You probably have already seen a video of a drummer playing his drums. And, probably, you’ve also seen a drummer moving his mouth or making a weird face while drumming. Why is that so? And why do so many drummers do that?
When drummers play with an open mouth or make a funny face, it’s because they get lost in the music, and they feel it. Those are uncontrolled movements that one is not aware of doing, called movement coordination patterns or mannerisms.
To get more in-depth into that topic, I researched the exact explanation of those movements, if you can stop them or if you even should.
Facial expression for the measurement of people’s emotions has been current in the scientific discipline since the late Sixties. The American Psychological Association (APA) published an article in which Paul Ekman, Ph.D., of the University of CA, San Francisco, and Carroll Izard, Ph.D., of the University of Delaware, have studied emotion by linking expressions to a bunch of raw emotions.
Many came to grasp that facial expressions provided the key to people’s feelings. However, in recent years, there are doubts within the body of literature that claims there’s no matched correspondence between facial expressions and emotions. It has been argued, there is no proof to support a link between what seems on someone’s face and the way they feel within.
Yet there are some essential similarities behind this conflict, reports Dr. Joseph Campos of the University of California at Berkeley. “In fact,” he said:
“There is a deep consensus that the face, along with the voice, posture, and hand gestures, predicts to external observers what people will do next.”
“The face is one component [of emotion],” says Campos. “But making it the center of the study of the person who experiences emotion is like telling them that in a car, you only have to look at the transmission. Not that the transmission is insignificant, but it’s just one component of a whole system.”
Well, is this theory also valid for drummers who on a whim change their facial looks at this tricky passage in a solo, or when their limbs start to burn from a lack of oxygen? Have you ever considered looking more presentable when you are sneezing or maintaining a smiling face when you are lifting a very weighty object? This is the same with drumming, which is a very physically demanding exercise – like trying to play independently with all four limbs at a quick tempo.
They go on to say: “The controversy continues as to whether the face also says something about the inner state of a person.” The strange, disturbed, obsessed, funny, intense, and peaceful faces of the drummer all refer back to one thing in my mind: Joy, although you screwed up the 32nd note fill that you’ve been practicing for weeks. There is still a pure joy to sit behind a drum set and to play as well as possible for minutes or hours. The reality is that some part of the brain is rather focused while we play drums.
Now, what does this tell us concerning this article’s main question? It means that drum faces can be scientifically related to the emotion that the drummer is experiencing at this moment. However, not only the face alone but also other external gestures provide information about the reasons for human behavior. So, doing a poker face on the drums doesn’t mean that you might not be enjoying your time!
Can You Train Yourself out of It?
“I think my face looks so weird when I’m playing drums. I don’t have the guts to go on stage with this performance…” I completely understand that feeling and when I look at some of the live footage of our band, then sometimes I also have to cringe and laugh at myself. Many drummers can relate.
Something that annoys me personally is that so many times after I have been playing, my jaw hurts. And that’s since my mouth is wide-open when I play, and I only notice it after a while when it begins to hurt.
So when you are trying to get rid of that funny drumming face, there are solutions! As mentioned above, those faces are movement coordination patterns or mannerisms. You are first learning a coordination pattern, say a paradiddle, and no matter what kind of face you make, it will perhaps remain with that same coordination pattern for years to come. You will be fuelling the nervous system, and in the process, you will create faces that are just as much a part of the paradiddle as the hand motions.
You have to relearn the coordination patterns again just without the faces. If you then make faces, it will be just because you want it, not because you happen to have it.
If you are really keen to learn to stop that behavior, play something light that doesn’t require a lot of concentration. Slowly speed it up and play it repeatedly, each time a little bit faster. Continue like this and try to force your face into a kind of >:| face. Just practice that slowly and force yourself to keep that straight face.
But keep in mind: Be careful not trying too excessively so that you end up turning the positive, joyful emotion into exhaustion and maybe even pain. It’s essential to have fun, still doing what you love!
Weird Drum Face vs. No Drum Face
After consulting the question on how to get rid of a funny drum face, I find it just as interesting to look at whether you should even try to get rid of it. For this, I think it’s important to check in with yourself and see if it annoys you so much that the effort you have to put in in order to change that eventually pays off. Because in the beginning, you might end up playing worse because you’re not focused on playing, but instead on trying too hard not to make a funny face.
If you ask other musicians, they might say it looks weird, but they mostly don’t make fun of you in a mean way. I would rather see chaotic mouths, squinting eyes, ridiculous teeth, drool, and tonsils. The alternative is to look more opaque: Poker face, no smiling, no raised eyebrows, no growls, no emotions, no nothingness. How boring the drumming world might be if it weren’t for our theatrical expressions.
You know, the thing that bugs me sometimes is when drummers don’t show any facial expressions. Like Dennis Chambers, Will Kennedy, or Johnny Rabb, they only sit there while playing incredibly complex stuff. It’s as if it was just the most ordinary and natural thing in the world. Other funny drum face dudes: Thomas Pridgen, Dave Weckl
Funny thing as a side note: I read about one guy online who advised others not to stop that. Because at least he had one girl at his show who said that she liked his weird concentration face 😀
Basically, the more at ease you feel behind the drums, the more captivating and creative your playing becomes. I think that the facial looks can enhance the listener’s experience and indeed show the performer’s concentration and emotion. But in the end, it always comes to your gut feeling if you are happy with your own performance.