learning a new piece that she does all of the facial stuff. She probably decides on the facial expressions later, after she's played the piece several times. Who knows for sure? I don't. I am just sharing my opinion with you.

And as Gemma said, "Nobody will care." Perhaps so.
But people, in my opinion, WILL care if you are more expressive - "all the world is a stage", they say.
I will reiterate that people might just re-attend your concerts and follow you around just BECAUSE you can entertain them with facial expression, as well as, with excellent playing, and i'll add to that...try to make it all look natural.
It could take a lot of practice but i am certain you are no stranger to practicing.

Check out Vanessa Mae's Red Hot concert tour on YouTube.

Vanessa looks like she's REALLY enjoying what she's doing...and, the house is packed and going nuts. She has them wrapped around her pinky - like an Irish fiddler gets the audience's feet tapping and hands clapping while they play their jigs and reels.

People like to see performers enjoying what they do. The audience will still enjoy the music but they might walk away telling each other, "She plays well but what a tortured soul she must be."

It's really nice to see a smiling face. No?

Check out videos of Deep Purple with founding guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, and see what a sourpuss he appears to be on stage.
Here they're a playing their rendition of Beethoven's 5th

Here he is again with is wig (he went bald) with his MUCH younger wife who, with the rest of the Blackmore's Night band, do all the smiling for (moody) him.

And as it turns out, he was VERY difficult to get along with as he is (was) controlling, verbally abusive, conceited, arrogant etc, etc.

Watch videos of vocalist, Ronnie James Dio, explaining what it was like to be in Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (band).

Even in the polished Blackmore's Night videos, he sulks and broods.
Compare Blackmore to the guitarist, Eddy Van Halen.

Image and stage presence says a lot, i think.


Edited: January 10, 2018, 8:04 AM ·

Hi Craig First,

Beethoven once contemplated committing suicide because he was going deaf.
In that portrait of Ludwig, he looks totally miserable as he was most probably completely deaf. He looks to be about 50-years-old in that portrait.
At the time of his death, he was only 56-years-old.
Not a happy fellow.

Mari seems worried about her "b*tch" face while Ludwig didn't give a damn - he was too much in demand.


January 10, 2018, 8:08 AM · In my opinion, turning smiling into a sexist issue is bogus. EVERYONE should smile more. It's good for you. Smiling works backwards into the person, making you feel better; try it and you'll see. Also, once you learn to make it a habit you will be surprised how many people will smile back at you. I started doing it when I didn't feel good, to make myself feel better, and eventually it stuck. People who try to shame you for smiling---dump them, now.
January 10, 2018, 9:39 AM ·


I tend to agree with Michael.

I once heard a saying that goes for everyday life:
"Keep smiling because someone might fall in love with your smile."

Now, as Mary-Ellen said earlier, (paraphrased) 'nobody wants to see a constant smile while playing an instrument'. I agree with that, as well.

So, i suggest what i suggested in my post addressed to Mari. "Mix it up."


Edited: January 10, 2018, 11:20 AM · Lillian Lu, me too! Either that or I look angry.
Mari Mizutani, perhaps practice videotaping yourself and trying different expressions while playing a relatively easy piece. Find an expression you like, and practice that. Gradually practice with that expression from easy beginner pieces, to intermediate pieces, and finally to whatever concerto you're working on. It's probably going to be a gradual process, so be sure to play the easier pieces first.
As others have mentioned, our faces usually reflect how concentrated we are, and that's generally a good thing!
Someone mentioned to me about how I have to smile more when I play (many more have said about how I have to smile more anyway). I said, "That's ridiculous. You try playing a difficult piece, while maintaining a pleasant expression. I don't care how my face looks, I care about the music."
Our faces naturally form into that expression while we play, because we're so intensely focused on the music. Sometimes we look bored. Sometimes we look angry. Sometimes our faces are expressionless. That last one probably isn't the greatest for a performance.
What is the mood of the concerto? Figure this out, and you'll figure out an appropriate expression.
I like this violinist's expression, posture, etc: It reflects the mood of the different parts of the Czardas.
I personally do not like this violinist (fiddler): Someone mentioned here (Paul Deck, I believe) that she always has a Mona Lisa smile when she plays, so I looked her up on YouTube. To me, it's oddly creepy. But that's just my own opinion, I guess.
Edited: January 12, 2018, 5:12 PM · Robbie Daug, thanks for the anthology of soloist facial expressions! Very cool that somebody here mentions Ritchie Blackmore --I saw Rainbow in concert in 1980, before I knew his name --they were touring with Blue Oyster Cult. I know he's had a long and varied career, but what I know and love best by him is the very earliest stuff with deep Purple, especially The Book of Taliesyn --ironically an album he said he never much liked!

Regarding Vanessa Mae, who I only first learned about a week or two ago on another thread, I clicked your link and watched her for a few minutes. It's hard to resist saying first that she is excitingly beautiful, and her poise is part of that. But as in my first impression of her a week ago, her playing is probably of higher potential than the cheesy pop arrangements she's doing, especially the drums and overall pop music presentation. I hope she'll grow up and get serious because she has much skill and would be truly dreamy if she ever becomes a deep artist. If she keeps that smile then, she will be queen of violin, but that would have to be about deep art not sexy smiles.

January 13, 2018, 6:43 AM ·
I think people lost track of what the question was. The question wasn't who has the creepiest face and what is acceptable and what isn't. The question was more on the lines of what can one do to have more control of there facial expression when playing. I answered the question correctly, as best I could, but I feel my answer would be lost with all the nonsense postings. Clearly, by the responses in the post, facial expression is important, and having a natural facial expression doesn't come natural to some, and like everything else it needs practice.

Here is my old post, that is in sync with the poster request:

Tongue Posture might help. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth, instead of resting behind the bottom row of teeth.
Practice in a mirror and you will find it may be very difficult to do bitch face with your tongue at the roof of your mouth, compared to having your tongue at the base of the mouth.

Edited: January 13, 2018, 8:45 AM · I prefer the deeply meditative and profoundly focused faces of violinists like Anne Akiko Meyers, Hillary Hahn, or Anne-Sophie Mutter in performance. Or James Ehnes. Etc. Trying to manage smiles or manipulate facial expressions while you're performing something as complex as a concerto, with an orchestra, seems to me very poor advice for the o.p., and a potential recipe for artistic failure. Focus on the music. As I said before, save the smiles and grins for the audience once it's over.
January 14, 2018, 11:23 AM · In terms of the process of working on this, some suggestions: I had a teacher who made me purposely make horrible scrunchy faces in a passage first, then relax the face and not make a face in the second run through. This technique was really helpful to get in touch with what my facial muscles actually do, and to be aware of that when we say to ourselves "relax your face" we have practiced what that feels like and we know how to do it. Another option is to practice having your face reflect the music, i.e. to channel the emotions of the phrase through your face. I think facial expression that mirrors the music is much preferred by the audience :). Trick No. 3: Each day you practice pick one region of your face to relax (eyebrows, lips, jaw etc) during practice (and video tape to see if you are accomplishing it) - again so you integrate the ability to "let go" in your face into the daily practice routine. See if any of those work for you. Good luck!
January 15, 2018, 4:51 AM ·
Thank's for posting that Susanna, there are many who have problems in this area. I think others are getting confused about what the post is about: having some control over facial expressions or other movements so as not to distract from the performance but to add to it. This is a very important part of showmanship in this entertainment field. I find, compared to other entertainers, violinist often suffer in this area. We often get into this chronic looking down or at the instrument pose.

January 16, 2018, 4:33 PM · That's what's great about pets. They love you even when your facial expressions aren't the best. ;-)

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