The Woodshed

How much “Body English” do you use when playing?

1

I was giving a guitar lesson and demonstrating the technique of whole and half note bends. In the middle of my demo, a broad smile began to appear on my student's face. She began to laugh and asked me if she had to make the same kind of facial and body movements I was making when practicing the bends. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had been unconsciously leaning rather heavily into the bend with my upper torso, and throwing my head back a little with half closed eyes as I added more pressure to the note I was playing. I stopped playing and began laughing too. I told her she really didn't have to mimic my movements but it actually seemed to help at times to use some "Body English" when phrasing certain lines.

Anyway, it got me to wondering just how much I actually use my whole body to "play" the guitar, especially when performing. I always thought I was rather a "quiet" player, but I realize now that I probably tend to make a bit of a spectacle of myself on stage. In a totally cool way of course.

So what's your take on this phenomenon? Do you use it much? And if so, do you believe it helps you to play or is it just for show? Do you practice with it? C'mon now. Fess up guys...

2

I think it's a little bit of both but yep, I do it too. Where's my buddy Billy D?

3

It's called 'Gurning" look it up.

4

Like the guy in "School of Rock" that writhes when he plays?

5

It's why I prefer to sit when I play!....keeps the 'groovin' under control.

When I was in High School back in Ontario, I got to see Domenic Troiano with the group Mandala. I don't think I've ever seen a guitarist get more 'into it' during a solo than him and boy could this fellow rock! His facial expressions were incredible.

6

The other extreme is the USMC Band. They get demerits if they're caught tapping their toes. They are excused for "Stars and Stripes Forever".

7

It's why I prefer to sit when I play!....keeps the 'groovin' under control.

When I was in High School back in Ontario, I got to see Domenic Troiano with the group Mandala. I don't think I've ever seen a guitarist get more 'into it' during a solo than him and boy could this fellow rock! His facial expressions were incredible.

– Windsordave

Yeah I saw Troiano's group back in the 80s as well. The boy could put more body into one note than Chet would put in an entire set. I think I was influenced by both approaches...

8

You should use as much "body english" as you need to. If you try to hold it in, your head would explode. The more you care, the more distorted the face.

9

Honestly? I really don't know. It's been too long since I've seen a video of me playing guitar. If I do use "body English" I certainly don't notice it.

10

It does not look as cool as you might think it feels. Jim Heath is my minds eye to looking cool. Stone cold cool. Zoom has it too. Nonchalance.

11

Definitely. Especially in live performance. Firstly, for my students that don't have the benefit of people to play with and/or only play at home, I stress tapping the toe or whole foot (even if using a metronome). And for rock, standing up and getting the whole leg moving to the beat. And as Elvis once said "spread your legs.." for a stable, powerful stance. If your body's larger muscles are groovin then the hands will too.

Every once in a while, I mimic bends and conduct along with my picking hand. It sounds pretentious and corny, but it happens when I'm inspired and hopefully doesn't come off that way. I've seen pictures of myself playing with blues gas face. None are as bad as the recent viral pic of lead guitarists wrestling giant slugs!

12

I mostly solo and some notes are truly an exercise more of physical ability than anything thing. I WANT the Stevie Ray effect but it's just not me. I have .13s on my Strat and when it gets tough, I think I look more like James Hetfield. My eyes get intense like bench pressing but there are rarely differences in facial expression.

When I play funk/blues I tend to just look down but walk a little and maybe sway with the beat. And smile....that stuff makes me happy.

Most of my playing is just, and not by design but natural, very David Gilmour-like. Concentration and looking neither at the crowd or my guitar. Usually I have a gaze at the floor a little off to my lower right.

75% my acoustic playing and singing I have my eyes closed. It wasn't like that years ago but somehow just happened with time.

13

Ever seen Steve Howe play? His "facial English" matches his finger acrobatics. Pretty amazing and sometimes not fun to watch.

14

Ever seen Steve Howe play? His "facial English" matches his finger acrobatics. Pretty amazing and sometimes not fun to watch.

– noiselab

More like his chicken neck pickin'...... like a yard bird proper.

15

I save my English for little cars.

16

It does not look as cool as you might think it feels. Jim Heath is my minds eye to looking cool. Stone cold cool. Zoom has it too. Nonchalance.

– SLICKFASTER

Y'know....I was just thinking of facial expressions when I replied to the OP. But now that I think about it, I'm an incorrigible foot tapper. And I ain't subtle about it either. Once in a recording session, I was asked by the engineer would I please remove my boots while we do the next take.

17

I think it's a little bit of both but yep, I do it too. Where's my buddy Billy D?

– Suprdave

Guilty as charged. I am known for my extreme facial and body quivering style. It's just something I do.

18

I could tell from a lot of the videos that I have seen of you, Billy D. Ain't nothin' wrong with it. Rock on!

19

I was once making a video and noticed my facial expressions. It mortified me to the point I some times try to play without any facial contortions. I should have been tipped off several years ago when my guitar teacher made the comment, you know the hand muscles and facial muscles are tied in together.

20

I believe there's a story of a session player (Tommy Tedesco?) playing a session with a young, newer producer. He was overdubbing a solo and felt he nailed it, but the producer's voice came on the talk back and asked him to try it again...and play with more feeling.

So he played exactly the same thing, but this time he made faces as he did it. The producer's voice reappeared on the talkback, saying how much better it was.

I guess my point is: people listen with their eyes as much as they do with their ears. If you look like you're pouring you heart and soul into a performance, that's what they'll hear. Of course, you don't need to do it practicing or in the studio...wait...sometimes you do.

21

I jump all over the place, and it helps keep me loose. No one in the audience will dance if the whole band is just standing there!

22

Doc Watson (blind bluegrass guitarist and other things musical to the uninitiated)

Doc would sit there and all but spit sparks from his fingerboard but no one told him he was supposed to look like he was excreting a watermelon while he did it.

23

I just play with as much passion as I can muster through the guitar. If that comes through the rest of my body then so be it. I think the things is to be genuine and what happens, happens.

24

It's more like Body Polish for me. I'm about as smooth and sync'd as Elaine from Seinfeld.

Note: I'm 1/4 Polish so have license to say that. :)

25

Ya got to move… Unless as Norm said you're in Doc Watson's camp.

I forget if this was posted here or on Facebook, but this cat is giving lessons:


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