Singing with Anxiety | How to Combat Vocal Performance Anxiety

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Singing anxiety can feel debilitating for anyone, especially a performer about to get on stage. Music performance anxiety can leave you with a dry mouth, knotted stomach, and sabotage your breathing technique. But stage fright doesn’t have to ruin the magic of singing and performing. 

Singing with anxiety can be hard. But it doesn’t have to be impossible; lots of musicians have overcome their stage fright to make a career in the industry. Music performance anxiety can be overcome by learning visualisation, focus, and mindset techniques.  

Vocal performance anxiety can be anything from pre-show nerves, stage fright, to feeling like you can’t get on stage at all. But regardless of how severe your symptoms are, there are ways to help reduce them. This article helps you understand where your nerves come from and how to combat them.   

Singing anxiety & how to combat performance anxiety

What is music performance anxiety? 

It’s likely that every musician has experienced vocal performance anxiety at some point in their career. It can affect singers in different ways; everyone has different triggers, varying degrees of anxiety, and different symptoms.  

Music performance anxiety commonly goes hand in hand Social Anxiety Disorder. It’s a condition that makes singers highly critical of themselves and their performance before, during, and after a show. These extreme levels of self-doubt can be overwhelming and so negative that they start to affect a singer’s performance. 

Musical performance anxiety can have both physical and psychological elements. It can hinder your breathing control, make your palms sweat, make your throat feel tight and your mouth dry, and give you butterflies in your stomach. Psychologically, it can make you worry uncontrollably and question your ability and stop you from enjoying the moment while you perform.  

What is music performance anxiety? 

Musical performance anxiety is the fear that something will go wrong when you sing. Its when singers self-doubt, over-critique themselves, and worry excessively about their performance – to the point where it impacts their performance 

One of the biggest symptoms of music performance anxiety is problematic thinking. Negative thought patterns can be so inhibiting they affect the singer physically and make them anxious to get on stage. Typical thought distortions include: 

  • Black and white thinking 
  • Over-generalisation 
  • Jumping to conclusions 
  • Ignoring the positive 

Singing anxiety in musicians

The symptoms of performance anxiety can be split into four main categories: 

  1. Physical symptoms: dry mouth, sweating, muscle tension, nausea, dizziness, increased heart rate. 
  2. Phycological symptoms: fear of failure, feeling inadequate, basing self-worth on the performance, fear of disapproval, irrational exaggeration. 
  3. Cognitive elements: negative thinking, worrying, being unable to concentrate. 
  4. Behavioural changes: avoidance, loss of interest, withdrawing into yourself. 

Musical performance anxiety affects every singer differently, and the symptoms can occur altogether, or independently.  

Anxiety can feel so inhibiting, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your singing career. If you’re worried you experience these symptoms and may have music performance anxiety, there are lots of ways you can help yourself overcome the self-doubt. 

Music performance anxiety tips 

Anxiety can leave singers questioning their ability. It’s important to remember, having music performance anxiety isn’t a reflection on a musician’s actual ability – it’s their own negative perception of themselves and stems from insecurity. 

Try these techniques to reduce vocal performance anxiety: 

  • Sing in front of family and friends to improve your confidence 
  • Record and listen to yourself singing and highlight all the good things about your voice 
  • Practice and prepare as much as you can 
  • Tell yourself 3 good things about your voice and singing career every day 
  • Cut short any thoughts of self-doubt 
  • Visualize your success 
  • Don’t focus on what could go wrong 

Can singing help anxiety? 

Singing is proven to be a great mood-lifter. Music is highly therapeutic and singing can actually help combat mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, according to studies.  

Whether it’s karaoke, on stage, or even just in the shower, singing can have so many positive effects that reduce anxiety: 

  • It changes your posture – anxiety can make your shoulders hunch and cause you to subconsciously curl into yourself. Singing forces you to open up and release that tension.  
  • It lifts your mood – singing gets you to open your mouth into a smile. Even fake smiles can help trick your body into feeling happier! 
  • It gets you breathing – singing requires you to take controlled and steady breaths. This helps relieve anxiety because breathing can keep you centred and relaxed.  
  • You can express emotions – channelling your feelings into a song can help lift your mood and is a great way to express your thoughts and emotions 
  • It counts as exercise – singing requires stamina and muscular strength and training. This means it counts as aerobic exercise; another thing that’s great in reducing anxiety and depression.  

Why do I get anxiety when I sing? 

Anxiety is triggered by stressors (events and situations that we react to). Everyone experiences stressors in day to day life, but people react differently to them. If a person suffers from anxiety, they are likely to be hyper-alert and perceive situations as a threat. This causes their bodies to go into flight or fight mode and triggers the feeling of anxiety. 

Singing on stage or performing in front of an audience is a stressor. It evokes a reaction from your body. For some singers, the reaction is exhilaration and excitement. But for singers with music performance anxiety, the situation can trigger nervous and anxious receptors in the brain. 

Singers with the disorder feel anxious before, and during, singing because they critique their ability and performance. They imagine all the worst possible scenarios playing out when they get on stage – not reaching the high notes, not sounding good, not impressing the audience. This intense self-doubt feeds into more worries, and into physical symptoms that then hamper the performance.

Cure for stage fright 

It’s not unusual to feel nervous about getting on stage. In fact, glossophobia – the fear of public speaking – is considered the world’s number one fear and 3 out of 4 people suffer from it. 

It’s not surprising if you feel anxious about singing in front of a crowd. But it’s important your nerves help fuel your performance, not hinder it. To overcome stage fright, try these simple but effective tips: 

  • Do calming breathing exercises before you go on stage 
  • Focus on the song, not your inner critical voice 
  • Imagine the spotlight on the audience, not you 
  • Smile and greet your audience 
  • Avoid caffeine before a performance 
  • Know your lyrics off by heart 
  • Find a friendly face in the crowd 
  • Perform in front of crowds as much as you can 
  • Start by singing with other people

How to not be nervous when singing a solo

Calm nerves on stage

One way to cure stage fright is to perform with other people. But if you have to sing a solo and can’t rely on safety in numbers, there are still other ways to beat the nerves. It’s a case of mind over matter. To beat nerves, use the Focus, Control, Outlook technique. 

  1. Focus – ground yourself in the here and now. Focus on what you can physically feel, touch, and smell beyond the nerves. Concentrate on your own experience and don’t try to imagine what other people are thinking. Focus on why you’re here and why you love singing. 
  2. Control – some people feel nervous before a show because they can’t predict the outcome. The uncertainty allows worries and insecurities to creep in. Take control to regain your confidence. Concentrate on all the things you can control – your breathing, your posture, your stage presence – and you’ll feel more secure and empowered. 
  3. Outlook  if you believe in yourself, others will too. Try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones; picture the performance going really well and every time a worry enters your head, counteract it with a positive one. 

As difficult as it is, you have to try and change your mindset to overcome pre-performance jitters. You’re your own worst critic so instead of letting your mind race to the negatives before you get on stage, concentrate on these three elements instead. Focusing on these three areas will help settle your mind.   

Famous musicians with performance anxiety

famous singers who still get nervous before taking the stage

When you’re suffering from anxiety, it’s reassuring to know you’re not alone. Music performance anxiety can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to come between you and a singing career. Some of the biggest names in the music industry suffer from severe stage fright:  

  1. Adele – the global superstar has won 18 Grammy’s and 9 BRIT awards, but she still feels petrified before getting on stage. The singer said she suffers from anxiety attacks while she’s on tour and admitted shes even vomited on someone due to nerves before. 
  2. Lorde – New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde also suffers from music performance anxiety. In an interview with Radio 1, the singer confessed: “I think everything I do is terrible, I’m so self-deprecating. I love it, but it takes me a second to get there.” 
  3. Ozzy Osbourne – Black Sabbath’s lead vocalist may have an iconic stage presence, but the star is open about the crippling nerves he feels before performing. In his autobiography, I Am Ozzy, he confesses: “To say that I suffer from pre-show nerves is like saying that when you get hit by an atom bomb it hurts a bit.” 
  4. Rihanna  The star may be a successful singer, actress, businesswoman, and fashion designer, but Rihanna battles against stage fright too. It’s said that she overcomes her nerves with a pre-show ritual: drinking a shot and taking throat relaxers before she goes on stage. 

How to relax when singing 

Feeling relaxed and comfortable on stage will help quash your nerves. To help let go of any fears or worries, focus on familiar faces or a fixed point in the audience. This will help you feel calm.  

Try to block out everything but your voice and the words you’re singing and imagine it’s just you and the music – this should help you relax.  

You’ll also feel more relaxed if your voice is properly warmed up and if you stretch out your muscles beforehand. Anxiety can cause muscles to tighten and tense, which can put added pressure on your voice. Try turning your head side to side to loosen tight muscles in your neck and bending at the waist while stood up to relax your chest muscles – this will also help extend your vocal range. 

Try reading this article for tips on how to relax your vocal cords. Feeling relaxed on stage starts with taking care of your voice box. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do I get over the fear of singing in front of people? 

  • If you’re afraid to sing in front of an audience, try gradually building yourself up to it. Start by singing in front of pets and then perform to your friends and family and ask them for feedback.  

You could try recording yourself sing and play this back to your family and friends. Receiving positive comments or constructive criticism might help build your confidence enough to sing in person to an audience.  

The best way to overcome the fear of singing to a crowd is to tackle the scenario headon. Do as many gigs and shows as possible and try to remember the crowd will always be rooting for you. 

  • How do I stop my voice from shaking? 

It can be embarrassing when nerves make your voice shake. To stop your voice from shaking, always breathe from your diaphragm so you have more control over your voice.  

Try a vocal warmup before you perform to prepare your voice and reduce your nerves. Sing your favourite part of a song, one that you know really well and can sing with confidence. Focus on how capable and confident you feel. While you practice, envisage singing this song on stage and it going really well 

Envisaging success can help reduce nerves and keep your voice steady. 

Do you have any tried and tested methods for singing with anxiety? Share your experience in the comments below!