Okay… You’ve been playing for a while now and have been practicing diligently. You think it might be time to take your skills “out on the road” and give a live performance for your first audience. But, you have big-time stage fright. You know–the knees knocking, sweaty palms, nausea-inducing kind. Forget it, you tell yourself; I’m just not destined to be a live performer. But, what has all that practicing and studying been for if not to show off your newly-acquired playing skills?
Believe it or not, there are lots of people out there who would love to be able to play a musical instrument or sing and they will be plenty envious of your abilities. Besides that, you might be surprised to find that your audience is simply out there waiting to enjoy your performance. They are not there to judge you, but just to experience the joy of live music.
How do I know this? Because, I have been there in your shoes. I have loved to sing all my life, but never had the courage to even attempt singing in front of an audience. I kept years of practice and talent-honed by singing in choral groups-under wraps because I was quite simply, afraid to open my mouth and just sing–up there in front of everybody, all alone. Finally, when I was forty years old (yes, that’s right) I decided that enough was enough and took a leap of faith. Luckily, one of my best friends was a voice teacher so I had a place to start. I explained to him my desire to sing as well as my performance anxiety and he promised to help me find my way. Although I wasn’t sure if I would ever find the courage to perform I made the commitment and started lessons. Along the way I learned a few tips that might help you out if you’re suffering from performance anxiety.
First and foremost, remember that even the greatest performers have anxiety before a show. Many famous actors and singers pace nervously backstage or vomit in the bathroom before a performance (although I wouldn’t recommend that option). Just take a deep breath and know that you’re in good company. You can ask your coach for a few deep breathing exercises to use before performing or find lots of good tips online. Breathing deeply from the diaphragm is a great way to calm yourself before a gig. The normal reaction to anxiety is to take lots of small and shallow breaths, but that will have you passed out on the floor instead of up on the stage where you want to be!
Second, start off small. My voice coach advised me to bring a few pieces of music that I really liked and that I would feel comfortable singing with me to my first lesson. For me, that was the music of Broadway standards; for you it will most likely be something else. That way, your teacher can learn a bit about what you like, and find a step by step method of helping you learn to perform it successfully. My coach sang along with me at first to help me feel comfortable and guided me through relaxation and breathing techniques. Actually, during the first lesson I hardly sang at all. Rather, I just learned to be comfortable with the sound of my own voice, did some scales, and learned a few drills that I could work on in the privacy of my own home. As I got more and more comfortable we progressed to the point to where I was actually singing a song. We still kept the door to the music room closed so that I could tune out the fact that anyone might be listening. Since the practice room was in a building that housed a day care, eventually children would peek in the windows and a few teachers even stopped me on my way out of lessons from time to time, to tell me I had a nice voice. That was a real confidence boost and helped me get used to the fact that people could actually hear me even if I wasn’t aware of it!
Next, think about giving your first performance as part of a duet or trio. That way, you won’t be on stage alone and you’ll probably be a bit more comfortable. My first performance was singing a duet with a good friend in front of my church family. Before my time to sing, I stood off-stage deathly pale and shaking so badly that I was afraid I was going to pass out! But, I forced myself to get up there because my name was on the program. Before I knew it, the song was over and I walked off stage. I don’t remember one minute of that performance, but I will never forget the huge hug I got from my daughter as she tackled me backstage afterwards, saying “Mom, you did it! I’m so proud of you!” That moment was worth more than any amount of time sweating that upcoming performance.
You’ve heard it again and again-from your parents when you were young or from your music teacher now-practice, practice, practice. The better you know your piece, the more comfortable you will be when it comes time to perform it. You might still lose your place, or forget the words but just keep going. I can tell you from experience that NO ONE will notice most of the time. I’ve sung the same verse twice, skipped lines, and sang wrong notes countless times, but as long as you keep smiling and continue to play the audience will go right along for the ride never assuming anything went wrong. However, the better you know your song, the less likely any of these things will happen anyway!
Lastly, give your first performance for people who know and care about you. If you belong to a church or social organization try performing there. Or, if your music teacher has a studio class he or she will most likely ask you to perform something as part of a year-end recital. This will most likely just be in front of your classmates and perhaps family members, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal. One of the first things my voice coach told me and which proved to be true, was that people who care about you are already programmed to like your performance before a single note comes out of your mouth or instrument. This means that they are going to smile and direct waves of good feelings toward you during your performance and applaud loudly afterwards. How much better can it be?
So, get out there and show off your skills. You’ve been putting in all those practice hours for a reason and should be proud to show off the results. The more times you perform the easier it gets, and I am living proof of that idea. Since that first voice lesson, I have sung at many weddings and funerals; have performed as a soloist with many groups; had parts in several small opera productions; have a Bachelor Degree in Music with a concentration in voice; and am in the final stages of studying for my Master’s degree in Music History. Don’t let a little anxiety stop you; it never stopped Bob Dylan or David Bowie!