Singers usually come to my studio with one of two underlying problems: lack of confidence and lack of technique. In the normal course of things, the former is usually improved by addressing the latter - I teach them how the voice works, show them how to correct bad habits, let them hear the improvement in their own performance, and their confidence grows alongside their knowledge.
However, on occasion a singer will show continued anxiety even when their technical knowledge is improving, and despite making advances in range, power, tonality and so forth. Personally, I like a perfectionist - someone who will always strive to be better, no matter what - but sometimes this self-critical trait becomes over-amplified and destructive.
Another example of destructive criticism is where a singer has oftentimes been told that they are hopeless: "you can't sing, you're wasting your time, you're tone deaf" - this type of remark can leave a very unhealthy mark on the subconscious, so that even when the singer consciously wants to prove everyone wrong, he or she finds that it's just not happening, regardless of how much technique is learned or how much practise time is put in. This is because the sub-conscious mind is a far more powerful machine than the conscious mind - if you think about it, it's your sub-conscious mind that keeps you breathing, keeps your heart pumping, stores all of the images and sounds that you have ever seen or heard, even though you have 'consciously' forgotten them. Your subconscious is a fearsomely efficient bit of kit, and it is designed to do what it has been programmed to do, regardless of what your rational, conscious mind thinks.
For example, many people have 'irrational' fears - perhaps (and just as an example) a seemingly illogical fear of small birds. The adult, rational mind knows that a budgerigar in a cage is not a threat, but when faced with one, this same adult breaks out into a sweat, starts to shake, and has to get out of the room. It's not logical, and the person concerned doesn't know why he is frightened of the innocent budgie. What he can't remember - but his subconscious mind knows - is that when he was very small, an auntie once let her pet budgie out of its cage and it flew straight at his head, startling him. The subconscious mind 'tagged' the fear, associated it with budgies, and presto! a new phobia was born.
Sometimes, I meet singers with similar anxiety problems, but rather than being related to fear of household pets, they centre around the act of singing, or performing. I meet singers with incredible voices who simply can't face the thought of singing in front of others. I meet singers who always fail auditions because they fall apart under scrutiny. I meet people who are cripplingly shy but who desperately want to share their music with a live audience. I meet singers who can't go onstage without the safety-net of lyric sheets (a big no-no, in my book!) because they are convinced that without it, they will forget their words................... and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, telling someone to 'snap out of it' is about as much use as a boy band at a heavy metal gig, and just as popular........ For these anxiety-raddled people, another approach may be called for, and I might suggest that we try treating the problem with hypnotherapy. True, it's not for everyone, and there are those who are resistant to the idea, or afraid of it for various reasons. No problem (except for the ongoing anxiety)! However, when the subject is willing, hypnotherapy can and does work wonders. I've seen clients at the point of giving up their careers because of their deep-seated anxiety or other problems, who then turn it around after just one or two sessions 'on the couch'. Anxiety-locked voices become free, audition nerves become manageable, shyness disappears and is replaced with confidence and onstage ease, forgetting words becomes a distant memory.
Hypnotherapy can seem an extreme, or strange, idea to some. Some don't 'believe in it', others associate it with mysticism or mind-control. In fact it's a very simple tool, no more 'mystical' than taking an aspirin! In the UK, many GPs have a hypnotherapist attached to their surgery as a matter of course, to help patients with conditions that don't really need to be controlled with drugs.
In the next part of this series, I'll describe a typical hypnotherapy session, and discuss how qualified practitioners can use it to help singers with a range of common conditions