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The Hidden Reason Why You Always Strain Your Voice and What You Can Do Now to Stop It From Happening

perfectionism performance anxiety vocal strain


The voice is an amazing instrument. You can make many different kinds of sound with it. It is quite resilient but fragile at the same time. When used correctly and taken care of properly, the voice can stay fit and healthy for a long time.

Feeling strain and pain when singing means you are not supporting your voice correctly and there are probably some vocal hygiene issues involved as well.

Having incorrect vocal technique is often the culprit because singers would then push too hard and/or constrict their throat muscles to hit the notes.

The Hidden Reason Behind Vocal Strain: Performance Anxiety

In this article, I want to talk about the not-so-obvious reason of feeling strain while singing: performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety happens when you want to sing well but are not sure that you can. It happens due to low self-efficacy in singing. In simple terms, it means you do not think you can sing well.

When people think of performance anxiety or stage fright, they picture someone with shaky legs, trembling hands and a paralyzing fear of singing in public. In reality, performance anxiety can be very subtle and difficult to recognize.

According to music researcher, Barbara Conable, there are 3 kinds of performance anxiety:

  1. Butterflies in your belly
  2. Self-consciousness
  3. Paralyzing fear

The butterflies in your belly feeling is a good kind of performance anxiety because it helps you to perform better. Paralyzing fear is the most severe form of performance anxiety and thankfully, it is also the least common.

The most common form of performance anxiety is self-consciousness. It can affect singers of all ability levels, not just beginners. It is hard to detect it yourself because it often masquerades as something else.

Do You Have Self-Consciousness?

Check to see if you have self-consciousness. Ask yourself:

  • Am I scared of making mistakes?
  • When I make mistakes, do I beat myself up for that?
  • Am I afraid of uncertainty when it comes to singing?
  • Do I always worry about what other people think about my voice?
  • Am I afraid to try new things because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out?
  • Do I analyze my voice when I’m singing?
  • Do I micromanage each and every part of my voice when I’m singing?
  • Do I obsess over the small imperfections of my voice?
  • Do I expect myself to be perfect every time I open my mouth to sing?

If you answered yes to 3 or more of the questions above, it is very likely you have self-consciousness that is affecting your singing. The questions above illustrate a perfectionist mindset that singers adopt as a coping mechanism for performance anxiety.

How Self-Consciousness Causes Vocal Strain

If you are a perfectionist with your singing, you are likely to be a perfectionist in other areas of your life as well. That is what makes it hard for you to be aware of your self-consciousness. What seems like a natural thing to do is actually affecting your singing in a negative way.

For example, your voice used to crack as a teenager. Now, you are in your twenties but you still have memories of those voice cracks. Every time you sing, you obsess over smoothing out your register breaks and your heart starts racing when you are singing high notes. As a result, you tense up your throat and strain your voice.

In that example, you can see that being a perfectionist about not having voice cracks has been quite effective in preventing voice cracks. However, the price you pay for that is the loss of vocal freedom and vocal health. Perfectionism here serves as a coping mechanism to prevent voice cracks (and the anxiety that comes with it), but it also takes away the enjoyment of singing and jeopardizes your vocal health.

Turning Performance Anxiety into Singing Confidence

At the core of performance anxiety are anxious thoughts. We cannot control our emotions but we can control what and how we think. When we change our thoughts, we will start acting differently as well. Acting differently will bring us different results - better results. Eventually, we start feeling more confident.

One simple exercise I challenge you to try today is to reframe your anxious thoughts. The next time you make a mistake when singing, instead of putting yourself down, I want you to look at mistakes from a different angle:

What if these mistakes are meant to help me learn and improve? If this is true, then the more mistakes I make, the quicker I improve.


Vocal strain can be caused by a combination of different factors and performance anxiety is a hidden factor that often gets overlooked.

The first step towards overcoming performance anxiety is to be aware of how it is affecting you. Be aware of your thoughts and see how it helps you manage your anxiety. You can then prevent vocal strain so much more easily.


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