“I can sing on my own, but singing in front of another human being? Are you mental?”
Does this sound familiar?
Unless you are truly happy living with the thought that you’ll be the only person lucky enough to experience your unique god given gift of singing, then you have no reason to keep reading this. (It’s cool if you are by the way).
If you’d rather have the ability to sing in front of others whilst limiting, what I call, the ‘panic factors’ then you may want to keep reading. There is no doubt that a lack of ‘confidence’ can be detrimental, both psychologically and physically, to singers and reducing these ‘panic factors’ may help us become more creative and help us produce the performance of a lifetime. But how do we get more of the damn stuff?
How does this pesky ‘confidence’ screw me over?
In the style of the legendary television programme Family Fortunes, if 100 people were asked ‘what is one of the first things people say when they walk into a singing lesson’, my answer would be “I need to work on my confidence”. Teachers out there would argue that ‘breathing’ and ‘hitting the high notes’ should be up there, but I’ll take a punt on ‘confidence’ and even if it isn’t the top answer, at least I have a shot at the star prize. The star prize is normally a car, which would come in handy now. The Alfa is on it’s last legs.
Confidence can be described as trust, or assurance, in somebody, an environment, a circumstance or ourselves. Skipping away from the dictionary definition for a moment, we know what we mean in reality: I want to be able to sing without being scared, without my face turning red, without my jaw locking up, without my hands dripping with sweat and most importantly, actually retain control of my body so that I can do what I did whilst singing in the shower at home.
Why do we freak out on stage?
I’m sure we’d agree that, for the most part, the main reason for freaking out on stage is that we think we are being judged. We’re being judged on something very personal and important to us which makes the situation ten times worse. But, the operative word in that sentence (and the reason why it has been given the bold treatment) is: think. The amazing thing about our thoughts is that we can actually change them. Now, right here within this article I could very easily slap in a motivational picture which includes words such as “Life is too short to worry about what others think of you blah blah blah” but, despite knowing we have a choice with mindset, it’s not always that easy to change.
To remove the feeling (or care) of being judged is easier said than done: unfortunately we don’t have an on off switch. In addition to that, we can’t change what people think of us, so what does that mean for us self conscious singers who are continually clawing at every ounce of positive feedback we can find?
There must be something we can do. For this we need to look at that little bit of doubt that is sitting on our shoulder as we walk out on stage.
So what do we have control of that can help us here?
For years, I have worked with the mantra of: if we know we can do it – we’re less likely to be fearful and therefore more confident about what’s about to happen. The understanding of knowing that when you open your mouth, you know what is going to come out. This might sound simple, but it’s consistency of the finished sound that gives the confident bunch, the edge. Moreover, in addition to consistency, we need to be happy with the sound that comes out of our mouths. This understanding will heighten our beliefs of our own capabilities and will also give us assurance that we are more likely to impress our judges: in turn, reducing the fear. I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is to have a system which guides us through each process, step by step to help us become more skilled. As a result: we adopt a new found ‘confidence’.
They flipping stole my idea!
My most disappointing realisation of recent years is that somebody got there before me. This, superior wisdom that I have cultivated, helping me and my students fulfil life goals and singing aspirations has actually been studied, in depth, for years. A clever chap called Albert Bandura even stuck a name on it. Although his work was predominantly based around overcoming phobias, we can use these principles to overcome the fear we experience when stepping out on stage.
He talks of ‘self-efficacy’ the definition of this is quite wordy, so I’d read the sentence a few times to ensure it goes in. It took me a while! ‘
People’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives’.
I love this sentence.
Williams and Zane (1997) went on to research a principle called ‘guided mastery’ as a result of Bandura’s work, which we can use to overcome the fear in singing. Although the fear may not be as obvious as overcoming the fear of a snake, for example, it is a reality and we must employ a process to help us chip away at it. Improving our skill will not only help us become a better singer, but it will also help us sing in front of other people. Just like magic. Wink face.
Here is a strategy you can employ if you want to become less fearful the next time you walk out on stage…
Put one foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Pretty straight forward this one. If it means booking a singing lesson, book it. If it means ‘accidentally’ singing in front of a family member at home, accidentally do it.
Become accountable for your development.
This is so important. If you’re accountable for your own development, when things go wrong, you’re less likely to freak out and more likely to know how to fix the problem. This isn’t any one else’s nemesis: it’s yours. Take control!
Create a high assurance in your capabilities.
Sounds like gibberish, but it’s the MOST IMPORTANT point.
People that are more confident have a strong belief that they are going to accomplish the task ahead. Basically: know you’re going to nail it! How do we do it? Guided mastery. Is it a structured vocal workout regime? Is it singing more songs with direction? Is it performing with people who challenge you to become better? Choose one, work at it and watch the sweat on your hands magically dry up, right in front of your eyes. Try it!!
In a recent TED talk lecture on confidence, David Kelley used a phrase that I will use to end this article…
“turn fear into familiarity”
Have you overcome confidence issues in the past? I would love to hear just how you did it! Please do let me know in the comments below…
Bandura, A. (1986). Social Cognitive Theory. Stanford University. Link
Williams, S.L. & Zane, G. (1997). Guided mastery treatment of phobias. The Clinical Psychologist, 50, 13-15. Link
Kelley, D. (2012) Link
Co-Founder of Singfinity, writer for iSing Magazine and co-founder of The Naked Vocalist Singers’ podcast. He has lectured workshops at conservatoires and vocal development programs in the UK and USA.
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