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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.

audition tips

Audition Tips

The following post was guest written by our wonderful teacher Anne, who’s also a professional opera singer.

Audition Tips

I am in a room filled with people who I don’t know, and some who I do but I am too nervous to talk to. I can hear everyone in the other room (again, some who I know and most who I don’t). I go through my words in my head over and over, missing syllables in my anxiety. I pace back and forth, nervously tug at my dress, try not to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and tell myself, “I love doing this, this is fun, and everyone in there wants me to do well.” I am at the Southern California Opera Network auditions, and even though I must do at least five to ten auditions a year, I am incredibly nervous.

The worst thing you can do at an audition is listen to someone else singing. Nothing makes me feel like my voice is small and insignificant like the woman going in before me who just sing “Un Bel Di” or “Tu Che Di Gel Sei Cinta,” and here I am, with my light voice trying to follow the great ladies of Puccini (whose arias I would never audition with). And then my head starts spinning. Is my voice big enough? Is it loud enough? Is it good enough? Your best bet, the one thing you can do to make auditions a little more bearable, is to not listen to the person in front of you. And that is hard, but find something else to focus on. Run your words in your head or count your steps, or run through what your character is feeling. I’ll tell you a secret: your voice will never sound like their voice. And their voice will never sound like yours. And that is totally fine.

But what about the judges? I have representatives from multiple opera companies in Southern California all looking at me, scrutinizing my singing, my resume, my performance, my dress choice. I have worked with some of these people (what if I do so badly they won’t want to work with me again) and I haven’t worked with most of them (what if I do so badly they won’t want to work with me ever). This is what I tell myself: they want me to do well. They have an opera to cast, and they have been sitting in that room for hours listening to singers. They don’t want to hear someone do poorly, they don’t want to make fun of me as soon as I leave, they want to make a note on my resume that says, “Maybe she could work out.”

And now we begin. And we get to the hardest part of the audition. The dreaded leg shake, the sweaty palms, the tight breathing that makes support difficult. I tell you what I do. I perform. I use the space. I have the character in my mind and I perform as if I were playing the character in the opera. I have thought about how the character would move, and I give them that character. After all, I love to sing. And I love to perform. So I might as well turn something I don’t like doing, auditioning, into something I do enjoy doing, which is performing.

So let’s review: First, don’t listen to the people going before you. You won’t ever sound like them, and they won’t ever sound like you, and that is a good thing. Two, pretend that the judges like you. Walk in believing that they are on your side and they want you to do well, and most of the time, they probably do. Three, perform. Don’t just get up there and sing, perform. After all, you wouldn’t be auditioning if you didn’t love to perform.

I can’t guarantee that any of these tips will help you get a part. But I can tell you that all of these tips will help make the audition, the most dreaded and necessary aspect of a performer’s life, a little bit better.

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.