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I have mentioned in other articles that while I play multiple instruments, the drums are by far my favorite. All instruments have their own characteristics that draw me to them, but the drums hold a special place in my heart.
I have a much greater connection to my drum set than other instruments when I play, which often results in my entire body moving to the music and making faces, especially during intricate and intense song sections.
However, drummers are recognized for frequently making faces while they play. So why is that?
There are a few reasons that contribute to why drummers often make faces while playing. One reason can be to engage with the crowd, encouraging them to be more involved with the music. Other reasons are that the drummer becomes immersed and hyper-focused on their playing and that drumming is physically demanding.
Let’s look closer at why drummers often make faces when they play. Exploring some of these reasons will give us clues as to why this happens in drumming and while playing many other musical instruments.
Why Do Drummers Make Faces When Playing?
There are many potential reasons drummers (and other musicians) will make faces when playing their instruments.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but after over fifteen years of playing drums, these are the three main reasons I have found that I, and likely many other drummers, make faces when playing.
Let’s check them out.
Reason 1: Crowd Engagement
One of (but not the most common) reasons that drummers make faces is simply for crowd engagement. While not all drummers are flashy, a consistent perception of drummers is that they are eager to put on a show.
In other words, when people think of drummers, they often think of lots of big flashy movements, stick twirling, and all sorts of faces being made to try and get the crowd more involved.
I must stress that if you don’t want to be flashy, don’t be. Play true to yourself! For me, it depends on the song and the band that I am playing with.
One of my bands plays a lot of up-tempo 70s and 80s rock music, so with that band, I tend to be a lot more animated and flashy with my stick twirling and crowd engagement.
The other band plays many more mellow tunes, so I tend to stay more reserved with them, but occasionally, I still up my showmanship depending on the song.
The more intricate the songs are, the more I will end up making faces due to my concentration or the physical difficulty of the song. However, in more simple songs, I typically engage with the crowd more as I don’t need to focus as much on what I am doing on the kit.
So, in both cases, I might end up making faces while playing, but for entirely different reasons.
There is also a stereotype that drummers are wilder than other musicians in the band. While I don’t think there is much validity to this, many drummers might play into this persona and act wild or chaotic on the stage simply to put on a good and entertaining show.
I can’t stress enough, however, that the most important thing as a drummer is to keep the rhythm and beat of the song going.
You can be as flashy (or not) as you want to be, but it doesn’t do the band any good if your playing and time-keeping are negatively impacted by it.
Reason 2: Becoming Immersed In The Music (Concentrating)
A more likely culprit of the infamous drummer’s face is the simple fact that the drummer is becoming immersed and concentrating on playing their instrument.
I will speak in this section on two areas. The first is the emotional connection with the music, and the second is the actual mental focus and concentration that is required in drumming.
As emphasized in a recent academic article by Vesa Putkinen and colleagues, drumming and music, in general, have been well-documented to be intricately tied with the emotional responses of listeners. While the study referenced above was conducted on only those listening to music, it is safe to assume musicians can also experience this phenomenon.
Several studies have pointed to the emotional connection between musicians and their music. In fact, some research, like the work of C.A. Mikutta and colleagues, hints at the idea that professional musicians can experience emotional connections more intensely than amateur musicians.
Many factors might contribute to the emotional connection to a given piece of music, including, but not limited to, nostalgia and memories, the lyrical content, and even the chords and rhythm used.
Further, if there does seem to be a stronger connection among musicians when listening to music, we can speculate that the training in and knowledge of music is a large contributing factor to this idea.
So what does this have to do with drummers making faces? Well, according to the University of Texas, Permian Basin, body language and facial expressions play a massive role in nonverbal communication.
If drummers are experiencing a deep emotional connection to the music they are playing, it only makes sense that they would be communicating those feelings through their body movements and facial expressions.
This concept isn’t exclusive to one emotion. Drumming is very fun, and the joy of playing is often expressed across drummers’ faces, including mine.
Playing a live performance when all the musicians are in sync is one of the most joyous moments I have ever experienced. It is something that is hard to explain, but it is an amazing experience.
Drumming is also often considered an amazing stress-relief activity and can be very cathartic. In fact, a recent study from 2019 by Ruth G. Lowry and colleagues found that drumming improved behavior skills in the students enrolled in a rock drumming program.
Aside from all of the immersion and emotional connections that have been well documented in studies and anecdotally among drummers is the fact that drumming is complex and requires a high degree of concentration.
This intense concentration can often lead to the drummer making faces, which is a common occurrence across many activities.
Reason 3: Drumming Is Physically Demanding
Drumming is one of the most physically demanding instruments to play, so it is inevitable that during intense sections or tricky fills that a drummer will make some faces.
Anytime there is a large amount of physical exertion, the face responds. Take intense exercise as an example.
No matter how strong someone is in the weight room when performing an intense exercise at or near their maximum capability, their face will respond to that effort. The same is true for intense drumming.
A 2016 study for a Masters Thesis by Joshua T. Brown concluded that heavy metal drummers burn an average of almost 390 calories in a 40-minute drum session and concluded that drumming was just as physically demanding as many other moderately intense forms of recreational exercise.
We must distinguish this from a major technique flaw in drummers, which is not being relaxed enough while playing.
When a fast or intense drumming part is required, the default response is often to tense up and contract the muscles to accomplish the section. However, this is the opposite of what you want to do. The more relaxed you can become, the faster you will be able to play.
The video below explains that this ability to relax is one of the foundational concepts to help any drummer improve their abilities behind the kit.
Even the most relaxed drummers will make faces due to physical exertion from time to time. However, a big take-home message here is that even if the faces of elite drummers are not relaxed, the rest of their body typically is, which helps them achieve incredible speed and accuracy while playing.
There are many possible reasons drummers make faces when they play, including the joy of playing, the emotional connection, the physical demands of the instrument, or simply engaging with the crowd.
Whatever the reasons, making faces while playing drums is a common occurrence and not something that you should be ashamed of if you are a drummer making faces.
Until next time, keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.