Fear and Singing: What are we all afraid of?


November 10, 2013


Friends, I have a hunch that I want to share with you, yet I’m aware of one danger in sharing. It is a broad and sweeping generalization. Generally, those sort of things should be avoided on the Internet. But, If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to turn this into a bit of series that begins with a sweeping idea and narrows in on the specifics as they may impact you.

So, you ready for it?

Many of our least successful singing moments can be traced to one overarching issue: WE ARE AFRAID.

Oooooo. Let that sit for a minute.

What do you think? Sweeping, right?

Recently I taught a master class for seven super talented students. Every one of them sang well. Very well in fact, but as performing goes, I could see and hear that each was experiencing some level of nervousness or fear. As I observed this playing out in their songs, it occurred to me that it might be valuable for each to share with the group how that fear was physically manifesting itself. I recall hearing things like “my knees are shaking” and “my hands are tingling.” I also recall the audience giggling because they could both imagine and relate to that which each singer was sharing.

We can all relate, right? Think about the last time you were scared. What did your body do that seemed out of your control? Weird stuff. Dry throat, heart racing, tight shoulders, knees shaking, short breath, nausea, the list could go on and on.

Now, let’s imagine that you don’t know a single thing about “good singing technique.” Let’s also imagine that I was the type of person to make sweeping generalizations on the Internet and I was going to tell you two things we need for vocal success. Here’s what I might say:

1. We need to be able to breath well
2. We need to be able to use that breath to make sound by engaging and committing our whole body

Now, assuming this is still all you know about “good singing technique” you may think “Umm, that sounds easy.” And you know what, you’re right. It is. Except, we get scared! Not just scared when we perform, sometimes we are afraid when we’re by ourselves, or with our voice teacher, or? And remember what happens to our body when we’re afraid? (knees? sweat? shaking!) 

Lalala uh oh!

Do you see where I’m headed with this?

If you’re like me, you’d be tempted to problem solve by digging in right away to the “Why are we afraid?” piece. I’d like for us to resist that urge and begin without trying to figure our fear out, but rather, naming our fear. The reason for this is a simple quote that keeps resonating with me from a book called “The Inner Game of Music.

“Trying fails, awareness cures.”

Ever get scared, and try to not be scared, only to get more scared? Yea, me too. That’s why, I’d love for us to begin by looking through the awareness lens with the help of some fellow students.

A few months ago, I posed this question to our Facebook community and received and overwhelming response. The question? “With regards to singing, what are you afraid of?” Here are some of the answers:

Stephanie: “I fear that my voice will crack and that I wont be able to recover from it.”

Brett: “I’m always afraid that the tone of my voice is bad, and that I can’t trust my ears.”

Michael: “When I’m in costume, makeup and in front of the lights, I have no fear. I trust the director has cast me for a reason, and I’m always on stage having fun. With that said, singing at an open mic, master class and sometimes auditions scares the crap out me. I fear being judged in those more intimate venues and need to get out of my head that singing in these venues is not coming across as self indulgent. Its funny you pose this question, because I no longer fear the tone quality of my voice, the intonation or even vocal range.”

Peter: “I’m generally afraid I look funny. Every time I try and really go for it, I catch a glimpse of myself in my head and can’t help but kind of laugh.”

Melissa: “My fear stems from an insane inferiority complex and this constant idea that I’m not as good as everyone else trying to do this (not tonally or range wise, but just the quality of my voice), and I’m afraid that people will think “wait what? Why is this mediocre girl singing right now?” Also anything related to chest voice and the perception that I’m just shouting.”

Iva: “I have the same problem as Michael, I have the stupid idea that everyone will judge me… plus I judge myself and think I am not good enough. Also, I am afraid that I am going to run out of the breath.”

Cody: “I’m actually not afraid of being off pitch before I start a song. The thing that puts me in my head is my perception of the color of my voice. I imagine (and still do) that it has weak, reedy quality to it that must grate when I go into my upper registers. That fear then leads me to pull back on notes, which then gets me off pitch, which starts me worrying about being on pitch, which shuts down my whole shebang. So ya, fear is a huge part of it.”

Sheba: “Cracking!! Before I hit the stage my voice goes dry because of nerves.”

Tiffany: “I’m terrified of singing in front of others, period! I’m always thinking I’m going to mess up either by being off beat, off key, forgetting the words etc. The worst part is that I can see myself mentally doing a great job… but when I am in front of others that confidence flies out the window and in my mind every body is laughing or criticizing me. Despite all of this I am DETERMINED to do a solo at some point in life. It’s one of my bucket list items.”

Do any of these resonate with you? They do with me. Also, do you notice that many of these are not about performance, but rather about just singing? Like, opening their mouth and making a sound? Hmmm.

So, Let’s sit in this awareness space for a while ok. In fact, let’s specifically not fix anything, but rather, let’s keep a journal with two columns:

In singing, I’m afraid of…                         
Running out of breath 
Looking silly 

When I feel afraid, my…     
Throat gets dry
Palms get sweaty
Knees shake

Feel free to leave your own fears and symptoms in the comments below. (Group singing therapy?) Once we’ve spent time naming our fears, we’ll use future posts to dig in a bit more to the “Why?”

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