This Parasite Affects Your Singing Voice and It May Not Be What You Think
The parasite I am referring to is not an organic microorganism. This parasite affects the mind and emotions of a singer. It is called “performance anxiety”.
You may or may not be aware you have performance anxiety. You may have low levels, moderate levels or high levels of performance anxiety.
In any case, performance anxiety affects your singing more than you know.
How Does Performance Anxiety Affect Your Voice?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a parasite is “an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other's expense.”
Strictly speaking, performance anxiety is not a parasite in a conventional sense. It does, however, cause harm to its host (you).
Many people think if they get better at vocal techniques, their performance anxiety will go away. For some people, this is true. For many others, they need to treat performance anxiety on its own; while working on improving their vocal technique at the same time.
When performance anxiety occurs, singers usually get physical symptoms such as shaky voice, sweaty palms, fidgety fingers/hands/body, shortness of breath and so on. Those symptoms can affect the voice physically by creating tension in the throat. As a result, vocal control suffers and mistakes happen more frequently.
Psychological symptoms such as anxious predictions and self critical thoughts also accompany the physical symptoms. Those are thoughts that singers have when they make mistakes or do not sound the way they think they should. Those thoughts make singers lose focus of the songs they are singing. As a result, vocal control suffers and mistakes happen more frequently.
Both physical and psychological symptoms make singers afraid to use their voice. They hold back because they are afraid of making mistakes. In the end, more mistakes are made. The more mistakes made, the more anxious they get, and the cycle goes on and on.
What to Do About It
As mentioned, it would be good to treat performance anxiety on its own, and separate from vocal techniques. One thing I like to do is to take my students through the 478 breathing exercise to calm down the nervous system. Then, we would examine the thoughts that occur when they are singing, more specifically the unhelpful thoughts that sabotage their vocal performance. By changing our thoughts and behavior, our feelings would change. If we change the way we think and the way we act, we can change the way that we feel.
One example is to reframe (change) the way you think about “mistakes”. Perfectionism happens when we are afraid of making mistakes. Perfectionism demands that we are not allowed to make a single mistake in our lifetime as a singer. Logically speaking, this is unachievable for even the best vocalist in the world. Look at mistakes as being an inevitable part of vocal training instead. Look at them as a rite of passage you have to go through, to be the best singer you can be.
Here is my challenge to you: Start embracing mistakes as part of your vocal training. If you always beat yourself up when you make a mistake, ask yourself: “Is there another way of looking at this? A kinder and more helpful perspective?”
Performance anxiety affects virtually all singers out there, professionals or hobbyists alike. When you take steps to manage your performance anxiety, your singing will improve. You will sound better and more importantly, feel better (physically and emotionally) when you are singing.
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