Fear is a primal reaction inherited from our cavemen ancestors, developed in response to the daily threat of winding up on some predator’s menu -says Daniel Borch.
Being nervous prior to a gig is a natural part of performance. In fact, the adrenalin surge that accompanies pre-gig nerves is often beneficial heightening your awareness and focus, sharpening your senses and improving your reaction times.
So far, so good.
But what happens when your nerves take over to the point where you becomes paralysed with fear? We become nervous because we are afraid of not being able to live up to the expectiations we believe other people have of us.
Nerves vs. Fear
I would like to distinguish between nerves and fear.
Nerves: Where the nervousness is positive and can lead to enhanced performance.
Fear: Where nerves spill over into fear and can have dire consequences.
Fear is a primal reaction inherited from our cavemen ancestors, developed in response to the daily threat of winding up on some predator’s menu. The body responds to being nervous and being afraid in the same way. The only difference is the amount of the chemicals secreted and our ability to control our reactions.
One reaction can be a dry mouth, tense muscles, hyperventilation or butterflies in your stomach. In addition, vital muscles in the larynx contract, affecting our vocal control. This results in fatigue that prevents your voice from reaching its full potential.
So, what can we do to stop our thoughts running away with us so that we only experience the positive effects of nerves?
Sensitivity naturally varies from person to person, but here are a few tips that can help you control your reactions.
Visualize the entire situation on the morning of the day of the performance:
- Sit comfortably, make sure things are quiet around you and close your eyes!
- Run through the whole gig in real time including between song banter.
- What does the gig venue look like?
- Who do you think will be there?
- Where will the people you know in the audience sit?
- Imagine the ideal performance where everything you do works perfectly!
- After this visualization it may be time to warm up, calmly and methodically!
- If you aren’t in the best shape today, accept this and trust that it will still be good enough!
- Do not strain your voice for the rest of the day!
Breathing for relaxation, and to compose yourself
Stress is an Achilles heel for both singers and other people. The effects of breathing patterns on stress are quite well charted and there is a rich flora of relaxation exercises based on breathing.
Of the techniques I have tried where breathing is used as a tension releaser and thought emptier, the one below is the best. The combination of placing your fingers between your eyebrows and focusing on your breathing pattern will help you not to be distracted by stressful thoughts and demands.
- Place your right index and middle fingers between your eyebrows.
- Place your thumb and ring finger on either side of your nostrils.
- Close one nostril with your thumb and breathe deeply and slowly through the other one.
- Close the other nostril with your ring finger and repeat the breathing pattern through the open nostril.
- Close your eyes and repeat calmly for two minutes.
More tips for the gig
- Make sure you are ready in time, including clothes and makeup so that this won’t add to your stress.
- Make sure everything you need on stage is there in time: water, towels, etc.
- Both your clothes and between song banter should be well prepared and reflect both the music and the audience!
- If your voice is tired, you can avoid further wear by “speaking” notes before the highest notes. Audiences tend to focus on the last and highest notes.
- It’s best to sing well-known songs at auditions – if not, the jury might focus on the song instead of on you, the artist/singer.
- For an audition, it’s important to arrange the form of the song by removing long pauses – cut out solos, shorten the intro, and so on. An audition song shouldn’t be longer than two minutes.
- If you are singing at an audition, rearrange the form of the song by removing long pauses – cut out solos, shorten the intro, and so on. An audition song shouldn’t be longer than two minutes.
Making an entrance
You only have one chance to make a first impression at a gig or an audition. In addition, you usually only have a limited time on stage so you can hardly expect the audience to get to know your hidden qualities. A few things to think about:
- Take a deep breath and walk assertively on stage
- If you haven’t seen the venue before (i.e. in the case of auditions) quickly ascertain where you have to stand!
- Regard the audience with a steady gaze!
- Adjust the microphone stand or remove the microphone if it suits you!
- If it is a concert you will naturally look at individuals in the audience, however, at auditions it is better to focus on a point somewhere else in the room. Staring the judging panel in the face is uncomfortable and unnatural.
- If you need to instruct the accompanist, be clear and concise. Be well prepared and perhaps even have a metronome with you to dictate the tempo. Good luck!
The above is an excerpt from “The Ultimate Vocal Voyage” by Daniel Zangger Borch, pp.85-88
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Jen McPherson - Safe and Sound
You have a beautiful voice and really nice pitch. It is also a plus that you play the piano. I would like to see a little more bodily or facial expression, and more vocal dynamics. Try to make the lyrics come alive; make us want to listen to every word. One way to do this is to sing really soft on some phrases or specific notes and stronger on others. Also try to sing short notes now and again or end a phrase quite abruptly. There are many ways of delivering a text but volume variations and rhythmical variety are a great way to start.
Why I chose Jen McPherson as a Finalist
We thought Jen’s voice was beautiful and effortless. She holds all the notes very well even whilst playing her instrument, delivering a fantastic quality performance.
Daniel Zangger Borch is one of Sweden’s most recognised vocal coaches. He has been a regular on adjudicating panels for popular TV shows such as ‘Idol’, ‘True Talent’ and ‘X-Factor’. He is also a professional singer, recording artist (with seven albums) and songwriter. Daniel holds a PhD in Music performance and is Head of the Voice Centre, Stockholm and Zangger Vocal Art. His new book, book “The Ultimate Vocal Voyage” has been released internationally.