Between juries, studio recitals, summer programs, and never ending auditions, voice students have a lot of cause to experience performance anxiety or stage fright. If you’re a seasoned student or a voice teacher, you probably already have a fair amount of tools in your tool belt for dealing with performance anxiety. Newer students, however, may need some help in learning how to manage stage fright.
While preparation can always make you feel better about a performance, there are a number of tools you can equip yourself with to deal with stage fright or performance anxiety directly.
Identifying and Addressing Your Fears
What gives you fear? Did you have a bad experience in the past? Are you weary of a particularly critical friend or family member? Identifying your source of anxiety can help you address it directly. Think about these common fears around performing and see if any of them resonate with you.
Oftentimes our fears stem from some belief about ourselves and our abilities. Someone may have made a comment about your singing in the past, you may be overly focused on the technique your teacher has taught you, or you may be hyper-aware of what you perceive to be your natural talent. All of these elements miss the point a performance. You are there to communicate above all else.
Technique is a facilitator, a means to an end, and nothing more. Talent never outranks hard work and preparation in the long run. And if an audience member has made an unhelpful comment to you in the past, then it just means they did not understand the purpose of your performance. Plus, a new performance is not the time to process negative feedback. It’s best to let it go now.
This goes hand-in-hand with preparation. If you’re afraid you will forget your music, or if you’re not focused on the meaning of your music, then it will be nearly impossible to fully engage yourself in the performance. Good preparation can prevent this.
Overly-focused on the audience
Many performers experience stage fright because they worry too much about what the audience thinks. Most audiences, however, will not notice the details in your performance like you will, and are more interested in enjoying the performance than criticizing you. Even critics, whose job it is to give their detailed opinion, want you to do well.
For some singers, the fear of performing simply comes from not knowing what awaits them. Many newer singers don’t have enough experience with performing or auditioning, so knowing or visualizing as much as you can takes away a bit of the unknowability. Visualization exercises work particularly well if you’ve identified your specific fears. Then you can create an exercise based around your needs.
I like to have students visit the performance space if possible, but if it’s not, then imagining the space will work well, too. First imagine the space; the more nerve-wracking, the better. Imagine it empty, then begin to add people into it in your mind. Add a mixture of people who make you comfortable versus people who make you uncomfortable. Progress like this until the room is full. Or, if you fear a small audience, visualize the room emptying. Through visualization, we can prepare for our worst nightmares, and know we can survive them.
Stretches and Breathing
Good stretches for posture can also help calm your nerves before a performance. Deep breathing has the same benefits, and each will help you prepare to sing better as well! Find as private of a space as possible before your performance to do these stretches, or pair them with your warm up routine to center yourself.
There are a number of great resources out there for dealing with performance anxiety. The Bulletproof Musician offers some fascinating blog posts and products for combatting your performance anxiety, and it’s no surprise that most of his writing focuses on practicing. Preparation is key, and if you come to a performance knowing your music, knowing your voice, and knowing how to enjoy yourself, the anxiety will start to dissipate.