Welcome to episode 18 of The Naked Vocalist. We started to todays show with the wonderful Connor Snow. We first met Connor at the VocalizeU Winter Retreat in California, and it was pretty obvious he was a talented little so and so. This original song, Lingerie, was our fave. Check it out:
Chip Jenkins on CONFIDENCE
Chip has an extensive history in music, performing and teaching and currently teaches singing in Brighton. Her life began as a busker at the age of 18, which quickly led to her touring the world with her own acts and jazz bands. She’s been a lecturer of voice at some excellent arts institutions including the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) and Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM).
What is confidence to you?
Let’s start with this question. Certainly for both us TNV guys, confidence seems to be rooting in knowledge and ability. Without those things we were seriously lacking in confidence in our respective careers. NLP (or Neuro-Linguistic Programming) recognises that onstage confidence isn’t logical, but does have emotional roots. Chip is a big fan of NLP and how it can be used in the treatment of confidence in singers.
Being a vocal coach is one thing. Training in the best techniques in the world and having stellar vocal science and anatomy knowledge is something else. But, if a singer is lacking in confidence then there are a million different emotions spinning round in their head on stage. That is a whole other ball game. The ability to think clearly and act is clouded by negative thoughts. This will inevitably end up with an increased chance of mistakes, and mistakes will knock the confidence even further. A vicious circle right?
On a hormonal level, when fear hits a singer on stage the body goes into a bit of a cortisol whirlwind. Cortisol is the bodies stress hormone. Also, adrenalin kicks in as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This will all make you feel fairly edgy and anxious until you’re able to control these feeling and remain calm. Easier said than done.
On to the questions…
Question 1… Jenaya – “How do you improve self-doubt at even being able to sing? How can you improve your ability to accept your mistake and move on? Why do I have a mental block as I approach a line in a song and routinely get it wrong?”
Neural pathways (bundles of neurons that link one part of the nervous system with another) form when ever we do anything new, and strengthen the more we do something. In terms of fear, whenever we first feel fear about a certain something it creates a neural pathway in the brain. Over time, this pathway can become strengthened and ingrained as fear is felt. In the case of singers, this is how irrational stage fright can begin.
As part of the process in someones thoughts, the norm is to begin to fixate on the negative outcome. Essentially imagining the worst outcome. But, it’s important to start imagining what you DO want to happen with mental practice.
For Chip, it’s important to have a feeling or buzzword to help reprogram the brain into calming down too. Her ‘thing’ is to imagine warm caramel (the podcast will elaborate on why that is!) as she approaches a high note, but the word is different for everyone. Chip believes that this technique taps into your subconscious/hypothalamus, which is what controls ‘fight or flight’.
The ‘fight or flight’ response of the body has a direct effect on the larynx. The larynx is signalled to constrict to avoid any particles going to down the wrong whilst fleeing from a sabre tooth tiger, or whatever was above us in the food chain back in the day. This is bad news for singing! Other symptoms of ‘fight or flight’ are scanning eyes, jelly legs, fidgeting and the inability to control energy levels. This makes it very difficult to speak to someone pre gig. It may be great for Jenaya to also look at ways of slowing breathing and using techniques to calm the effects of ‘fight or flight’.
Question 2 … Anonymous vocal tutor – “I’ve no problem singing in front of hundreds of people when teaching, however I never perform anymore as I can’t imagine anyone would want to be entertained or listened to by me. I would think the audience would be making judgemental comments about me being a little flat etc. I’m able to help students get over this but I can’t do it for myself. Any tips?”
This was Chips favourite question. It points towards the vocal tutor is really focussed on how she can help her students. There’s a term that’s bandied around called ‘paralysis analysis’, which Chip calls “perfectionitis”. This is where some people can get too focussed on finding the little problems in the singing and tweaking every little thing until it’s perfect. That sways the way of thinking that a singing teachers job is to shine a light on the problems in their students performances, and hence their own singing.
Chips advice for our anonymous vocal tutor would be to initially write out what the job description would be for a really awesome stage performer. This is to clarify what a performer is meant to do in our world. They are here to bring people together, provide joy and dancing, and evoke emotions. Technique and pitching isn’t necessarily at the top of the list for this job description, so obsessing over it won’t get you the best result in any case.
Question 3… James Berkeley – “How about what to do when a crowd is not engaged in a performance, or the crowd is responding negatively to the performance. For example, if you have a rock band but you somehow get booked for a reggae night (yes this actually happened to me once).
Chips concept to help with this is the law of thirds. A good performer will concentrate on all of these thrids. The first third is yourself; your notes, singing, movement, mic technique etc. Beginning performers will only have the capacity to be able to think of themselves. For the more experienced, they can start thinking about the band, or the team with them. This could be expressed as onstage patter with your band, an ‘in’ joke or anything else that requires interaction with the band. The last third is the audience, or what theatre performers call ‘piercing the fourth wall’. This is essentially acknowledging the audience, which only certain characters should do in a play, like the narrator. High level performers are able to engage and include the audience in everything they do to create the feeling that everyone is on the same level, which is a powerful performance tool.
Great performers like Beyonce are able to balance all three elements to create phenomenal feeling in their shows. Here’s an example:
Beyonce is doing a brilliant job and orchestrating the show, addressing the audience and giving the audience a job to do. She clearly tells them what she wants them to do, and gives them room to do a scream at the same time. She nails it.
For James, it would be great to try and turn a gig around with some audience inclusion. If you are playing a gig where the audience are expecting something else, then try this nemonic:
That means ‘What’s In It For Me’. If it’s hard to get people on board, then you have to try your hardest to give them an experience that makes them feel they got something out of your performance. If you can’t deliver their favourite music then that’s not something you can control, but you can get them in the spirit of the party by including them. If you manage that, they will usually deliver the line of “it’s not my cup of tea, but I’ll take my hat off to you guys’. At TNV we have seen this many times.
It’s also a good idea to keep it positive too. Many performers apologise, get offended or put a negative slant on their audience addressing techniques. This wont win people over. Keep your energy up and state aloud that you are going to do your best to entertain them, and then go with it! You can’t please everyone.
If you want to get hold of Chip…
Keep listening people! We’d love hear from you so please contact us if you have any questions or topics about singing you want us to explore. And as always, if you like us, share us. We’ll love you forever.
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