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5 Practical Ways to Overcoming Stage Fright
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 seen 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!
Clinical psychologist at Yeshiva New York University. Sarah Sand, (who is also a trombone player) says: “What happens primitively is that there is a kind of exposure and vulnerability.”
She explains that even though we know there is no great danger to us, we still experience the physical signs of imminent danger: our mouth dries up, our heart beats furiously, our hands sweat and maybe even shake, our breathing patterns change, and of course, there is the constant urge to go to the bathroom.
1. Are you really ready?
Have you prepared yourself as well as possible?
Sometimes your feelings of stage fright are your body’s way of telling you that you’re not yet ready to perform in public. Make sure you’ve chosen something to sing that’s within your current vocal abilities and that you’ve studied the piece thoroughly. Poor preparation and singing too hard will put you, with good reason, in a very vulnerable position.
2. Have you checked the shallow water?
Time, patience and practice help overcome stage fright.
So let’s assume that you have prepared yourself well and you are singing music that suits you. You had a chance to perform, and you were crushed by stage fright. You found yourself saying, “Never again!”
If you don’t have the money or access to a course to overcome stage fright and you’re in DIY mode, here’s a fun next step:
First – find a very non-threatening situation to sing in.
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 Chuck, porcupines, and blackbirds in the Adirondacks.
This kind of performance prep 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 crowd – they get bored – they openly yawn at your feeble attempts, and they walk away.)
In my case, the raccoons were the yawners. The blacks gathered in the trees and complained loudly when my high notes weren’t very good. And so I learned to laugh at myself and be more successful.
(Warning! – Do not sing loudly to babies or dogs. It can hurt their ears. Babies will cry. Dogs will whine.)
Next…go human on your journey to overcome 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 only necessary to allow you to practice dealing with your nervous energy.
Take performance seriously.
For example – enter the living room from the hallway as if you were walking on stage. Feel the nervous energy climb as you stand in front of your “audience”. Sing your songs with all your heart and all your technical ability.
Then, don’t ask for feedback. You don’t sing for others to tell you how to be a better singer. This exercise is designed to get the body used to feeling and dealing with the high energy required to sing well.
After you’ve done this exercise a few times, you’ll start to get more serious Why You are singing.
3. Do you have a goal for your performance?
What do I mean by purpose? Here is my goal in singing: I choose to sing and/or write songs that have something to say that I strongly believe in and that I think can be of value to others. When I walk on stage, I need to know that what I’m singing has this underlying purpose. No matter how nervous I feel, and after 30 years of performing, I still feel a lot of nervous energy, I say to myself, “This show is more important than ‘me’, so I’ll calm down a bit and give my best audience.”
You also need to find your purpose for singing. It can be to share your personal world with others. It can be to bring joy to your audience. This could be to raise money for an event or to support a social/political cause.
Whatever you choose as your goal, I promise you that remembering this when you walk on stage (or into an audition) will take a lot of the sting out of your stage fright. You’ll have something besides yourself to think about while you’re getting ready for the show.
4. Always sing better (technical development)
It’s very simple. As your vocal technique improves (for example, you can repeatedly sing the high notes during your practice and can hold the long phrases when you rehearse), you will become more and more afraid of going on stage.
Find a good singing teacher to teach you the finer points of singing if you feel your voice isn’t improving on your own or with a recorded instructor. And practice consistently and well.
This is the key to overcoming stage fright.
5. Some secrets
Finally, here are some specific things you can do to get less scary performance:
o Make sure that on the day of your performance you can have long periods of quiet.
o Do some backstage breathing exercises. Find a good breathing exercise here
o If you find yourself feeling frozen or paralyzed backstage – do some stunts (eg gently jump up and down in place) to help release some of the blasted energy.
o If possible, go to the place where you will perform the day before you have to perform and stand on stage. If you can’t go there, try to find a picture of the room, hall or stage on the Internet and imagine yourself in that place.
In a final piece of nutty but useful advice, repeat to yourself what Bill Murray’s crazy character in the movie Meatballs said, “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!
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