Tell Your Face: Using Expressions to Communicate Emotion in Your Performance

Written by Metro Music Makers instructor Chelsea Sefzik

My favorite time of year is the holiday season. I begin my Christmas decorating on Halloween every year. When I run into friends or talk to family, they can tell by how excited I am that I’ve begun this much anticipated process of decorating. Like a child who is teeming with excitement, you can tell by my face how thrilled I am during this time of year. But throughout our lives, excitement isn’t the only story we have to tell. We often tell stories of anticipation, waiting, frustration, sadness and love. While we tell these stories with words, the emotions we are experiencing are often most evident through expression. Someone else can often read the depths of our hearts through our expressions and relate. Isn’t that what we all want? Someone who can relate to our situation? 

This, in essence, is the opportunity our students have when they sing and express the emotion of a song on our holiday stages. By high school, most students are able to accurately express emotion on their faces and with some training, they do so in a genuine and authentic manner. However, during the elementary and middle years, students are still discovering and struggling to communicate feelings to themselves and everyone else, not to mention in a song to an audience. I have devised some simple skills for students in these age groups that they can use to develop their stage and life communication skills. 

1.   Smiling and Frowning

Smiling is obvious, but you’d be surprised how many students just don’t smile. To remind yourself to smile, try to combine it with an action you already take, such as breathing. To make your smiling and frowning muscles stronger, I suggest smiling with and without teeth 10 times each. For the frown, most students definitely can’t do an over-exaggerated one. One of the ways I learned how to frown like a fish is to physically pull the sides of my lips straight down and push my bottom lip up. Try this one 10 times and see how you feel. Note: Sometimes a frown requires pushing your jaw forward or opening it a little. 

2.  Eyebrows

I originally thought everyone could at least raise one eyebrow, but that is not the case. The brows have muscles in the forehead that need to be taught how to move! With two fingers from each hand, push both eyebrows up and  down 10 times. Then, try to do it on your own. After you’ve accomplished this, go the opposite way with your fingers, attempting the one eyebrow lift. You will find one is more natural than the other. To get my odd one to work, I practiced putting the other one down while trying to lift the opposite on its own. To remind yourself on the stage, attach it to a particular word in your song. Good luck! 

3.  Nose Lifts

I personally can lift one side of my nose, but I can’t the other. This is one I decided to work on with you. First, I’ve started with normal nose scrunches that come from muscles surrounding each nostril and top of the lip. Then, I try to push each side of the lip up by itself for the nose scrunch. Voila! Now the muscles are tired, but I’m going to get it on command soon! 

Lastly, what are learning skills without applying them to something?! Use your newly strengthened muscles to create expressions. These are the ones you should attempt: sadness/mourning, excitement, anger, thoughtfulness and love. For each of these, group a skill or two together to create a dramatic, moderate, and low expression version of each of these emotions. Use these in your next performance and see how you’ve grown! 

BONUS: Chelsea recorded short videos demonstrating each of these skills. Click here to watch and learn!

Chelsea demonstrates emotion

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