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Get Over Stage Fright: Embrace Your Anxiety

Get Over Stage Fright: Embrace Your Anxiety

What are some of the things that happen to you as a result of stage fright? If you’re like most people, you experience an adrenaline rush, shaky legs, and a heightened heartbeat. Typically, these reactions are not conducive to a great performance. So let’s break it down and figure out how to embrace your anxiety.

First off, make a list of the things that scare you. It can be anything from forgetting the words, to not knowing what to do with your arms, to cracking on that one hard note, to the aforementioned shaky legs. Then one by one, figure out what you’re going to do about it and how you’re going to make that anxiety work for you.

Let’s just use shaky legs as an example. Realistically, you aren’t going to be able to reliably stop your legs from shaking, so let’s figure out how to work with the issue. Let’s start with where shaky legs come from. Back before humans’ main fear was singing in public, when the concern was still about being eaten by a wild animal, adrenaline rushes and shaky legs propelled a person’s flight away from said wild animal. It’s part of your sympathetic nervous system’s response. There’s no wild animal after you anymore, but the knowledge that your shaky legs are built for flight can give you some clues. Maybe standing with your legs fully together isn’t the best idea, for example, because you might start to teeter. Maybe for the first song, you should build some motion into your performance to get your legs moving until they stop shaking.

Next, let’s deal with the fear that you’ll forget the lyrics. First off, rehearse the lyrics so much that there’s very little shot you’ll forget them if you zone out and go on autopilot. Secondly, have some memory tricks in place for if anxiety interferes with your memory the day of the performance. If you tend to mix up the lyrics that start with “it’s all so simple” and “what’s hard is simple,” use some kind of device. Maybe that both the “i” in it’s and the “a” in all both come earlier in the alphabet than the “w” in what’s and the “h” in hard. Also take a second to remind yourself that if you do forget the lyrics, as long as you sing some other part of the song with confidence, it’s unlikely most of the audience will even notice.

What about cracking? Knowing that you’ll have a higher probability of experiencing voice cracks when you’re under pressure than when you’re relaxed in rehearsal, throw in a little extra of the ingredients that help keep your voice stable. If it’s giving yourself a better anchor so that your breath support can be better, do more than you normally would in practice.

And your floppy arms, that somehow seem to manifest for the first time when you perform? Figure your arms out ahead of time. Face it. Most of us aren’t going to get up there and get so into our performance that our bodies just know what to do. If yours does, congratulations! But for the rest of us out there, we need to plan ahead. Figure out a few simple motions you might want to do with your arms, and know exactly where they’re going to be when they aren’t gesticulating, whether that’s holding the microphone or staying down at your sides.

Since stage fright for many of us isn’t going anywhere, it’s important we learn to perform under the parameters that this anxiety causes. Most importantly, know that no matter what happens, you’re going to be okay. If you crack on that note, if you forget the words, if you have the worst performance of your life, you’re going to wake up the next day having done it and can start working on making the next one a little better.

How to Sing Hard Notes Without Pushing

How to Sing a Hard Note Without Pushing

Image, by ePi.Longo, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Not pushing harder to get hard notes out feels counterintuitive when you first start working at it. If you don’t push harder, how are you going to work toward belting a higher note, or worse yet, how are you going to sustain a belted note that feels just out of reach? If you don’t push, how are you going to make your head voice less breathy and get that full soprano sound you’ve heard other singers make? Let’s get one thing out of the way. Singing hard notes, whether they’re belted or high up in your head voice, takes work. When you hear voice teachers tell you that every note should be “effortless,” either that teacher isn’t expressing himself very well (and what he’s trying to say is that you shouldn’t feel constriction in your throat) or that teacher is moving you toward producing a sound you’re less interested in (sustaining that note in head-mix or head voice instead of a belt, for example). Hitting a hard note takes effort. It’s just a matter of where that effort goes. Here’s how to sing a hard note without pushing.

How Not to Hit Hard Notes

We covered this a little in the intro, but simply pushing harder and harder or yelling louder and louder is not the way to go. Not only will you not produce a pleasant sound (unless a constricted-sounding yell is what you’re after–I’m not actually judging that), but you’ll probably injure your voice over time and learn unsustainable vocal habits.

But it’s not just that you shouldn’t yell louder and louder. Voice teachers will often tell you that you shouldn’t push from your throat but that pushing hard from your stomach and pelvis is what you should be doing. But even this isn’t exactly correct. Forcing your stomach to suddenly and violently contract will still result in throat constriction and will limit your range and agility.

How to Sing Hard Notes

Okay, so if you can’t yell, and you can’t push from your stomach, what’s left?

The Effort Should Feel Isometric

If you’re not sure what isometric exercise is, put your hands together in prayer position and push as hard as you can. The resistance from each hand will keep the other hand from moving, no matter how much effort you use. If you were to use that much effort with your right hand but take away your left one, your right arm would go flying, and there’s a good shot you’d injure yourself.

The same goes for singing. Instead of suddenly contracting your stomach and forcing air out to hit a hard note, visualize slowly working against some resistance. Start with good posture. Stand up straight, with your feet at least hips-distance apart and your knees soft. Point your tailbone toward the floor as your quads move back, while your head, neck, and torso stay energized and lifted. Before going for the hard note, anchor your torso in such a way that if someone were to push you they wouldn’t be able to knock you over. The amount you need to anchor depends on the difficulty of the note for you. As you prepare to hit the note, instead of violently crunching into the note, think of having your feet glued to the floor as your knees and torso attempt to move downward through water.

You Should Counterbalance the Motion With a Lift

Even with the water visualization, any type of effort in your torso and pelvis can cause your throat to lock up. It’s hard to separate effort in one area of our body from effort in others. To counterbalance this tendency, you should feel lifted. Visualize the top of your head attached to a string that’s pulling you upward, as your shoulders relax downward. Keep your face energized, with your cheekbones lifted, like you’re about to laugh. In technical terms, this will cause your false vocal folds to retract so that your throat feels open and comfortable.