The Two Kinds of Nervous

There are two kinds of nervous, and I’m afraid I can only help you with one of them. I am a voice teacher, not a psychologist. I cannot solve your social anxiety, nor can I take away the fear that comes from the possibility that you might make a fool of yourself due to the fact that you may perchance be a fool. You are not a fool, but I know you can’t help but wonder sometimes. I’m not a fool either, and yet every day I think to myself “Self, the world does not think you are a fool, but you know more about yourself than they do, and they might be wrong, and today may be the day that you prove it.” It’s okay. It’s not a terrible thing to be nervous, unless it is to a crippling degree.

The first kind of nervous is the exciting kind, or at least it ought to be. It is the edge that arrives when you step out onto a stage in front of multiple people who are waiting for you to do something. They may be, unfortunately, complete strangers or, in a worst-case scenario, your friends and family. But they expect something from you. They could all expect different things from you. And your stage may not be a stage, but rather a conference room, or a website, or a dinner table. But there you are. And there they are. And maybe this will be a success, or a failure, or, worst of all, mediocre. But you know it will be something, you just don’t know what, and so you are nervous. These nerves give you adrenaline, they spur you towards greatness, they invigorate and energize you, as long as you don’t think about them too much. Let them fade into the background and use them to take risks you never thought possible. These nerves are part of you, part of being human, and I wouldn’t take them away even if I could. I will help you manage them, but they will always be there, a friend if you let them be.

Of course there is that other type of nervous. The nervousness that comes, not because you don’t know if what you are doing will succeed, but because you don’t know if you will succeed at what you are doing. That, I can help you with.

If you are nervous about hitting that high note at the end, it is because you did not practice it enough. If you had practiced it enough, you would know that you can hit it. You don’t know, and now that note makes you nervous, because you did not practice enough. Go practice.

If you are nervous about the words, because they are in a foreign language or because there are too many of them, it is because you did not practice enough. If you had practiced enough, you would know the words. Yes, I know you practiced them. I did not say you did not practice them. I said you did not practice them enough. If you had practiced them enough, you would know them by now. Go. Practice.

If you are nervous about those fast runs on page three, it is because you did not practice them enough. Nothing I do in your lesson can learn those runs for you. You need to sing them very slowly until you have the pattern down. You need to absolutely know each note, and then you need to sing them a little faster. Then you need to sing that page over and over again until the runs are not scary. Huh. Now what do you call doing something over and over again to get better at it? Oh yeah. Practice. Go.

If you are nervous because you are not sure if the accompanist is going to come in at the right time, or because you are not sure what the accompaniment actually sounds like, it is because you did not practice enough. The accompanist knows what they are doing. If they don’t, no one will blame you. Your job is to look confident and not worry about what the accompanist is doing. If you wanted to get comfortable with the accompaniment, perhaps you should have, oh, I don’t know, practiced?

I cannot stress this enough, for musicians, lawyers (they practice, right?), or any other person in this world, there is no substitute for being prepared. I have been nervous on stage before. I have been very nervous. And it is almost always because I have not prepared adequately. If you want to be nervous that they will hate your voice, or think you picked a dumb song, or be distracted by your socks, go ahead. You can’t control that. But if you are nervous because you don’t know if you can actually sing the song or not, well, that is completely avoidable. I am here to help you with that.

Step 1: stop reading this and go practice.

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