Dealing With Stage Fright

A bit of pre-show jitters can be a good thing – it gets the adrenaline going and amps up your performance.  Stage fright is another matter, it can be completely debilitating for some singers.

There are a number of ways singers deal with stage fright.  Here are a few suggestions I use to help students deal with it.

Where Stage Fright Comes From

I believe stage fright is a deeply rooted fear that comes from long ago when rejection from the pack meant almost certain death.  We need and crave the acceptance of others and going on stage makes us face this primal fear of rejection.

Get Out Of Your Own Head

Stage fright is triggered by being self-focused.  We are concentrating on our own fears rather than putting our attention on the audience.  Lack of stage fright is the more selfless and sharing act.

I have been in some high-pressure lecture situations, a sea of faces staring at a stage I am about to step onto. Some of these faces belong to other voice professionals, so the pressure is on.

When I find myself getting anxious and feeling stage fright coming on I mentally stop and remind myself that it is my own ego that is causing this.  My job is to give the audience information in the best way I know how and that should be my only focus.  I make it about the audience and not me.  It works every time.

Beating Stage Fright

Practice – There is no antidote for stage fright like confidence – the confidence that comes from many hours of proper practice.

Working on your voice will give you the ability to hit difficult notes even when nervous.  Muscle memory is the key. There is no substitute for this.

There was a recent study where the brain waves of two groups of piano players were measured as they played a scale.  The first group were beginners who were still learning the scale.  The brain showed an enormous amount of activity as they struggled to make their fingers work correctly.

The second group were professional musicians, and as you might have guessed the brain showed almost no activity when playing the scale.  It was primarily controlled by muscle memory.  These musicians will be able to play this scale no matter what the circumstances.  There is great confidence that comes from this.

Performance Experience – It has been said “the only way around is through.”  You cannot become a confident performer without actually getting performance experience.

Karaoke is a great, low-pressure way to get a feel for being on stage in front of others.  Sit in with local bands, perform at charity events.  Every time you step in front of an audience you are learning to perform.

Give permission – One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to give the audience permission to not like me.  We are so fearful of rejection that it overwhelms us.  Allowing members of the audience to not like us, if they so choose, can be very freeing.

The audience has the right to not like anything – but here’s the great part.  The overwhelming majority of them want to like you, so don’t worry about it.

Envision – Mentally seeing yourself give a great performance can be helpful.   One exercise is to imagine yourself standing in a circle of light, full of confidence and performing at your best.  Now physically walk to a spot in the room and feel the light surround you.  Allow yourself to feel the confidence and fearlessness as you stand there.

Now step out and then back into this spot and the imaginary light.  Feel that confidence once again.  Repeat this until it is ingrained in you.  Next time you walk on stage bring that circle of light with you and step into it.  This is a great mental exercise in performance preparation.

Avoid This Trap

One last thought: don’t fall into the trap of using alcohol or drugs to combat the fear.  Not only will this affect your health and vocal performance, it will mask the reality of what you are going through and not allow you to learn how to be a confident performer.