Posts Tagged ‘performance anxiety’

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Sing with Confidence

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

I always feel like I’m going out on a limb in videos that are mostly theory and not as much practice. That being said, confidence, also thought of as performance anxiety is something that many of us deal with.

I struggled with confidence greatly in the years before and during University. I struggled so much in fact that it was commented upon during auditions and mentioned to my professor. It didn’t make sense to me that I could feel so compelled to perform and also feel so crippled by performance anxiety. I quickly learned that the normal recommendations for anxiety were little more than jokes as far as I was concerned. No amount of visualizing a large body of individuals naked in front of me was going focus my mind on the music.

The fact remains though that I conquered it. I did such a good job in fact that it was recommended to me that I study psychology to better understand exactly what I had done and write a book about it. It seemed like there was a future there for me. That wasn’t going to be my path though.

This video on building confidence is focused on the singing voice, but it’s really applicable to any discipline. It is a three step process, not necessarily done in order. The process is a cyclical event that hopefully develops into a positive feedback loop.

Awareness: Being present in your body. Noticing the physical experience of what it is to sing and taking notice of what feels right and what doesn’t. Noticing what you are satisfied with in your performances and what you would like to change. If it’s too much to notice these things during your practice sessions, then a recording helps immensely during this part of the process.

Preparation: Charlie Parker said, “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” I believe Parker rather eloquently describes what I think of as the difference between individual practice and performance practice.

There is a time to work your scales. Analyze your breathing. To notice how you have used your voice in the past and how you are practicing with it to be able to do more in the future. The awareness and recordings you’ve done help to inform these areas of technical practice.

Once you’re on stage though, the environment is not conducive to this type of reflection. It’s at this time that we want all of those good technical skills and practices to have become habits. This way we’re focused on the music and have the mental space to deal with any self limiting thoughts.

Self Limiting Thoughts: The most individual aspect of this practice, and also, I believe, the most sinister. I had an audition this past Monday at nine in the evening. At around three in the afternoon I started to notice that it was going to be a bit expensive to get there on the London Underground. I also noticed that parking was going to cost nearly five pounds and despite taking the car to the station I still wouldn’t get home until midnight or later. Factoring in an early morning United States Pacific Cost timeline lesson I was scheduled to teach I was looking at a fairly expensive audition that would get me home late in the evening meaning I would only get about four hours of sleep that night.

That is my performance anxiety now. I don’t get scared, nor do I get obsessed with the music I have chosen to perform. I get bogged down in the mundane details of the situation around the performance and convince myself that it’s too much effort.

Had I never noticed this internal dialogue of self limiting thoughts and ideas, I might have perpetually looked for auditions, signed up for them, and then cancelled them at the last minute. The outcome in that situation is obvious; I’d never get the gig.

In this case, my efforts were externally positively reinforced in that I was successful and was offered a spot. That however, is little encouragement compared to the internal satisfaction I felt once I began singing in the audition and my sense of achievement afterwards. I don’t mention this as a concept in the video, as it’s even more esoteric than the process itself, but it pays to remove the external reinforcement from the equation of how you evaluate your performances. Concerning yourself more with how you performed as compared to your practice sessions or practice performance recordings is far more valuable than worrying about how an audience responds to you. The same gig performed the exact same way but with different people could have dramatically different outcomes. If we perform to our highest standards including the practice of building confidence through awareness, preparation, and managing our self-limiting thoughts we always come out as winners. Even if for that particular performance you don’t get the external validation, the efforts put into it prepare us for the next one and the one after that making the process of performing an increasingly positive experience that we can enjoy.

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