What’s it called? Should we coin a phrase? Fret Face? Riff Smirk? Guitar Grimace? Whatever it is…… it’s a thing. Guitar players love to put on their weirdest, ugliest face possible when playing through their favorite licks.
Guitar players make funny faces when performing live because they are fully focused and committed to the sounds they are producing. This level of concentration can cause the face muscles to tighten or conform because of our human instinctual reflex to express how we feel through our facial expressions.
Well, this is good news guitar players. If John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Joe Walsh, Prince, Joe Satriani, Dave Matthews, and many many other guitar players make funny faces while banging out their guitar riffs, maybe we shouldn’t feel bad about doing it ourselves. This is why it’s natural….
Humans naturally make facial expressions whilst in deep concentration.
Have you ever noticed that you have some little “tick” that you do when you are heavily focused and concentrating on a task. Do drum your fingers or bite your lip? Is it possible you gnaw your fingernails or chew on a pen? Well, if you do it’s nothing strange. It’s a trait inherent to the best of us.
When we are fully focused we are not in a state of comfort. In fact, quite the opposite. The grimace projected through our facial muscles when we are struggling to complete a mentally difficult task is an extension of the discomfort our brain is being subjected to.
Guitar players are far from immune to this behavior. Playing guitar requires a lot of focus. It’s not an intuitive skill like walking or speaking and requires a much more concentrated effort. Some things are just harder to do than others. I mean, have you ever met someone that is good…….at walking?
No, you haven’t and that is because it’s an activity that doesn’t require much skill or focus. Playing an instrument is much the contrary. Learning to play an instrument proficiently takes many years of persistent purposeful effort. This is why we find someone who can play the guitar with ease and precision to be so impressive.
Playing the guitar can be an extension of your own emotions, and especially so while improvising. The listener can really feel when a guitarist is putting their entire heart and soul into the sound.
The amount of time and force a player bends a string and holds a long squealing note can be determined on how connected the guitarist is to the song and the crowd.
When the guitar player is REALLY feeling the energy he is creating and absorbing from the audience, it will be projected though the guitar. You see all the greats doing this. It just down right feels good to put everything you have into the music.
I mean, who wants to watch a musician that isn’t fully focused and committed to giving the crowd the best possible performance they can give. Not me. I want to see those guys up there covered in sweat and giving it everything they have to impress.
Professional guitar players spend years practicing and preparing for playing in front of live audiences but that doesn’t mean that what they are doing still isn’t a challenge. When a guitarist is playing a particularly difficult part, don’t be surprised if you see his faced tightening up as he commits full focus to not making a mistake.
He’s a pro, but he’s still a human and playing technically taxing guitar riffs in front of a large live audience is never easy. The effort still has to be expelled.
Do you make funny faces when you’re playing guitar?
I can’t lie. I’m totally guilty of this. Try recording yourself playing through a difficult piece of music and take a look at the video afterwards. You may not love what you see.
Many beginners make tight, uncomfortable looking guitar faces while practicing or playing though a difficult piece of music that they know. This is normal and can happen to anyone. Don’t be ashamed or think that there is something wrong. Playing guitar is not an easy activity.
It’s likely that as you progress at the guitar this habit will slowly fade out. This is due to the fact that playing won’t take the same level of concentration and focus that it did in the past and thus you will be more relaxed and in control of your entire body.
I remember when I first started playing guitar people used to tell me that I “need to loosen up” or I “look tight”. At the time I didn’t really understand exactly what I was doing wrong or what I could do to remedy this. Though as time passed and my playing improved, I got a lot more relaxed while playing and is reflected in my body language.
How to stop making weird faces when playing guitar.
As I said above, when you’re a beginner you may be prone to tightening or making weird shapes with your facial muscles. What can we do about it?
Well first, we must fully understand the chords and structure of the song we’re attempting to play. Take some time to practice each chord shape and that transition between them. If you are struggling really hard just to make the chord changes then you know that you have work to do in this area and the song is going to be very difficult to play.
Second, we must be fully focused on the song. Focus directly on what you are playing and try to give a little mind to what chord or part is coming up next. That way you won’t be forcing your mind to multi task by playing guitar, talking to your dog, and watching a tv show all at once.
Third, as I said above. Film yourself and watch to see any tightness in your face. Replay the same song and try to give a little attention to relaxing the area that was under strain in the video.
Fourth, just keep getting better and better. Never stop practicing and DON’T GIVE UP!