Where the Phrase “Face the Music” Came From

January 26, 2011 at 2:00 am 4 comments

By Kaye Nemec

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, you better face the music?” Face the music? What does that mean – where did that phrase come from?

The phrase “face the music” has a military history. When disgraced or dishonored soldiers were being relieved of their duties and stripped of their rank their final march was accompanied by drums – it is commonly referred to as “drumming out.”

During the Civil War some officers had their heads shaved before drumming out. Although their fellow officers were not permitted to touch them as they passed by, several cases were reported in which the discharged soldier was later found dead.

Some historical references claim that soldiers were forced to sit on their horse backwards as they were marched passed their comrades so they could see and hear the drums – therefore facing the music.

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Sources: Big Site of Amazing Facts, Wikipedia

Photo: Duane Matsen (cc)

Entry filed under: History and Origins. Tags: , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sahar  |  August 27, 2013 at 12:57 am

    Good!but i read several history about that!

  • 2. jeff  |  November 13, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Many sites list this “drumming out” as the phrase origin. One question: How is drumming considered music? That is why i do not believe this is the origin of the phrase. Music is music, military drumming is not.

    The actual origin: Centuries ago, a Chinese man grew up loving music. It was his passion. He was jealous of those who could play and went to every concert he could just to hear music. Due to his own fear and insecurity though, he never sought to learn to play an instrument for himself, only to listen to others.
    When he became older, his love of music grew and his life’s desire was to be associated with music somehow. He devised a scheme in which he deceptively forged his way into being accepted into the Chinese National Symphony. He carried a violin with him everywhere and so deceived people into thinking he could actually play. For years, he would travel and sit with the symphony during performances, never knowing how to play a single note.
    Until one year that the symphony played before the Emperor of China. He was so pleased with the performance that he requested that each musician come to his palace to play for him the next day…individually.
    The man was so distraught and overcome with fear that he went out that night and committed suicide, unable to “face the music”.

    jeff m
    lakeland, fl

    • 3. emkay  |  September 5, 2016 at 7:00 pm


  • 4. Why We “Face the Music” | Past & Present  |  March 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    […] One theory suggests that the phrase has a military history. When disgraced soldiers were kicked out of their regiment, drummers would allegedly play them out through their final march. Other references say that these soldiers had to sit on their horses backwards, forcing them to face and hear the drums, therefore “facing the music”. […]


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