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I am a singer, and I do believe that I have a nice voice, but my nerves tend to kill me. I've always had a nervous problem when singing in front of audiences, even a small part. I always swallow during phrases of songs and it really bugs me :P There's this feeling in my throat of needing to swallow on stage and when I do, I feel so embarrassed and so un- professional. I feel awful afterwards because I let my nerves get to me. I truly love theater, but this nervous and swallowing problem has kept me from getting parts in musicals and I rarely make it through a song without getting too nervous and having to swallow. Directors often think I can't handle a big part because I get to nervous and panicked. I truly love theater and I want to do it for living, but my nerves hold me back. Any suggestions?

13

What you describe sounds like the symptoms of performance anxiety - also known as "stage fright". I used to suffer from it myself when I was first learning to sing and play guitar at the same time. I could sit in my living room by myself and play and sing songs perfectly. But the moment there was even one person listening, I totally fell apart. Could not remember the chords or the words. It was crazy.

Performance anxiety is quite common but you can overcome it. Here is what I recommend that you try.

First, before you even attempt to perform a piece for an audience, be sure you are well prepared. Rehearse until you can sing the part flawlessly by yourself. Make a mental note of how it feels to get to a point where you can execute a flawless performance time after time.

Next record your performance with a video recorder (smart phone or camcorder or digital camera capable of video and audio recording). If you don't have a video recorder, just record the audio. Tell yourself that you want to produce an audio/video example of you performing the piece correctly, that you can watch to help reinforce your ability to visualize yourself performing the piece flawlessly. This will add a little pressure.

You will notice that your perfect flawless performance is suddenly not so perfect any more once you hit the record button. In the studio, musicians call this "red light fever" and it's another form of performance anxiety. Try to concentrate on delivering the performance and visualize yourself doing it the same as when you were just doing it by yourself. Try not to think about messing up. Try to mentally forget that you are being recorded and pretend you aren't. As much as anything, this is an exercise in shifting your mental focus.

Once you have a recording of yourself executing the piece as flawlessly the way you did it by yourself, watch it a few times. Let the visual sink into your subconscious.

Now that you have successfully learned to overcome the fear of the camera, you are ready to try performing the piece for a live audience. The live audience can consist of only one person. In fact, the first "live" performance should probably be for one person who you feel comfortable with. As you perform for the live audience, use the same shift of mental focus you learned during the recording phase - pretending you are alone.

Another trick to help with a shift of mental focus with an audience is to concentrate on delivering the performance for the sake of sharing the song with the audience and focus on presenting the song or the lines in the best light possible for the sake of the art.

Just tell yourself that it's not about you, it's about the music or the song or the lines you are delivering. If you make it about you, all sorts of thoughts will be running through your head. "What if I mess up? What will people think about my performance? Will I get distracted? Will I lose my place? Will I sound my best?

If you can learn to shift the focus to presentation of the part/song, for the sake of the song, you will lose consciousness of your fears. It's the same concept that allows a parent to do things for their child, that they would never even think about doing if the focus was on themselves. Like the mother who does not hesitate to jump in the pool to save her child who just went under, even though she can't swim and would never otherwise be persuaded to jump in the pool. She loses sight of herself in that situation and shifts her mental focus to saving her child and there is no fear or hesitation.

After you feel comfortable performing the prepared and rehearsed piece for a small audience of one or two friends or family members, try performing for a larger group of friends or acquaintances. What I found is that the more I performed for an audience, the less anxiety and fear I felt when performing in front of an audience. It takes doing it over and over - but each time gets a little easier.

You can also tell yourself, that it's okay if you make a mistake while you are practicing the process of performing for an audience (as opposed to practicing the piece which you have by now mastered). Tell yourself that your are only practicing performing for an audience to get used to the idea that even if you make a mistake, it's okay. If you can develop a relaxed attitude by knowing that making mistakes can be a part of the learning process, then suddenly you won't be so worried about messing up. Tell yourself that messing up is just a part of the drill. The part where you learn that nobody will judge or condemn you for messing up. Also - if you don't tell them when you mess up, they probably won't even notice it.

You can even make it a game where you mess up but don't let anyone know and pretend like that's the way it's supposed to go, and see if the audience can guess where you messed up. You may learn that they will not even know that you messed up. Or you may learn that with a relaxed mindset about making a mistake and having the mistake be a part of the game, you may not be able to make a mistake even if you try.

It's really all about shifting your mental focus and mindset away from the fear of being judged or making a mistake or swallowing.

With enough practice performing in front of an audience, your performance anxiety will eventually be a thing of the past.

More important than anything, remember that it is not a life or death situation, and just try to have fun! You will be fine.

  • Nice answer. I have a similar problem like ajnsjk described. But it has nothing to do with anxiety or being too excited when performing. I also have to swallow the whole time when singing, because there is just too much saliva in my mouth when singing. I just have to swallow to get rid of it. Is there a trick or something to avoid this? I have this everytime I sing, not only on stage. I useally don't hijack anothers post to ask my own questions, but I think in this case it's related to the original question. Thanks in advance. – Matthias Nicklisch Dec 18 '15 at 8:13
  • @MatthiasNicklisch I am sorry but I really don't have a solution for you. I'm not saying there is not a solution, it's just that I have never experienced anything like that nor do I know anyone who has. It sounds almost as if your salivary glands produce too much saliva. Have you talked to a doctor to see if there may be some type of medication or herb or diet that might help? I have the opposite problem. My mouth tends to get dry and I have to sip water. Not sure which is worse. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 18 '15 at 9:25
  • What a great solution and answer! Pity it didn't solve the OP's problem. Could well solve other's though. +1. – Tim Dec 19 '15 at 13:07
  • @Tim Thanks Tim. ajnsjk (OP) has not weighed in yet. Hopefully it's not just a post and forget like we occasionally see on this site. And/or hopefully it did solve the OP issue but they just didn't comment or accept the answer. No worries though. Future readers will be able to benefit from the information. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 19 '15 at 20:44
  • @MatthiasNicklisch Something astringent in the mouth before singing might help the overproduction of saliva. Find a really tannic cabernet sauvignon wine, take a sip, and hold it in the mouth for a while (and spit if you don't want the alcohol to impair you). Or suck on a teabag for a while. (Because I don't overproduce saliva, I can't test this myself, but it might help.) – Steve Feb 10 '18 at 22:59
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The issue with swallowing sounds like it's entirely nerves-related. It may go away as you becomes more confident in your abilities. But it may not. And honestly, that's okay.

Stage fright is normal. I have it. Most performers do. A couple of decades of performance have not cured me: I still get sweaty hands and a racing heart, and my voice tends to warble. And that's okay. You must have tremendous courage to get up there, and to keep going up there, whether or not you sing as well as you'd like.

I can't tell you the right way to deal with stage fright - to get over the whole swallowing thing - because everybody is different and there are many ways to deal with anxiety. In my case, it was actually failing. Once I'd bombed onstage - once I'd failed in front of everyone and the world didn't end, and my friends encouraged me afterward, and nobody else seemed to remember or care - once failure proved incapable of killing me, I was okay.

You've focused on swallowing. Swallowing and your failure to control your swallowing has become a monster to you. Get used to singing with the swallowing. Get used to working around it. Don't beat yourself up for doing it. Maybe that seems like a weak answer, or like a cheat. It isn't. It's how we cope as humans. Forgive yourself every time you swallow, and keep singing.

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Your swallowing reflex could be due to constriction in the throat. Talk to a voice professional about this, like a voice instructor or SLP. They should be able to diagnose and help you.

Here are some exercises that might help: http://www.voicecouncil.com/singers-get-free-of-your-swallow-reflex/

2

I have had the same problem for 15 years and it has stopped me from reaching my full potential which really bugs me. I’ve seen a speech therapist, psychologist and singing teachers but still have it. I give up sometimes but always come back to singing because I love it. The person who helped me once the most was a hypnotherapist (my hypnobirthing doula!). Sounds airy fairy I know but I chatted to her about it once and had the best feeling performing at a wedding out of any other time. I may seek her out again even though she doesn’t specialise in singing. Her focus is on meditating on positive outcomes and visualising about times in her life when you felt free, secure, protected, loved and had success. It helps to some extent. You can practise on an app like Smule too. 😊

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I have that same problem and a way that helped me is to distract yourself from it, don't think about the swallowing. My vocal teacher told me that the swallowing problem is all in my head and that I have to trick my brain. Just don't worry about the swallowing and didn't worry about getting it perfect because no matter what it won't be perfect. I hope this helps!:)

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Well I am a choir leader in my church and the way I do it is to ask God to do it for me, take a very deep breath before facing the audience, look above the head of the audience or close my eyes at some point, and at times focus on some set of people and I just do the song and God takes the glory.

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    Could you edit your answer to clarify what you mean by "Ask God to do it for me?" I know you don't mean to literally sing for you, but I have no idea what you are trying to say. – Karen Jul 26 '16 at 18:54

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