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I really love singing. I do it quite often but I get really nervous about doing in front of an audience; even just thinking about it makes me nervous. I guess this is strictly related to everyone's personality and I've searched around for tons of helpful tips or guides to help you overcome this. But these helps were mostly on the psychological side: get on stage and you'll get rid of stagefright, forget negative thoughts, don't give too much importance to fear, etc.

My question here is mostly about a different, yet still related, problem. If the problem was only sweaty hands, shaking (usual nervous symptoms), I wouldn't mind at all. The problem is that this nervousness directly affects my singing.

My throat, and here is the problem, basically gets blocked. I can even feel it coming, a feeling of my throat getting clogged. Perhaps this is usually referred to as "throat getting dry", but I feel as it closed for a second, and after that I need to swallow before being able to continue.

Setting aside the psychological part (which I suppose is off topic here?), is there something I can try to overcome and avoid this obstacle, no matter how much I feel nervous?

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I won't put this as an answer because you didn't want psychological answers - but I started to get over nervousness by filming myself performing at home, and putting it on YouTube. It was a real wrench at first, but the more I did it, the easier it became, and that translated to performing in front of live people. –  slim Dec 18 '12 at 14:34
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This sounds like the classic 'globus hystericus'. IIRC the classic solution is literally to stop thinking about it, feeding the nascent neurosis more and more attention. Easier said than done, tho. –  luser droog Dec 18 '12 at 23:15
    
@slim It's not that I don't want psychological answers, I thought they were off topic... If they aren't feel free to elaborate on that post an answer! :D –  Alenanno Dec 21 '12 at 12:13
    
Check into the Alexander Technique. I understand it's very helpful for many people for this exact thing and is a physical answer to what he considered a physical problem. –  Trayce Elenteny Jan 13 at 23:05

4 Answers 4

I think the core of your problem is psychological, and relatively common, to some degree or other, and I think there are posts on this over on Productivity.Stackexchange.com

That said, there are physical tips which can help, then as you find it easier your anxiety should also reduce - a positive reinforcement cycle:

  • Drink lots of water - this will help in general anyway. Hydration is very important for singers
  • Warm up - same as you would before running a marathon, you need to stretch and warm up the muscles and ligaments
  • Perhaps have a beer - My lead singer always has one or two small beers before a gig
  • You could look at throat lozenges - they may help, but may make it harder to hit notes correctly
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I wouldn't combine beer and lozenges though, it would ruin the beer! –  Mr. Boy Jan 14 at 8:40
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Also be careful with alcohol -- even a small amount can have a detrimental effect on some musician's performances (and others sing great when they're sloshed... go figure). These days I usually have half a beer or so before performing, but I used to just about go tone deaf after a single beer. Make sure it's something that works for you - with feedback from others. –  Greg Jackson Mar 12 at 23:45
    
+1 for the beer suggestion :-) I find one or two pints of beer (maximum) works just fine and doens't hinder dexterity or vocal ability, but just calms me down enough to get on with it. Also I like it. –  user2808054 Apr 17 at 9:28

One practical thing you can do is to see if you can improve the situation by experimenting with your diet. Specifically during the hours before you sing, but also in general. The throat and sinuses can react differently based on what you are eating, and what your blood sugar is like and so on.

For example, if you use a lot of caffeine, you might find that reduced caffeine or no caffeine improves things significantly. If you smoke tobacco, then not smoking might help significantly. You might try less sugar, especially right before you sing. All of these things are stimulants, and so is the nervousness you feel before singing, so you can end up essentially overdosing on stimulants before you sing. The nervousness simply pushes you over the top. If you arrive at the microphone a little lower, the nervousness may push you up into a good zone for singing effectively.

Another typical thing to look at is dairy. It will increase the amount of mucous in your throat and can make your throat react differently than otherwise. Many singers give up dairy at least for 4–8 hours before singing if not altogether.

From my own experience, when I embraced a diet that is rich in micronutrients — eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables, lots of salads — for some reason it really opened up my throat and sinuses, as though I had taken a giant hit of menthol, except healthier and the feeling lasts all day, everyday. It dramatically improved my singing experience. Not so much the way I sound, but the way I feel when I’m singing. Light instead of heavy, open instead of closed. I don’t get distracted by my physicality while I’m singing. And I get fewer colds. I have more “peak voice” days.

Of course, make sure to be fully hydrated. Sipping water regularly is obvious. Another thing that is really great is fruit and vegetable smoothies made with a NutriBullet or similar device. They are very hydrating because they’re like time-release water. You drink one and your body continues to gain hydration for some time afterwards. And it is a light meal to have before singing, which can also be beneficial to the way you feel at the microphone. During the hours before a recording session or show, fruit and vegetable smoothies is all I will eat because then I find my throat is hydrated and comfortable at the start of the session and I’m not constantly reaching for water, and yet also not running to the restroom all the time because I’ve been pounding the water. If you arrive at a session or show already dehydrated, it’s basically impossible to catch up during the session. You have to maintain good hydration and nutrition when you’re not singing so that it’s there when you sing.

It is actually very common for people to have what they think is a psychological problem and then they cure that problem with significantly better nutrition. Even things like severe depression or severe anxiety disorders. It is worth a try because there really isn’t any downside to trying. Even though healthy food can be more expensive and more time-consuming, it is still cheaper and easier than the typical psychiatrist, and much cheaper than the opportunity cost of not singing because of health problems.

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Others have answered really well here (Dr Mayhem's gets my vote) but given the root of the problem seems to be nerves, here's what helped me out: 1) I read someting Keith Richards wrote: "Look the crowd dead in the eye. If you get hurt, you get hurt." The sheer bravery of that reminded me that no-one is going to end up in pieces. So what if you miss a note? The moment's gone. Just let it go and carry on with the rest of it.

2) A beer or two (maximum) helps calm the nerves. Don't have lots, but alcohol has a 'loosening' effect which is why it's so popular, of course. Find your own level with this, and remember that it calms you at first but will also affect your physical dexterity if you go too far.

3) Remember that the audience are on your side. This might not always seem the case but in most shows, the audience are there because they want to be, be it a pub or a stage show. They want to hear you sing your heart out, and they want both you and them to enjoy it. If they can see/feel that you're enjoying yourself, it's contageous so let it all out! This realisation was a turning point for me.

4) Go to jam nights regularly and sing/play with musicians you've never met. It's nerve-wracking at first as you have to think on your feet, but after a while you get used to it and suddenly going back to doing your thing with your rehearsed band/show feels like a doddle :-) Also it's just a jam - if it's falling apart, you can just stop the song and say "nah let's do something else". It's a jam so people realise it's a bit random.

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@Olivia maybe this will help –  user2808054 Apr 17 at 9:44

It sounds like your nerves are causing something to tense up and close off, preventing free vibration from taking place. Even though you don't have Tourette Syndrome (I assume), you could take a page from Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT). The basic idea is to find a competing response that does not allow the undesirable movement or tensing to take place. However, it is very difficult to find a therapist trained in doing CBIT. So, perhaps a more practical approach would be to work on relaxation exercises, especially breathing for relaxation. It can be very helpful, before a performance, when your nerves are starting up, to do the special kind of breathing that help you relax. Some psychologists and social workers are good at teaching relaxation exercises; some theater teachers, too. The right kind of yoga teacher could help you with this too, I think.

I want to say something about nerves and adrenaline. Even seasoned professional performers can experience horrible distress from nerves. Also, performance nerves are unpredictable -- kind of like peyote!

The adrenaline can help your performance be extra special, though. If someone performed without any of that extra oomph, it would probably be a dud of a performance.

So how do we cope? Obviously, we want some adrenaline, but we don't want to be incapacitated by it. What I found helpful was to spend some time in the performance space ahead of time by myself, getting acquainted with the space and the acoustics; and, the evening before, to close my eyes and think through the whole piece, away from my instrument.

I've heard about a spray singers like to use, available on the internet -- not sure if that would help.

Perhaps you could bring your question to a voice teacher.

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