In the modern world, we are constantly exposed to many amazing artists who get up and sing flawlessly in recording. A good 90% of singers give up because the ‘voice inside their head’ tells them that they are not good enough.

As a result, when a singer gets up on stage, they might lose their breath support, their stomach is tied in knots, their throat dries out and they dread that high note, even though it was never a problem while practicing in the shower.

Overcoming performance anxiety and stage fright is all about coming to peace with your nervousness. It is also about coming to peace with many things in your life that are outside of your control.

I have written a guide below on the best tried and true methods of overcoming performance anxiety and stage fright. No, they do not call for pills. You can do them all in your own time and if you are successful, you will never look at performing in the same light again:

  1. Understand the biological process of your nervousness and change the way you perceive it: you need to know what the feelings mean when you get performance anxiety or stage fright. I am going to try and make this as simple as possible. I find that some people overcome their stage fright overnight once they understand this. You have two ‘modes’ that your body goes into:

    1. Sympathetic mode: This is the ‘fight or flight’ mode. Basically, all your blood gets taken away from your digestive system and goes straight to your muscles. Our ancestors developed this in case we were threatened by a predator (i.e. a lion) so we could run faster or fight back.

    2. Parasympathetic mode: This is the mode our body goes into when we are extremely relaxed. Normally it happens after eating a big meal. More blood goes to the digestive system and away from the muscles so that we can digest food more easily. We often feel tired when this happens. Think about how you feel after a big meal.

Ok, so it’s probably quite easy to see which ‘mode’ you go into when you are waiting backstage anxiously before performing right? Your body feels ‘threatened’ by the idea of going out there and exposing yourself, so you go into ‘sympathetic mode’.

So what are you feeling?

  • Knots in the tummy/diaphragm and nausea? This is just blood going away from your stomach. Your abdomen/diaphragm/breathing muscles are NOT getting tight. You only make them tight because that’s what you think is happening. Think about this when you feel as if your support is ‘going’ when you are anxious. 

  • Dry throat? Your throat is a part of the tube that goes into your stomach, so in sympathetic mode, you don’t produce as much saliva. Solution? Just keep sipping warm water. Your vocal chords are NOT drying out. Your vocal cords are a part of your breathing tube, so they are being lubricated by mucous.

  • Wobbly? Your muscles will do that when they are being fed a lot of oxygen-rich blood.

So, what you might be feeling when you are experiencing performance anxiety, nerves or stage fright is just blood going away from the digestive system to help out your muscles. Your muscles are what help you breathe, sing and stand in a good posture, not your digestive system. Think of this sensation as your body preparing your for a better performance than when you are practicing at home.

  1. Use a process called ‘mindfulness’. This is where you practice going through the motions of the performance in your head. You may do this at home, in a rehearsal room or on stage. You slow down the entire process from waiting back stage, coming on stage, singing, bowing and leaving. You do this with very slow, precise movements and you do not sing. You then observe and present mindful suggestions about any anxiety you are feeling:

    1. Instead of “Oh god, I will never get this part right.”, present yourself with “I feel quite nervous when I am at this bit in the song. Maybe I will practice this part again, or, I will see how it goes on the day.” 

    2. Instead of “I hate the way that I am always extremely nervous before I go on, it always makes the first song really bad,” try “when I am waiting backstage, my body is a lot more alert than when I get on stage. I need a way to focus my energy.”

    3. “I need to practice walking on and off this particular stage.” Rather than “I cannot stand singing in X concert hall because the acoustics are awful!”

Your aim is to simply observe yourself, not to put an emotion on anything. The emotion of the songs and its words can be used while you perform, but your state of being as a singer should not be influenced by personal anxieties.

  1. Practice the ‘Law of Attraction: A lot of our issues while singing actually stem from anxieties within our personal lives. Performance Anxiety, nervousness or stage fright might occur more if you know your parents are coming to watch you perform or if you associate performing with a memory of a bad performance. The Law of Attraction is one of the best, if not the best self-help methods I have ever seen.

In short, you start to live life expecting good results. What you put out to the world, you receive back. It’s a change in the way you think about everything in your life. For instance, in a situation where a person is anxious because of parental criticism, the idea is for them to change their mindset from “they always criticize me” to ‘they always want the best out of me because they love me.’ This simple shift in mind set can have astounding results. While it may not work in every aspect of your life, it will work on the parts that matter.

I have written an article specifically for the Law of Attraction and the performer here.

I would strongly recommend getting hold of two books, which are available to you on e-books and paperback called ‘The Secret’ and ‘The Magic’.

  1. Acknowledge that you are enough right now: you are enough just the way you are. When you go up and sing, there is nothing in that moment that can change the outcome of your performance. All you can do is go up and sing as well as you can in that moment. You need to take some comfort in that. This is not only your technique but your nerves, your acting, your musicianship, all of it. Your ability to control performance anxiety, nerves and stage fright is just where it needs to be now.

If that means that right now, you like to do some meditation or some pacing before going out, that’s fine. This step may seem far-fetched, but it is crucial for any singer to succeed.

  1. It’s not about you: Understand this very important fact; you are an instrument to deliver music. The music is the important thing here, not you. Yes, the singer is an important part of the piece, but when people go to concerts, you hear the loudest cheers for specific songs. That was the composer’s work. If a great singer goes up and sings a bunch of songs that nobody knows and then one final song that everyone knows, it is always that final song that people will cheer the most for.
    You do not need to matter as much as you think you matter. Imagine this; you are involved with a show where you are somewhere in the back with a very simple set of things you have to do. Imagine how much less anxiety you would have around the situation. As a soloist or a part of an ensemble, you have worked hard to perfect the music to your best ability, now stand back and let the composer talk.
    For more information on this mindset, please consider getting a copy of The Inner Game of Music. I am not the author of this book, nor of ‘The Secret’, so this is not a hard sell, these are books I and many other people have a lot of faith in.

  2. Playing sick: Another suggestion made in The Inner Game of Music is to imagine a situation where some big announcer came out before a concert and told the audience that you had laryngitis and therefore may have some technical issues. More often than not, when a singer is ‘excused’ for being sick, their anxiety disappears and they often have one of the best performances of their life.

    Go to 4:00 in the following video. Tenor Patrick Power, who was very sick on the night of the performance, says that the aria is the best he has ever sung it:

Imagine being sick and how forgiving the audience would be if there was to be an announcement about it. Now imagine that even though your not sick, the audience is always this forgiving. Unless you are performing in La Scala Milan (in which case you may want to consider what an amazing achievement it is to be singing there!), your audiences want you to do your best for them.

  1. Practice Meditation: Learning to meditate can take some time. It is far easier than you think, and it will make a world of difference. I am currently in the process of creating an article on meditation and how to do it properly.

  2. Hypnotherapy: This might seem like a very strange suggestion, particularly for the skeptics out there, however hypnotherapy is actually a fantastic way to reduce performance anxiety, nerves and stage fright. As with meditation, I am also writing an article on self hypnosis.

Common Technique done correctly:

The following technique is one that you will see in almost every anxiety related post out there. The one I recommend below is particularly good for singers and actors.

Deep breathing:  Sometimes, this is all it takes for people to relax. It releases the diaphragm, provides us with oxygen and allows us to practice a good release of breath.

I will add a little word of warning here: Don’t try to treat your deep breathing session as a way to ‘see if your support is working’. This will make you anxious. Practice your support earlier than this. The deep breathing process is for relaxing the breath and your mind.

IMPORTANT: The back of your neck should be long, your ears should be directly over your shoulders, and it may be good to move your shoulders and neck a little between breaths so you are not rigid.

Method 1 (release):

  1. Breathe in with teeth closed (BUT NOT CLENCHED) as if you are doing a backwards ‘ssss’

  2. After 3 seconds, let your jaw drop and allow the air to fill your lungs

  3. Do not over-breath. Breath in until your lungs feel like they could ‘bounce’ back inwards, do not breathe beyond this

  4. Blow out all your air with your lips shaped slightly as if you were saying “oooh”

Method 2 (relax):

  1. Breathe in through your nose until your lungs are full. Make sure this isn’t too fast, it should comfortably take between 4-5 seconds

  2. Take in a little less air than you would for method 1.

  3. Hold the air in your lungs for about 4-5 seconds. Don’t ‘puff your cheeks up as if you are trying to stop the hiccups, just keep the air from coming out

  4. Exhale through your mouth on a count of 4-5. Don’t suddenly drop your jaw; just let it come down naturally.

Please read my article on breathing and support if you are looking for something that will help you during singing.

Closing thoughts:

I would strongly recommend applying as many of the above as possible. You will notice that they all over-lap at certain points and they will start to come naturally. Your performance anxiety, nerves and stage-fright will start to subside and you will notice extremely positive changes in your daily life as well.