It’s a subject of quiet tittering and amusement. When guitar players play their solos, they contort and twist their faces, gurning in unconscious ways, so that they look, frankly, ridiculous. What is it about playing music that connects to the facial muscles in such a seemingly bizarre way? Surely the essence of looking cool, as a guitar player, is to not pull those faces and to express their passion and pain through their notes alone. So you would think.
I haven’t found a lot about this on the internet, but I have noticed from observation that the best musicians don’t just play from their fingers. They involve their whole body in movement, sympathetic with the rhythm and emotion of the piece they are playing. They let their bodies respond freely to the musical thoughts they are thinking and the sounds they are creating. All the virtuosi are involved in a subtle, free dance with their instruments, while they play.
I think that there is a deep and important connection between how our entire body responds to music and how the music we create sounds. If, as a guitar player, you permit yourself to let your body move as you play, allowing the dance to evolve of its own accord, you will find that the fluidity with which you play and the ability to make an emotional connection with your audience is actually dramatically enhanced. Try it for yourself. Letting yourself dance with your instrument, as you play, lets you make better music.
My guess is this. If you do not permit that flowing body movement to occur, while you play, yet you are playing with intensity and emotional verve, the only thing that can happen is that your facial muscles autonomically respond to the musical expression. In other words, suppressing the movement of your body causes your face to do all the work of responding to the music. Guitar faces are the result of suppressed body movement, in my view.
That is not to say that your face should be immobile. Absolutely not. I feel that if you let your entire body respond to the music you are playing, face included, that is the route to producing the most lithe, agile, graceful, emotionally impactful music possible. Every other sort of self-conscious containment reflects back into the music you make, turning it into something safer, stilted, more self-conscious and ultimately sterile. For your music to have potency, you need to allow its expression to envelop and wash over your entire body, making every hair tingle, so that the sounds you create will have a similar effect on your listener. You’re almost like a test pilot for your audience. If it makes your own body move, then it has a high likelihood of making somebody else’s body move and therefore, you have succeeded in loading your sound waves with a message that other people’s empathic senses will allow them to interpret as conveyed emotion.
Dancing with your instrument, as you play it, is the best way to create an emotional conduit between your own creative faculties, which are producing the notes, and the audience that is experiencing your music. Attempts to constrain that dance result in audible differences that your audience can sense as a reduction in the affective content of the music. It sounds passionless. It sounds passionless, because it is passionless. The audience can see that you’re holding back. What they want you to do is let it all hang out.
If you think about air guitar players, who don’t play guitar at all, but rather mime to recorded guitar tracks with elaborate and exaggerated theatrical gestures, what they are doing is adding to the emotional impact of other people’s playing, by the visual added extras that they convey to the audience. The dance adds to the music to produce a more satisfying emotional experience. I guess it’s why we like to dance while we listen to music and why dance is something that you will happily watch accompanied by music (e.g. ballet), but question more critically, when there is only silence.
The brain somehow connects the sight of the air guitar player, the notes coming out of the sound system and the emotional content of the piece. The air guitar player’s movements are not actually affecting the sound waves at all, as they would be if the actual guitar player was dancing with his instrument, it’s just adding up inside the brains of the audience to being something more than the experience of listening to recorded music alone, but something less than a freely, fluidly moving live player. Is it any wonder that we so enjoy live music?
So as absurd as the guitar face appears, it serves a real purpose, I think. It allows the player to load his playing with emotional content and for that emotion to therefore affect the actual sounds produced, adding nuance, subtlety and grace. In so doing it allows for that affective content to have maximal impact on the listener. Music is best when it is a whole mind and body experience and to experience it that way, the music has to be imparted with the passion and emotional content needed in the first place and the audience has to allow it to flow into themselves with equal openness.
Dancing with your instrument, while you play it, is exposing your inherent vulnerability and therefore it makes you attractive to others and more able to be connected with, by empathic, vulnerable audience members.
Sounds silly, I know, but try it. If you are a player, allow your body to move in sympathy with your music. If you are an audience member, allow the music to affect you with equal fluidity and grace. I promise you will be amazed.