How to Sing When You’re Nervous

I know how to sing when I am sick.  Many people tell me. “Oh, I’m not feeling well today.  I can’t sing.  I have a cold.”  But the truth is, professional singers often don’t have that luxury.  I would have to be preeeeeety sick to cancel a performance.  But the thing is, being sick doesn’t stop me from singing, because I know how to sing around it.  I am actually quite good at producing sound, regardless of my physical condition.  I can sense where the mucus is in my throat.  I can feel the scratchy areas.  I know which notes are going to need a little extra energy that day.  And I know these things, and am good at them, the same way I know any other way of singing.  Because I practiced them.

The first day I tried to sing when I was sick, I, like everyone else, decided that it was impossible and gave up.  But I have had some great teachers.  I know some exercises that will immediately let me know if this is a day that I can reasonably produce sound, or not.  Through hours and years of careful practice, I can now sing difficult arias while under a difficult vocal haze.  Maybe they don’t sound quite as good as when I am well (after all, I have practiced far longer when I am not sick!), but they sound good.  Slightly different placements, mildly different vowels, but still good.  Yes, I can sing when I’m sick.  But what about when I am nervous?

I am a seasoned enough performer that I can generally control my nerves.  But sometimes…  Sometimes I walk into an audition room, and I feel my stomach turn over.  I feel my insides liquefy.  I feel my knees stiffen and then wobble and then weaken and then shake.  I feel the sweat start to form on my, well, everything.  I feel my mouth go dry.  And then I have to sing.  I have to somehow sing, with my body in an adrenaline-fueled, fear-driven, altered state.  And I’m screwed.

I could deal with my sick body, by spending large amounts of time with, gently probing, exploring, and finding the ways to make my voice do what I needed it to do under these harsher conditions.  But how on Earth was I going to practice singing while terrified?  Hire an assassin to stalk me, go into a practice room, and then sing until I was attacked?  Should I have my friends jump out and scare me from time to time while I rehearse?  No, you can’t really simulate fear, and being startled is not the same as a constant sense of dread.  I had no answers.

Now, before I tell you the secret, I have to make a confession.  I have not tried this method.  Instead of managing my voice while scared, I instead decided to manage my fear while singing.  And this has worked out alright for me.  But I have heard from friends, from the dark, secret underbelly of the singing world, that there is a method for simulating fear in the practice room.  What I have been told, in whispers and shadows, is that if you go to a practice session, and then down two or three Red Bulls, your body will suddenly lurch into a very similar state as what I described above.  Simulated fear, or basically an overdose of adrenaline.  5-Hour Energy drinks supposedly create the same effect.  I have not tried this, because I took a 5-Hour Energy drink once, and it did not end well.  But if you are looking to simulate an audition, or opening night, or other scary-for-you experience, I have heard that this is the way to do it.

If you are able to get your body into such a state, and use that time to explore your voice, I have no doubt that eventually you will get better at singing in those situations.  But if you are like me, and think Red Bull is the nastiest stuff available in a cylinder, then instead I would recommend deep breathing, being aware of your body, and remembering that the audition panel is generally nervous too.  They are worried that they will not find the perfect singer that they have been looking for.  And they desperately want it to be you.  And it just might be.

Posted in Auditions, Music, Nerves, Red Bull, Singing, Tenor Tuesday.

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