I am a trained singer who has had quite a few successes. I recently had some bad results in auditions, mainly because I have been ill and coughing an awful lot, which has affected my voice. As a result my confidence has just gone, I get nervous and my voice has an uncontrollable vibrato because of the nerves. Can you give me any advice?
Many singers experience a sudden loss of confidence, and rather than seeking help, will ‘block’ the problem, so that things just get worse and anxiety builds.
I had lunch with Timothy Gallwey last week; Tim has written many books tackling the issue of ‘performance’, such as ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ and ‘The Inner Game of Music’.
His main contention is that we have within us the ability to perform well and to teach ourselves.
However, he believes that the chances of successful ‘performance’ is reduced if our inner selves interfere by trying too hard.
He spoke to me about getting performers into a ‘state of awareness’, rather than a state of ‘trying too hard’.
I suggest that if you can get hold of one of his books, this would be a great help in your journey.
Regarding coughing: do get yourself checked out just in case you have a case of undiagnosed cough-symptomatic asthma.
Coughing is not good for voices as the vocal folds ‘bash’ together on a cough.
If this happens for quite some time, it can take a couple of months to get the voice back on track.
The interim period causes anxiety in the singer, who notices that their technical ability has had a knock
This results in lack of confidence, which in turn causes poor performance.
It is a negative cycle.
If your coughing persists, go to your doctor and get to the bottom of it.
Once this has been sorted out, I would stay away from auditions until you have had a few weeks to get your voice back into shape.
Do lots of gliding exercises and practice mostly in your head-voice.
Make sure you are not over breathing; support the sound by anchoring properly.
Go to a good vocal coach and ask them to show you how to ‘retract’ the false folds efficiently.
The false folds are the pair of thick folds of mucous membrane that protect and sit slightly superior to the more delicate true folds.
When you cough or hold your breath, they close or ‘constrict’.
When you openly laugh, the false folds retract, allowing the true vocal folds to vibrate beautifully.
If you hold your ears closed and breathe in and out through your mouth, you will probably hear yourself breathing.
If you now imagine that you are just about to burst into a giggle, then you will find that the false folds ‘retract’, so that your ‘in and out breath’ is almost silent, as there is much more width through which the air can pass.
This retracted position is very important for healthy clear vocal production, and for that matter, also for a healthy speech production.
Do practice it, especially after having coughing attacks. It will help you regain a healthy, ‘open’ singing position.
After illness it is also very important to stretch the folds out by singing in well-supported head voice, gliding between fifths and octaves.
Finally, you must also practice your performance; however, it is vital to start this process by being in a safe environment.
Find a place that offers good courses in professional development for performers.
Go to class regularly for a few weeks, at least until your confidence comes back.
I run ‘Singers Performance Classes’ at the Advanced Performers Studios which allow fully trained singers to practice their performance in a safe environment; I am sure there are also other good places.
Good luck Carla and well done for doing something about it and seeking advice!
The Word and Music Company
Advanced Performers Studio
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