Don’t Make a Face!

May 01, 2024

Developing your “concert face” is an important part of learning to perform. But what is an appropriate expression for when you’re playing? Do you smile or frown? Ignore the audience or acknowledge them? Grimace or grin when you’ve made a mistake?

Of course, we all know we aren’t supposed to react to our mistakes. Gliding over the missed notes preserves the magic of the music for a listener. We performers are much more apt to notice the error than a listener, and if we don’t draw their attention to it, either by stopping or by making a face, we won’t mar their experience of the music.

Once we understand how the wrong facial expression can detract from the impact of our performance, it’s just one more step to realize that the right expression can support your performance. 

Are you playing a wedding march? Be careful not to frown, glower or grimace. Trust me, the mother of the bride will notice. Are you playing a reflective or mournful piece? If you smile, your face will be conveying a conflicting message. You don’t need to hold a sad expression on your face; just being in the mood that you want your listeners to experience will help keep your expression appropriate.

Most performers decide that too much facial expression is distracting for an audience, and the best concert face has a rather neutral expression. By this I mean an expression that is neither smiling nor tense, not serious or smiling. Think about the way your face feels when you are relaxed and calm; that’s the way you want your “concert face” to look.

Consider the benefits to you of having a relaxed facial expression. It will help the energy flow rather than being a place where you hold tension. Experiment and see if you hold tension in your forehead or jaw when you play or practice. These are two common sources of tension and they can actually make playing more difficult.

When you have mastered the neutral face, you will discover that it even helps create a feeling of calm within you. Your audience will feel that sense of calm too, even if you are actually nervous inside. Keep in mind that working harder won’t make the music better. Relax and let the music flow. And when you’re finished, be sure to smile and take a bow!


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