Overcoming stage fright takes time and some creative effort. But in my experience as a singer and singing teacher for over 25 years, I have observed that with the right approach, most of us can successfully control and/or dramatically reduce the negative feelings associated with stage fright.
In short, YOU can overcome stage fright!
A clinical psychologist at the Yeshiva University in New York. Shara Sand, (who is also a trombone player) says: “What primitively is going on is that there is a kind of exposure and vulnerability.”
She explains that even though we know that there is no great danger to us, still we experience the physical signs of imminent danger: our mouths get dry, our hearts pound furiously, our hands get sweaty and may even shake, our breathing patterns change, and of course, there is the constant desire to go to the bathroom.
1. Are You Really Ready?
Have you prepared yourself as well as you can?
Sometimes your feelings of stage fright are your body’s way of telling you that you are not yet ready to perform in public. Be sure that you have chosen something to sing that is within your present vocal abilities and that you have learned the piece(s) well. Poor preparation and too difficult a song will, with good reason, put you in a very vulnerable position.
2. Have You Tested the Shallower Waters?
Time, patience and practice help in overcoming stage fright.
So let us assume that you have prepared yourself well and you are singing music that is right for you. You had a chance to perform, and you were crushed by stage fright. You found yourself saying, “Never again!”
If you do not have the funds for or access to a course on overcoming stage fright and you are in a do-it-yourself mode, here is a fun next step:
First – find a very non-threatening situation in which to sing.
When I lived in the country (first, the mountains of Vermont and later, a lake-house in the Adirondack forest in New York state), I used to sing my newest or most difficult songs to animals.
I am not kidding!
I regularly sang to a large family of raccoons in Vermont, and to the resident woodchuck, porcupine and blackbirds in the Adirondacks.
This kind of prep-performance effort gives you a sense of humor about your performing self. You also see where your mistakes will happen in a very non-threatening, but critical situation. (“Critical” – because animals are a tough audience – they get bored – they yawn openly at your feebler attempts, and they walk away.)
In my case, the raccoons were the yawners. The blackbirds gathered in the trees and trilled harshly when my high notes were not very good. And so I learned to laugh at myself and do better.
(Warning! – Do not sing loudly to babies or dogs. It can hurt their ears. Babies will cry. Dogs will whimper.)
Next…move on to humans in your quest towards overcoming stage fright. Invite one or two people to your home stage who will not criticize you. They may be very young or very old. But their presence is needed only to allow you to practice dealing with your nervous energy.
Take the performance seriously.
For example – walk into the living room from the hallway as though you were walking onstage. Feel the nervous energy climb as you stand in front of your “audience.” Sing your songs with all your heart and with all your technical ability.
Afterward, do not ask for feedback. You are not singing in order to have others tell you how to be a better singer. This exercise is to get your body used to feeling and dealing with the high energy that is required to sing well.
When you have done this exercise several times, start to get more serious about why you are singing.
3. Do You Have Purpose for Your Performance?
What do I mean by purpose? Here is my purpose in singing: I choose to sing and/or write songs that have something to say that I strongly believe in and that I think could be of value to others. When I walk onstage, I need to know that what I am singing has this underlying purpose. Whatever nerves I feel, and after 30 years of performing, I do still feel a lot of nervous energy, I say to myself, “this ‘performance’ is more important than ‘me,’ so I will relax a little bit and give my audience my best.”
You also need to find your purpose for singing. It may be to share your personal world with others. It may be to bring joy to your audience. It may be to raise money for an event or to support a social/political cause.
Whatever you choose as your purpose, I promise you that having that in mind as you walk onstage (or into an audition) is going to take a lot of the sting out of your stage fright. You will have something besides yourself to think about as you prepare to perform.
4. Always Singing Better (Technical Development)
This one is very simple. As your vocal technique improves (for example, you can repeatedly sing the high notes during your practices and you can hold the long phrases when you rehearse), you will be increasingly less fearful about going onstage.
Find a good singing teacher to learn the finer points of singing if you feel that your voice is not improving on your own or with a taped guide. And practice consistently and well.
This is key to overcoming stage fright.
5. A Few Secrets
Finally, here are a few specific things you can do to have a less fearful performance:
o Make sure that on the day of your performance you can have long stretches of quiet time.
o Do some breathing exercises back stage. Look here for a good breathing exercise
o If you find yourself feeling frozen or paralysed backstage – do some jumping jacks (e.g. jump gently up and down on the spot) to help free some of the imploded energy.
o When possible, go to the place you will be performing the day before you must perform and stand on the stage. If you cannot go there, try to find a picture of the room, hall or stage online and visualize yourself in that place.
In a final piece of nutty but useful advice, repeat to yourself what Bill Murray’s crazy character said in the movie “Meatballs,” “It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter…” (One performance is a small thing in a big life.)
I wish you great singing!