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Stage Fright / Performance Anxiety

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Hello everybody,  My name is Paul.  This is my first post.  I’m sure this has been discussed many times already..  I have been working as a singer/guitarist for approximately 15 years both in bands and more recently as a solo acoustic performer.  I have always perceived myself as an average singer, but a far better guitarist.  Lately I have come to the point where I am no longer having fun performing like I used to.  I feel like the lack of confidence in my voice is holding me back from reaching the next level.  I am hesitant to accept or pursue higher end gigs in fear of rejection, and end up sticking to the same set of venues that I have been playing for years.  I generally perform 3 or 4 nights a week, usually 3 hour gigs.  I went to a vocal coach 2 years ago and may have benefited from some breathing exercises, but I stopped going because I felt like I was not improving.  My pitch has never been a problem, especially since I started playing solo and can hear myself much better.  However, if I am having an off night, I tend to tighten up and I am unable to hold notes and my pitch can become erratic.  This is extremely frustrating, because I am aware if I hit a bad note and it sends me spiraling into a negative mindset.  Often my shows are an emotional rollercoaster.  I have developed a lot of bad habits over the years and it has become overwhelming to adjust.  My wife has suggested that I try a public speaking course to help ease my nerves..  I have also considered self-help strategies to promote confidence and positive thinking.  I am tired of being my own worst critic and defeating myself by dwelling on the negative parts of my performances.  Any suggestions to help battle this would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!!  

 

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Hey there I personally can understand as I have been performing for a living my whole adult life. I'm 46 and I can say I have a horrible time public speaking but no problem singing. The best advice I could give would be the more confident you are in your technique the more confidence you will have. Don't stop gigging as that will hurt your ego even more. I'm happiest when I'm singing. So get some vocal lessons and as you get more of a handle on your voice the nerves will go away. If singing isn't totally natural for you(I have singing colleagues that don't need to and never had studied) you will always need to keep up your technique everyday. Once you understand how to balance the voice you will be able to coach yourself. 

 

Good luck 

happy thanksgiving

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One thing I used to do when performing is trick your brain a bit, take all the nervous energy and just tell yourself that it's energy to perform period.  When you get up on stage tell yourself that your body is just giving you the juice and excitement you need to do your best. :)

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   Hi Paul, I think it is safe to say that most of us have had their share of bad coaches or lacked confidence in our singing from time to time. Still it seems that a little coaching or  training  of some sort is in order. Thought and work go into training. If other coaches were having you go through scales without a particular outcome in mind you could have been spinning your wheels.

The weird thing about singing or training is that sometimes you need to train the tensions out of your singing and sometimes you need to stress certain muscilature to balance things out. Not knowing why you are doing an exercise can do more harm than good.

   If you have already been considering a Public Speaking course, Try a skype lesson with one the coaches/teachers here first.

Robert Lunte has a great program "The Four Pillars of Singing" (I have been having success with that). He also gives Skype lessons. Daniel, Felipe, Jens and a few others offer Skype lessons. Any one of them can set you on the right track.

    If you already have gigging jobs I would not slacken on them too much. Once you have your foot in the door, keep it there. It is harder to get back in once you have let a contact slip away. If you have been playing the same places for a while make sure you introduce new songs to your play list. One thing that makes things boring to you and your audience is too much of the same thing over and over again. New songs can add to your enjoyment and the enjoyment of your loyal fans.

   Do not be afraid to play with your voice. I finally started making progress by by singing like someone else instead of insisting that I sound like myself. Let other personalities come out you may be surprised at what your voice CAN sound like if you let it.

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Not trying to brag, but I can honestly say, ... I have never had a problem performing in front of anyone, speaking in front of groups... in fact, speaking engagements energize me... or of course, being in front of a camera. I have never had any anxieties about any of it. Maybe that is something to be concerned about... like "ready shoot, aim!"... but that has been my experience.

:39:

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... and welcome Paul... it is nice to have you here. 

Thank you for sharing with us your concerns.

I think everyone is giving you good advise here and this is the place to go to get good advise... I'm proud of the team here.

After reading your initial post... what I think would help you a lot is:

1). Get more confidence about how your singing voice works, learn some techniques, get efficient when your using it, stop repeating bad habits that are probably contributing to a combination of  mental noise > physical tension. Some training and lessons would benefit you for sure.

2). I think you could benefit from some coaching on your songs. Not so much for interpretation, but to see what is happening to your voice when you sing these songs; narrowed vowels constricting you, vocal folds opening up and blowing wind on certain movements, failure to properly bridge the passaggio for any number of reasons, etc...

There vocal technique coaching and then song coaching... I think you should explore both.

I would be happy to help you with that.... as would any of the other guys.

This is your path for improvement.

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The anxiety that you describe - losing confidence because if you are having a bad night, everything tenses up, pitch is erratic, can't hold the notes, etc. - is all related to technique.  These are all technical issues that can be corrected.  You went to a voice teacher once and learned some breathing exercises that may have helped a little.  But it takes a lot more work and dedication.  It's more than just breathing.  And the fastest way to get there is to get some lessons from a voice teacher that knows what they are doing.  You came to the right place.  There are a lot of teachers on this forum that can help.

Oh - and if you really want to get rid of stage fright forever - look into taking the Dale Carnegie course.  In my youth I was petrified of public speaking (as most people are).  Dale Carnegie changed that for me and I have done many speeches in front of hundreds of people.  

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And I probably seemed callus before. But experience goes a long way. Think of it as being similar to being afraid of heights. It is not the height that bothers you but the fear of equipment or building or railing failing and letting you fall. Once you trust the equipment, building, railing, then you are okay. I had to deal with that when working on 60' bucket trucks and free-climbing 95 foot tall stadium lights at a high school football field.

Same with being on stage or speaking. Once you trust that you will be okay and the audience is not going to pelt you with produce or offal (only happens at Castle Donnington), you will be okay. And the more you do it, the more you know it is okay.

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Sure, technique and consistency are a big part of this. But not all of it. You have to have the right mental attitude. No one in the audience knows any better than you. Then lose yourself. Get lost when you perform. If you're nervous (which is totally normal) you have to get to the point where you're not scared of failure. And I agree with the harnessing of energy. Take those nerves/energy and channel it to your benefit. Much easier when you don't  a shit what people are thinking. 

I have had some unreal bloopers and crumbling of technique on stage. You know what, it didn't matter. The night ended, I went to bed and woke up the next morning fine. Oh well. It'll be better next time. Point is, I tried. And didn't hate myself for failing. 

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I wanna elaborate on the nervous energy part of this too. At the risk of sounding like a metaphysical hippy dip ;) I find it helpful to not try to control the fear. Realize it's energy. Don't ignore it or try to block it out. Let it pass through you and ride the wave. That's what I mean about harnessing it. Use it to your advantage. Be a part of the energy. Maybe it's all a mental trick but I do believe in the energy of shared experience. It can be very powerful positively and negatively. Depends on your perspective. And only you are in charge of your perspective. End granola rant. 

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I was watching an interview with Neil Young. 

First off, do what it is that you do and let no one dissuade you. Have the belief in your own vision. This has made him aloof and somewhat mysterious, like the first time he left Buffalo Springfield on the eve of a big show. But he followed the muse, to the benefit of everyone. "After the Goldrush" would not have happened if he continued something just because that is what was expected of him.

Do not entertain doubt. If you doubt something, then drop it. Doubt eats at you. Do only what you can commit to without doubt.

And do not fear failure.

My tagline is "winners never quit." There is more to it than that. Winners fail all the time. The difference between a winner and loser is that the winner never quit but kept going until succeeding. In fact, a winner has probably failed more times than most losers because the winner kept trying and failing and the loser quit after failing once or twice.

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I like Steven Frasers question! Very good question.

Paul. You get frustrated because you partly want to improve as an artist/performer. You've tackled the error in your artistry and that is your singing technique. You've tried singing lessons, and I think Steven is asking a really good question because singing takes time to improve but if you know what sound and level you want to go with your singing, you should mention it to your singing teacher. Wether it is how to sing softer, louder, more controlled etc.

There is another thing to this. You are actually saying you tense up because you don't enjoy performing anymore. You feel frustrated and anxious. These factors definitely will affect your ability of singing. Anything negative that happens to us in life will affect our voices. Not enjoying will have a negative effect on your voice in other words. Physically, if we get a flu or hoarse, our voices will sound awful and not good. Mentally, as you don't enjoy singing, our voices, and body as well, will tense up. I hope you understand what I am trying to say.

My advice is to cut down your peforming, if not even just take a pause from it completely for a while. Invest in taking singing lessons and get coached and allow yourself to having fun of improving as a singer. Keep practising your guitar playing and try to find joy in your "schooling" period. When you take a break from this you will realise how much you miss performing and might find excitment again. It's good to take a break from it. Be kind to yourself. A vocal teacher will also help you overcome the stage fright.

I personally never had stage fright/ performance anxiety when singing or dancing or acting, but I would like to advice you and I hope it is good.
 Once I been told by my singing teacher at school, in order to be less nervous on stage, think about your song, how you are going to sing your song, how you are going to sing technically, where you want to improvise with a wailing/melisma etc. Also, if you focus on singing the way your voice can do for now, is also a way to be kind to yourself and a way to lessen up your stage fright. You allow your mind to have a positive influence on your performance. I believe your stage fright happens now because you want to do something your voice cannot do at this point. This is now your reason to take this issue to a singing teacher and talk with him or her about this so you can work on where you want to take your voice, to the next level. Wether that is to sing like Kurt Cobain or like Frank Sinatra, I dont know. But this is why I liked Steven Frasers question, cause it's all there for you Paul.

One last thing. Everyone learns to sing in different tempos. Some need more lessons, some need less! Do NOT give up. You will find joy again, but it's time for you to allow a change in your music life. Music and singing isn't just about performing, it's also about learning and progressing. Singers and musicians NEVER stop to learn. That is my belief at least.

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I think what many are missing here is if you are singing for your supper there is no cutting back on your performing you have bills and a life to support. And the worst thing to do is cut back on singing when you want to be a better singer and gain more confidence. That's like telling your subconscious you're not good enough at the moment.  

You just get some good vocal lessons and practice the new things and the teacher will help you apply them to your repertoire. If he is worth his weight as a teacher he will be able to do this..

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Hello,

Me didn't think about the fact that singing and performing would be his only job. Then I guess it's very different.

And if I came across as sayin one should sing less, then that is not what I meant. Sing and practice as much as possible and take the voice lessons is what i mean :)

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  If you are performing for a living ......... The more prepared you are the less there is to be worried about. Make set lists of your songs. Practice them in the order your want to perform them,  Some  of the major setbacks for a live performance are the awkward moments between songs. Your beginning and ending are what is going to capture your audience and bring them back the next time. Put thought into your song choices and set lists. It is not how well you sing but how you make the audience feel when listening to you that makes the difference.  Have enough songs that are "READY" for you to switch to incase you want to steer the audience in another direction.

   Just like you use dynamics in singing, you use it in song choices and set lists also. Mix up things between Fast, Slow, Loud and soft songs.

 

  Skype or live lessons would still be best for quicker improvement. Someone like Robert or Daniel would be able to pinpoint major issues with particular songs you are having trouble with and give a better idea of how and what to improve.

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Paul... I read your original post again, and now realize what you implied you wanted to improve...

Your 'consistency', particularly for its effect on your performance, how that feels as it is occurring, and how you react to those feelings.

If this interpretation is correct, there are several, tried and true things you can do to improve the singing consistency,  and through the success that follows, more fun.  The following are in in priority order, most important first (from my perspective... Others may have different priorities)

1)  You are a professional, working Musician, even if you may do other things with your life to make money.  So, like professional athletes of all disciplines, you must train to raise your game toward your aspiration...wherever you want to take it. IMO, first thing to do there is acquire lifestyle and game-day practice habits that get you ready for your best performances.  Most practically, this means adopting daily practice habits that contain realistic assessment of adjustments you must make to work through any daily variance in how your voice feels due to health/weather and other circumstances.

2) Groove your technique, that is, incorporate it via repetition into mental and muscular habit.  Even small improvement in some problem notes during a set will reduce accumulated strain, improve overall pitch consistency, reduce fear, and increase your sense of performance enjoyment.

3) Plan to sing mostly in your 'vocal comfort zone'.  In a song, in a set, in a gig, in a career... build on your core capability.  Be prepared, too, with optional songs, to Skip or Include something based on how your performance is progressing.  Going great one night, swap out a regularly performed song with one that you'd like to do in its place.  

4) Always be training, (not just coaching) with a teacher and program that will help you build your chops.  This not only will help with endurance and range, but also widen the scope of what you can handle vocally.  Sure, you can be coached on style, but you  need to be grounded in technique Growth.

5) Antipate that your adrenaline will show up before the performance.  When it does, interpret it as excitement, not fear.  I personally find that verbal acknowledgement works very well. Though it seems a little funny to describe, I pump my my fists in the air (like a footballer that has just scored a goal) and say firmly, "I am getting excited about this performance!"  I try to carry that attitude on to the stage as well.

6) Let the clams go.  Once a note is out there, you cannot change it, nor affect how the listener experiences it.  What you focus on instead (as has been said) is what is now going on, and where it immediately leads. Be in the 'now' of the song.

7) Accept praise and appreciation from your audience graciously, even if you could have done something better that gig.  Most audiences have no idea when you are not at your best, they just know what they enjoyed hearing, for whatever reasons they have. So, when you receive a complement for a performance, respond in a manner that affirms their enjoyment..that does not make them wrong. 

I hope this is helpful, and that you will continue posting.

 

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