As a singer, do you suffer from stage fright or performance anxiety when faced with an audience?
Do you feel like you’re standing in front of a shooting squad every time you step up onto the platform?
Does your practice at home always surpass you real performances because your nerves get the better of you?
It’s not uncommon for singers, actors, musicians, dancers, public speakers, and other types of performers to struggle with nerves and anxiety when they are on stage.
Here are the first two tips of a series of posts about stage fright, which will help you to succeed and flourish as a performer, in spite of your nerves.
1. Know you’re not alone
If you convinced you’re the only one who freaks out in front of an audience, you’re wrong. It’s far more common than you might think.
Most performers will at least admit to having nerves, even if they’ve been on stage hundreds of times over many years. Some performers throw up backstage before pretty much every concert, and others can’t face the stage without first having a drink…or three (though alcohol’s not recommended for singers – and here’s why).
My point is that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you find it tough to perform in front of others, especially if you feel scrutinised – being caught in a spotlight is not a natural state. But feeling bad because you think you should be able to get on stage without being nervous just adds a negative, self-berating mindset to your nerves.
Accept that it’s a common problem, stop beating yourself up, and work towards feeling better about it.
2. Be prepared and memorise everything
This is your very best defence for stage fright: Preparation.
Preparation is the key.
Even if you’re feeling paralysed under the stage lights, you want your brain to take over and automatically do what it knows how to do.
Singers, if you are going to perform, you must memorise the lyrics. Memorise the music. Practice repeatedly until you know your performance inside out. Whether it’s a singing exam or a concert, you should never rely on sheet music. Sing in the shower, sing on the train (even if it’s just in your head), sing as you walk or jog or run.
How to memorise songs
If you don’t know how to memorise songs, try this.
Pick a song that you are going to learn in a week. On the first day, write out the lyrics to the entire song by hand (things stick in our brain differently when we hand-write them).
Read the lyrics over. Read them again. Spend the day referring back to it, reading it, singing it. Listen to recordings of the song if you have them, or play along if you have the sheet music. Post the lyrics on the wall, on the fridge, over your computer, somewhere you’ll see it. Make multiple copies if you like, or photograph it on your phone so you can refer to it anywhere.
On the second day, cover up the lyrics with post-it notes, except for the first verse. Read the verse through a few times. Look away and sing it, as much as you can, without looking. Take note of where you get stuck or unsure. Look at the verse again. Close your eyes and try to sing it. Where do you get stuck? Have a look again. Now go out and do something, but each time you think of the song, run through the verse again, in your head.
Read over the verse before you go to sleep at night. The brain consolidates a lot of what we do in the day, during our sleep. Are the correct lyrics waiting for you when you wake up in the morning?
Over the next few days do this with other verses, the chorus, the bridge, whatever sections the song has. The key is to break it down and learn a little at a time, consolidate and check, then add more.
A week is definitely long enough to learn a song thoroughly if you do it this way. I’ve used this technique to memorise songs in other languages, even difficult classical vocal pieces. It still works. Give it a try.
[NOTE: I should mention that sometimes you may see classical singers with an orchestra behind them, and a sheet music stand in front of them, but despite this: the professionals never look at the music when they’re singing.]
Part 2 of this series of tips on overcoming performance anxiety will be published next week.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please post them here as I’d love to hear from you and help in any way I can.