Tag Archives: performance anxiety

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.

Your Singing Voice Is What It Is

Your Singing Voice is What it Is. Myth or Fact?

“I love singing, but I just don’t have the talent”; “I’ve always wanted to belt, but my voice just isn’t meant for that.” “I’ve always wanted to act in musicals, but unfortunately, I’m just not a singer.” These are all comments I’ve heard from new students and other people in my life, and I want to dispel this myth once and for all. One of the most common (and damaging) ideas a singer can have is that their voice simply is what it is. That is, that if their singing voice sounds pleasing, it’s because they’re somehow meant to sing, and if their singing voice doesn’t sound pleasing, it’s because they are not meant to sing. This idea is not only wrong; it’s detrimental to your improvement as a singer, your versatility, and even your performance ability.

Why Is This Idea So Wrong?

When you’re a singer, your voice is your instrument (an extremely versatile instrument!) that you can learn to play in a wide variety of ways. There are countless very manageable actions you can learn to perform to alter the sound of your voice. You can control your degree of nasality by learning to move your soft palate; your belt by learning to use your cricoid and areoeppilglottic spynchter (I promise these words sound more intimidating than they are in practice); your pitch matching just by working on it and building it into your muscle memory. When you look at the number of actions you can take to produce different sounds, the idea that your voice is just an essential part of you that can’t be altered is silly.

Why Is This Idea So Destructive?

1. It’s Self-Fulfilling

If you think that the voice you already have is your singing voice for life, you’ve just decided that training your voice isn’t going to do much. If you decided (without having ever played the piano before) that you are just not a pianist because your piano skills aren’t very good, how likely is it that you’ll take the necessary steps to learn to play? Same goes for singing. If you’ve decided ahead of time that your voice is just your voice and that there’s nothing to be done, you’re probably not going to open-mindedly do what it takes to improve.

2. It Inhibits Versatility

Let’s say, for a second, that you actually don’t think your singing is hopeless. Believing that your singing voice is what it is can also inhibit versatility. If you think that you have a beautiful, ringing soprano voice perfect for Rogers and Hammerstein musicals but that you could never pull off the belty pop music you wish you could sing, you’re probably not going to spend much time trying to improve your belt. I was one of these singers for many years. Bell-like soprano came very easily to me; intense belting did not. I wish I had believed I could learn to do it earlier, because I wouldn’t have waited until my 20’s to figure it out.

3. It’s Terrible For Performance Anxiety

Let’s face it. Performances are anxiety-provoking enough. When we think of our voices as some preordained aspect of ourselves we don’t really control, how much more anxiety-provoking is a performance? What if this gift we have suddenly goes out the window at the wrong moment? What if we open our mouths and really aren’t as good as we thought we were? Normal, controllable performance anxiety that we can work through suddenly becomes an unspeakable terror we have no power over. If instead of believing we have no control over our voices we realize that we need to think harder about certain actions to get the sound we’re looking for, performances are much more psychologically manageable.

Then Why Do Voice Teachers Always Say That Your Voice Is Unique and That You Shouldn’t Try to Sound Like Anyone Else?

Well, there’s certainly some truth to this. You still have physical limitations based on your anatomy. A trained singer with a very long vocal tract and thick vocal folds will probably be able to create a thicker, heavier sound than a trained singer with a very short vocal tract and thin vocal folds. To make the example even more extreme, a soprano will never sound like a baritone, no matter how she learns to use her voice. Your voice is still your own. You will probably never sound exactly like Adele, or Pavarotti, or Barbara Streisand, and that’s a good thing. The world is much richer for the many unique voices that are out there. But that doesn’t mean that with your unique voice, you can’t create an incalculable number of different sounds, from soulful pop, to passionate classical, to brassy musical theatre. It just takes a lot of work, patience, and open-mindedness.

Get Over Stage Fright

Get Over Stage Fright: Work With Your Sympathetic Nervous System

We haven’t given you one of our Get Over Stage Fright installments in a while, so I thought it was time to roll out another one, since this is a problem so many musicians (and other performers) face. We mentioned Fight or Flight in our first installment 4 years ago because it’s such a significant phenomenon. When we get performance anxiety, our bodies respond as if we’re under attack. When our sympathetic nervous systems kick in, our body’s are flooded with adrenaline, and we’re faced with shaky legs, a racing heart, a dry mouth, and shallow breaths. These are all excellent things to have happen if you need to outrun a bear, but not so great things to have happen when you need your voice to sound controlled. Unfortunately, we’re better evolved for bear attacks than we are for singing in public. So what do you do? First off, let’s cover what you shouldn’t do.

Do Not Have Anxiety About Your Anxiety!

I know that sounds like a strange piece of advice, but the best thing you can do is know that your body will go into Fight or Flight mode and do your best to accept that. Having anxiety about what your body is going to do is only going to build up more tension and make things worse, so try to be okay with working within the bounds of your body’s stress mode.

Negative advice (i.e. “don’t have anxiety about your anxiety”) is rarely as effective or easy to follow as positive advice, so next, I’ll give you some ways to cope with your sympathetic nervous system.

Shake Out Your Legs

Your legs are shaking because they sense danger and want to get moving. So let them move. Shake them out! Maybe not while you’re on stage, but right before.

Take Controlled, Low Breaths

This is a big one. Controlled breaths help regulate your heartbeat, and low, expansive breaths relax your larynx so that it doesn’t move too high up in your throat and make you sound strident when you don’t want to be. Try taking a deep low inhalation for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, and exhaling for 4 counts. Then repeat until you feel your heartbeat slowing down.

Laugh

It sounds weird, but laughter will do a number of positive things for you. First off, it helps your false vocal folds to retract. When false vocal folds are constricted, your throat becomes tense, and singing in general tends to be at its least healthy and efficient. When your false vocal folds are retracted, you can sing much more freely and comfortably. Laughter also decreases stress hormones and triggers a release of endorphins, adding to your overall sense of well-being.

Hydrate Yourself

Drink a lot of water, more than you normally would, to counteract the dry mouth. If you are about to go on stage and don’t have access to water, try swallowing to produce a little more saliva.