Singing is deeply personal. It’s meant to communicate something that can’t be said with just spoken words alone. Most of us are masters of speaking - in that we know how to let certain bits of information out, while guarding others. But with singing, it’s not so easy to pick and choose what parts of ourselves are exposed, and what parts are guarded. The whole veil pretty much gets lifted as soon as we open our mouths, whether we like it or not. I believe we sing because we deeply desire to lift that veil, yet oftentimes we still try to guard ourselves right in the midst of our attempts to be vulnerable. Freedom for your voice lies right in the middle of your surrender to vulnerability. Exposing the parts of yourself that you feel are ugly is actually one of the most beautiful things you can do.
This surrender can start in the smallest of places. I remember when I first began learning proper singing technique, one of my big paradigm shifts was realizing that singing higher does not mean I have to sing louder. Mind blown! I remember experimenting by raising my pitch very quietly without tightening my throat or raising volume, and I felt my voice wobble a little bit. Immediately I shut my mouth, crossed my arms, and squirmed like a little kid. With my face cherry red, I tried again, only to hear my voice crack and fail. I laughed and squirmed again. I was struck by how deeply vulnerable it felt! I notice this in my clients as well. The idea of letting me hear their voice crack feels like showing me an embarrassing picture of themselves. Little do they know that my whole goal is to get them to release their neck tension/throat tension/emotional tension enough to let their voice wobble and crack. We all want to have strong, sturdy, reliable voices, but we can only get there if we stop trying to force that strength by straining.
There I was standing in front of a live studio audience of hundreds of people waiting to either be impressed with me or feel sorry for me. Tightly gripping the microphone in hopes of finding any kind of stability, I waited for the band (with whom I had limited prior practice) to begin my tune. Cameras rolling! The band started, I started, everyone was listening. As I sang, what came out was unfamiliar, I felt unstable and out of body. I tried to focus and sing what I had practiced, but all I could think about was why not a single one of the four chairs in front of me had turned. My song came to a close and a once cheering crowd turned to an empathetic halt. I received my feedback and the one consistent response from all four of them was “I could tell you were NERVOUS.” Me? Nervous? No way! I had practiced for months. I had been waiting and preparing for this moment and opportunity my entire life. How could I be nervous?
It took me a lot of hard work in the years after this experience to come to terms with my nerves as a performer. This moment was truly an intervention for how I approach being on stage. What I thought I had mastered in years past, I had only just scratched the surface. Nerves are not only a natural human condition, but they can open the door for further self exploration. You know, the whole “do what scares you” sentiment. I do agree, however, here are some tips I’ve learned to limit nerves to nerves of excitement and create a head space that will allow you to perform to the best of your abilities!
Here in Nashville, Music Row pretty much shuts down in the months of November/December. Many of us musicians go into creative hibernation and dive head-first into our part-time jobs. But here's what I don't want you to forget:
"Training is what you are doing while your opponent is sleeping in."
Many singers can give a flawless performance in the privacy of their own practice space, but as soon as they step on stage, certain parts of their range become strained and wobbly. Nervousness and other mental/emotional factors have a huge impact on the voice, which is why it's always important to maintain a healthy perspective on your performance before you take the stage.
A common mistake many singers make:
One time, I performed a song for a small group of people, and it was a very personal song, so I was nervous to sing it well. As I took the stage, the tears welled, and by the second verse I couldn't hold them back any longer. My voice wobbled and cracked, and I felt like the entire room suddenly had all the air sucked out of it. It was mortifying.
Music is emotion in one of its purest form. But there is an important balance between expressing the emotion of a song effectively, and having so much emotion that it becomes difficult to sing the song to its full potential.