Sunday, February 20, 2011

NOTES FROM THE PLAYGROUND: Stage Fright (part one)

After almost 3 decades of coaching singers of all kinds I still find stage fright to be the single most challenging problem we face as performers.

The physical manifestations of stage fright, shortness of breath, shakiness in the limbs, uncontrollable pitch and a kind of sudden brain drain,(which can include an inability to remember lyrics), can steal our confidence and fill us full of dread about upcoming gigs and their becoming a potential disaster.

While instrumentalists use a separate instrument from themselves to make music, we singers use our actual bodies to create the sound so if the physical manifestations of fear and anxiety associated with stage fright are present then we can't control our bodies and all confidence that we can do a good job flies out the window. Horrible indeed.

But singers need to sing and music is meant to be shared and in my experience as both a coach and a performer even debilitating stage fright can be possible over time. In fact I started my career with a pretty acute case of stage fright,(born of a lack of belief in my abilities), and have ended up a relaxed and confident performer.

When I am coaching the Singers Playground Performance Workshops it's easy to spot the manifestations and work towards solutions that will lesson them. The key is to solving stage fright is to identify what the anxiety and fear is about. Usually it's simply an artist worrying about doing a good job. In most cases Stage Fright is a result of our perfectionist selves seeking to do the very best we can.
Artists seek to shape and mold, exercising a kind of control over our craft in order to create the desired results. This in itself is not a bad thing.

The challenge for us singers is that performing live is the least controllable of all singing situations. The jam at a party, the band rehearsal, even the recording studio are all situations where we can adjust details as we go to create the optimum support for our ears and our voices.
But performing live we have almost no control over the circumstances, usually jumping into a quick soundcheck exhausted from promoting the engagement, unfamiliar with the venue, working with a sound man that doesn't know our sound, using monitors that make us sound different from what we are used to, singing with a band that may be unrehearsed etc.
We end up feeling rushed and unsure, hyper aware of our perceived mistakes and unable to gage what the audience is actually experiencing.
No wonder we feel out of control and unable to do anything near our best in live performance!
I have found the single most important way to counteract perfectionism
and the ensuing anxiety is to use a vocal and physical warm up that is calming at a core level and allows us to get comfortable with the idea of just "doing our best" and letting go of trying to achieve the "perfect" performance.

For my clients this always starts and ends with the breath. The breath is the first place that stage fright shows itself with shallow breathing or a frozen diaphragm which leaves us unable to create the sound we know how to create.
Taking the time to breath through a warm up will help remind us to breath during the show and plant the idea that we will do the best we can under the circumstances, while acknowledging that the circumstances are indeed beyond our control.
The best rescue for a song going wrong is a big deep breath. Your brain has a chance to function, your pitch will start to correct and suddenly you will be able to hold notes again. Yahoo!!

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