View Full Version : Lead Mouth and Other Musician's Maladies

John Flynn
Jan-31-2004, 4:43pm
When I used to play rock guitar decades ago, we always joked about a phenomenon that some lead guitarists had that we called "lead mouth." When the guitarist was really into playing a lead break, his mouth would start to distort like he was chewing on the air. Now "true lead mouth" was a purely involuntary thing. The person could not help it and may not have ever realized he was doing it. "Fake lead mouth" was a contrived thing that the guitarist was doing to try to look cool. The fake version is characterized typically by pursing the lips, like Billy Idol does a lot.

Anyhow, I was reminded of all this when I jammed with a local clawhammer banjo player. He is great player and a good guy, but he has a serious case of lead mouth and I don't even think he knows it. He bares his teeth and looks like he is about to bite someone when he plays. When people jam with him for the first time, it startles them. So I got to thinking about involuntary physical reactions when playing.

Here is mine: When I am learning a new tune and really concentrating on getting it right and perhaps struggling a little bit, my nose itches. It is not a little itch either, it comes on all of a sudden and it is really intense. Scratching doesn't help, but it goes away when I stop playing. Very wierd.

So, for discussion, what purely involuntary physical reactions do you have, or have you ever encoutered in someone else, which is brought on by playing?

mando bandage
Jan-31-2004, 5:13pm
I knew a guitarist whose concentration lead him to drool at times (no joke about how you know the stage is level please). Couple of times on the pickup and the resulting shock cured him of that. Kind of like the dog and the invisible fence I guess.


jim simpson
Jan-31-2004, 8:57pm
Mando Johnny,
Your description sounded suspiciously like a fellow who used to show up a lot at local jams. He usually played guitar but also played clawhammer banjo. His head would tilt back, his mouth would gape wide open, and his eyes seemed to roll back into his head. It was a pretty scary site and pretty distracting to try to play with him. I thought it was rather trance-like but who knows? I make a consious effort to keep my mouth shut while I play. You never know when a camera or video tape might capture that one unflattering shot!

Jan-31-2004, 9:05pm
Sadly, I am a victim of this terrible affliction, and I assure you, it is completely involuntary and unwanted...when I play, I guess it looks like I'm speaking.

Almsot everytime someone sees me play, they say something like, "You sound good...what is it that you're saying while you're playing."

My mouth has a mind of its own when I'm playing, and I want it to stop! #Anyone who has overcome this help! #I've tried everything, but I just can't stop.

P.S. #If you've ever seen old tapes of Jerry Douglas...that's exactly what my mouth is doing while I play.

DD Shand
Feb-01-2004, 11:50am
I just saw a film of myself and I kind of sway backwards and forward on my seat, not in time with the tune at all. Looks a little creepy to me.

Bobbie Dier
Feb-01-2004, 1:53pm
My mouth hangs open(what a surprise) when I play sometimes. If you try real hard while your playing to just stop doing (insert wierd thing here)you can do it. I had a student one time his mouth also hung open while he played. When I caught his attention I'd hang my mouth open and smile then he would stop. Get someone to check you on your wierd behavior when they notice it, then maybe that will help you notice what you are doing. I know a teacher he is a great fiddler who scrunches up his nose and wiggles his nose like a rabbit when he's playing. I'm afraid to tell him though.

Feb-01-2004, 7:35pm
Never tried this, but as far as the moving mouth, open mouth, talking think... If you aren't singing while you play, try sucking on hard candy or maybe even chewing gum while you play. Let us know if it works.

Feb-01-2004, 7:51pm
I, for one, am turned off by fake lead-whatever. When I see someone on stage going through practiced antics to try to look like they're "into it", I get the same feeling I get from a high pressure salesman with a bad product and it distracts me from the music.

On the other hand there are the likes of Sam Bush. Sam couldn't stand still if you nailed his feet to the stage! It's just natural and it looks cool because it's real.

Feb-01-2004, 7:58pm
If it's real, go with it, you're just translating what you feel into body movement, whether it be tapping your foot, or looking like you're talking, or shaking your body like Joe Cocker. I feel that it's important to listen to your body when you express yourself musically.

Feb-01-2004, 8:25pm
Great topic! # The hard candy or gum might work if one never had to sing, but it might be disconcerting to the audience if a Heimlich had to be performed in the middle of a song. #I've noticed beginning banjo players often look like they are trying to get #peanut butter licked off their lips. #Someone once told me there was a neurological connection between the right thumb and the tongue, explaining the interesting facial calisthenics. #I don't know if it's true but it makes a great story. #Maybe practice in front of a mirror, or have a plant in the audience catch your attention by making fun of your physical antics. #That broke me of twitching a bit like Elvis while taking breaks; the only thing was it wasn't a plant who was in the audience making fun of me. #I've seen Dan Seals roll his eyes back up in his head, which looked a bit like he had glass eyes that got pointed the wrong way. #I have a friend who gets a very seriously distorted frown during every break, even after forty years of being onstage, so don't count on it going away with experience. #A lot of name players get some interesting facial expressions when they step up to the mike; maybe that's part of the show. (Roy Clark!?!?!) Anyway, play songs you know very well so you can watch yourself and concentrate on trying to appear normal. #Force a smile, maybe with clinched teeth, and practice playing that way; it might become part of the way you play.

Feb-01-2004, 8:44pm
One very fine musician I know will, at times, grimace, roll a sneer across his lips, and knit his brows. It's pretty startling the first couple of times you see it. It's not fake and I doubt he realizes when he does it.

John Rosett
Feb-01-2004, 9:29pm
when i first started to play in bands, i invited a girl who i really wanted to impress to my gig. she came and sat right down front. as we were playing, i stole a glance to see if she was indeed impressed. she saw me looking at her and hung her mouth wide open and rolled her eyes up in her head. i asked her what it meant, and she said "that's what you look like when you play a solo." needless to say, i did not impress her, but i did learn a lifelong lesson, and i now keep my mouth shut and look around when i'm playing.
now if i could just get people to stop making fun of my playing... john

Feb-02-2004, 10:35pm
I am reminded of Dave Matthews and the facial contortions he makes when he plays. It wouldn't be too bad except at open mikes you might see 5 or 6 people doing the same thing.
I noticed that John Hartford made some interesting faces while playing the fiddle on the "Down From the Mounatin" DVD, but knowing John, he was probably going for comic effect. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Feb-02-2004, 11:55pm
I always soil myself when I play a solo. It's not very fun, but it's all part of the experience, right?

Oh, and I also tend to lean side to side slowly while I play, whether it's a solo or not.

Feb-02-2004, 11:56pm
Contrived show biz emoting (Look at me! Look at me! LOOK AT ME! Look at ME! LOOK AT ME!!!)

G.E. Smith

Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)

Ray Cooper <span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>(the bald tambourine player for Elton John - probably turned into a mascot/cartoon as a member of The Wombles, or maybe he already was, and that's why he got that gig!)</span>

a majority of guitarists in "Hair Metal" bands

- - - - - -

Joe Cocker
Carlos Santana
Ric Sanders (fiddle current Fairport Convention)
Ray Charles
Stevie Wonder

Feb-03-2004, 12:01am
Contrived show biz emoting (Look at me! Look at me! LOOK AT ME! Look at ME! LOOK AT ME!!!)

Dare I add Chris Thile in this category?

But I think even Thile could take a couple lessons from G.E. Smith!..that guy is the king.

Oh, thank God the eighties are over!

Feb-03-2004, 12:31am
I drooled once when I was playing in church as a kid. it gleamed off a beam of light, like a real bright sparkle.