Our recent public event at a local festival got me thinking about performance nerves and how to overcome them. We took along students of varying ages and experience, some of whom had only done a couple of group singing lessons with me, so I was very interested to see how they would get on.
We all know children who are more than happy to stand up and sing to anyone who will listen.
But equally, many of us may experience the self-doubt that can creep in as we reach the maturity of our teenage years and beyond.
Once we become self-aware individuals, and begin to judge our own voices more harshly, it’s very common to find ourselves less willing to perform in front of an audience. The truth is that the more knowledgable we are about the mechanics of our own voice, and its limitations, the more critically we will judge ourself as a performer.
At times, everyone experiences pre-performance nerves; not just singers, but dancers, musicians, athletes, public speakers amongst others.
1. So tip number one is to realise that nerves can ACTUALLY BE HELFPUL.
Just think- when faced with something as scary as singing in front of people, the primal fight or flight mechanism is kicking in. The audience is….. THE ENEMY! And you might experience the adrenaline rush, terror, hot/cold sweats, or knee trembling that anyone in a terrifying situation might go through.
At that precise moment in time there’s nothing you’d like more than to simply run away, or the ground to open and swallow you up.
2. So here comes tip number two: simply focusing on slowing down your breathing can help. Counting slowly to four as you breathe in, hold your breath for seven slow counts and then exhale for a count of eight, which you can repeat this as much as you need.
3. The third useful piece of advice is to visualise something that makes you feel happy and calm as if it’s right in front of you. This is useful both before, and during the performance. I sometimes tell students to imagine the face of someone they love, or a special pet they’re fond of. The commonly held belief that imagining the audience naked certainly doesn’t help, as far as I can tell!
4. Knowing your material inside out is the fourth tip, to help you feel more confident before a show or gig. If singing the song is like second nature, because you have practised so you know it perfectly, that’s one weight off your mind. It’s amazing how many young singers I see who go on stage, without knowing the words, or exactly when to begin singing ….. they only do this once though- they pretty quickly wise up to this.
5. Which brings us to the final tip; get lots and lots and lots of practise at doing it. The more you perform, the easier it will get. You will gradually become used to the feeling of being in the spotlight. You will also realise that, far from being your enemy, the audience is actually on your side. Yes, they want you to succeed…. Or else why have they bothered to come along to see you? (unless it’s your mum, who is there, just cos she’s your mum, and so she will love it anyway, even if you sound like a caged dog who hasn’t been fed for a week).