Showing more emotion while playing

June 8, 2018, 7:45 PM · When I play, I am usually quite stony-faced and I don't really move around - I'd really like to look more like I'm enjoying/into the music.

I actually am deep in music when I'm playing, but I've seen videos and it just looks like I'm standing there playing very still.

What I particularly want to work on is my facial expressions while playing - I had tried to find some help in showing more expression but most threads are about how to show less expression! :P

I think I show less expression because I feel a bit silly making expressions and moving around while playing.

Replies (26)

June 8, 2018, 7:56 PM · Don't try to make faces. Heifetz never did.

However, if you are very still when playing, you should ask your teacher if you're moving effectively. No motion at all may be indicative of tension.

June 8, 2018, 8:42 PM · It’s all in the eyebrows.
June 8, 2018, 9:10 PM · Please don't make faces on purpose and move for theatrical's sake. When people move in a way that is not honest and not natural to them, I look away because it's a distraction.

I want to be moved by hearing your music with my ears, not watching your pantomime with my eyes.

Think about how you can convince me with your musical rhetoric and seduce me with your tone instead.

For eye candy there's plenty of Lindsey Stirlings out there already.

June 8, 2018, 9:29 PM · Speaking of which...

On a more serious note, as others have said, if your motion or lack of motion is hindering your playing, you can practice it like anything else, choreograph, coordinate whole body motions to your arm movements. Some teachers are meticulous about such things (e.g. Kato Havas, Karen Tuttle).

If your resting face bothers you, you can practice changing that too (e.g. https://www.castittalent.com/blog/2011/10/mastering-your-facial-expressions/.)

Everybody has their own ideas about movement in performance, but I think you should experiment and do what feels good, as long as it helps you sound better.

June 8, 2018, 10:27 PM · Unless you are a rock soloist don't worry about it. Your job is to provoke an emotional reaction in the audience, not react to it.
June 9, 2018, 2:14 AM · Folks often find violinists look sad. Just insist that they are concentrating. We are sound artists, not mime artists.
June 9, 2018, 7:57 AM · You might change how you dress, e.g. like Mutter, and then wouldn't have to worry about facial expressions, they, and theirs would happen all by themselves.
June 11, 2018, 7:37 AM · If you are involved when you play, it doesn’t matter wether you make faces or not.

Some musicians make plenty of faces, but their playing leaves me cold.
Others look like they don’t even care, but their playing takes me to another dimension.

June 11, 2018, 9:59 AM · If you aren't normally an outwardly emotional person I doubt you would be while playing.

Some personalities lack the connection from the face to the heart. I find that "intro" types tend to focus more on the music and making the instrument expressive. The facial expression doesn't matter as much.

In the line of music I work with on Sunday many leaders tear up and cry while talking.I sometimes can't tell if it's real or an act. I am quite the opposite. I can't remember ever doing that.

I have been brought to tears listening to beautiful music. I could understand how such an expressive instrument as the violin could cause this to happen. If it doesn't happen naturally though I wouldn't try to coax it.

June 11, 2018, 11:39 AM · Great string players don't move around just to be theatrical. They move their legs and bodies to facilitate the arm motion they are trying to get.
June 11, 2018, 4:32 PM · I think it's very likely that you are hearing something wrong acoustically in your playing, perhaps something vague that could be called a "lack of emotion", and then when seeing your face, you naturally attribute the problem to your physical expressions.

But the root cause is the sound. If your sound appears to have emotion, and matches what you acoustically desire to hear, then you'll find that you won't notice when your face isn't expressive.

June 12, 2018, 6:41 AM · To the O.P. - why?
You can fool bad conductors in a 'f' passage by putting in a jerk on an sf or a ff. No difference in sound, but impresses him/her (if they're an idiot)
June 17, 2018, 4:50 PM · I am not a professional muscian but have (on various instruments) performed in regional sympthony, classical groups, jazz groups, etc. Like most of us here, I have been to lots of live concerts and viewed many more via media. I find two things really distracting. The first is a musician (or conductor) with exaggerated body movement and facial grimaces or contortions. As someone already mentioned, it is about the music and not the physical antics of the performer. The other thing, and sorry if this is old school, but I find it very distracting if a performer is covered with tatoos.
Edited: June 19, 2018, 4:58 PM · Compare these two outstanding performances of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OF9fneQ50Us Patricia Kopatchinskaja & Fazil Say.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSC4W1qWMp4 Nathan Milstein & Georges Pludermacher This was Milstein's last public performance.

June 19, 2018, 5:54 PM · Personally I'm really tired of the entire Kopatchinskaja shtick (the faces, exaggerated motions, scores all taped together on multiple stands, etc.). I think she hits all nine of the moves in Jeewon's YouTube link. I find it all very tiring, completely unnecessary, and really distracting. I've never seen a good/great performance and thought to myself - "gee, if the performer had only mad faces, and danced around more - that would have put it over the top!" Take everyone's advice here - play as you're comfortable with and don't try to show more emotion. It doesn't add anything, and is really more likely to just turn people off. Blow 'em away with your playing, not you're foot moves.
Edited: June 20, 2018, 1:42 AM · Dear John, judging by how you write, I believe I have already dealt with some of your hateful and uneducated comments on YouTube.

Kopatchinskaja doesn’t move like she does because she wants to attract attention or whatnot. She moves like that because she legitimately feels like it and it’s what she needs to get in the zone. And if you don’t like looking at her movements, then just close your eyes and focus on the wonderful sounds she emits instead.

Also from my general experience it seems that women violinists move more than men violinists while playing

Edited: June 20, 2018, 5:30 AM · Why is taping together scores a bad thing, or a shtick? Tons of people tape together scores.
June 20, 2018, 6:25 AM · @ Frieda That's a serious one. Right up there with putting too much rosin on your bow. I like tape especially in outdoor windy conditions.

Imagine a young lad saying, "Mom I brought my girl friend here for you to meet, she's a really nice girl. She tapes her scores together though."

Mom- "No!! How could you! I'll not have a girl here who does that!!!!!!!!!!!" " How much rosin is she using on her bow!!"

June 20, 2018, 8:53 AM · @Roman - No idea what you're talking about regarding YouTube. I don't have an account there and have never posted anything there.

@Frieda - In solo performances with the Berlin Philharmonic? I don't recall seeing any other string soloist do that.

June 25, 2018, 11:20 AM · I sometimes make faces not because I want to but because it sort of just happens. I usually am singing the piece I’m playing in my head and I think my lack of facial-muscular control is what contributes to it transferring onto my face. I found myself moving my lips when I looked at a recording of a practice session which I didn’t even know I did. Making faces for me usually helps with immersion, but from what you just said it seems like it would be more of a distraction than an aid. Music face for me personally is indicative of comfort and confidence because I only do it when I’m unaware of people potentially judging me (I don’t make faces when I play with strangers because I’m too busy worrying about the way I sound); are you tense at all, physical, mental or otherwise?

Are you satisfied with the way you sound? If so, why insist on making faces?

Edited: June 25, 2018, 12:48 PM · It looks to me as though Perlman has trained himself to minimize the natural motion of his lips that link to what his hands are doing. I have not done that so I must look like hell when I play – at least I do to me. I think many of us have links between various muscles and nerves that result in autonomous movements of some muscles during conscious movement of others. Is it worthwhile to work to overcome that?

I know that when I listen to players I usually do it with my eyes closed if I really want to hear the music. If the "emotion" does not come through with the sound it just ain't there. When the e-motion is in their body-motion, I often cannot tolerate watching them. They don't have to be like Heifetz, but please, a little restraint!

For conductors, give me Herbert Blomstedt every time - no extraneous motion (but the emotion is surely there)! I had the privilege to watch and follow him from the front (his front) once for a two hour rehearsal exactly 45 years ago.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/20/arts/music/herbert-blomstedt-is-turning-90-he-is-also-conducting-over-90-concerts-this-year.html

June 25, 2018, 1:42 PM · Anyone who has listened to Keith Jarrett (a jazz pianist) knows that musicality is sometimes very directly connected to the performer's vocal cortex. It's entirely organic. My hunch is that Jarrett uses that to keep his improvisations honest -- they have to be genuine musical ideas, not licks that happen to fit into his hands.
Edited: July 1, 2018, 6:17 PM · Very interesting discussion. The issue, it seems to me, is one of communication with an audience, not by the sound of the music alone, but by the visual aspects. In the world of popular and rock music, it seems to me that the visual often takes the attention away from the actual sound of the music (and sometimes I fear that is by design). Anyway, when it comes to classical violin music, the question is indeed how does one genuinely keep the focus on the music rather than on making faces or dancing around. And in this regard, everybody is perhaps a little different. There are those (like Heifetz) who do not appear to try to do anything to visually "get in the way" of the music, and those who literally dance the stage and make dramatic faces, grunts, gasps, etc.
The issue, I think, is what is genuine and what is a calculated act.
I happen to especially like Zino Francescatti (not only his great, great playing, but his stage presence).
Anyway, it seems to me that if you're not "showing" what you feel when you make music, maybe there are a few things worth trying, but the test is what is - for you - genuine and what isn't.
Hope that helps.
Cheers,
Sandy
Edited: July 1, 2018, 6:46 PM · I don't know, Sander. Maybe genuineness is overrated. Was it a great performance or wasn't it? What if your doctor has wonderful bedside manner and excellent medical knowledge and judgment ... but deep in his heart he only cares about your recovery so he can have better ratings on social media.
Edited: July 2, 2018, 2:56 PM · Hey, Paul, good point, and I agree. And I think particularly in the world we live in there's too much focus on everything but the music.
Anyway, have a great 4th of July.
Cheers,
Sandy
PS. By the way, speaking of extra-musical genuineness, What would Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture be without the cannons, the guns going off, the flags waving, the rockets being fired, and the armed soldiers guarding the entrances to the auditorium?
:))
The doctor with the beside manner reminds me of the old Henny Youngman joke:
Patient: "Nobody pays any attention to me."
Psychiatrist: "Next!!!"
July 2, 2018, 10:16 PM · I've had the fortune of listening to some really good live chamber music by the Arties Chamber Orchestra. The violinists did show expression but it seemed very natural to me- particularly when the passage was chirpy and fun. Or consider Martha Argerich(though not a violinist but a tremendous musician none the less) for example- her expressions are spot on and resonate with what you would be feeling listening to her performance. I do agree with many of the comments above that exaggerated movements are a huge distraction.

As long as one can appreciate your music by closing their eyes and just listening by the ear I don't think lack of expressions should be a reason for worry!

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