Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stage Fright - Changing stinking thinking

This is the 2nd in a series of blogposts I've created on Stage Fright. Here are links to the other two:
1. Stage Fright - What Is It?
3. Stage Fright - Extreme Conditions

One huge and most usual form of stage fright comes from stinking thinking. The good news is, we can change that.

Some synonyms for performance are:
  • A public presentation
  • A show
  • An accomplishment
  • A rendering of material
I'm particularly fond of the last one... because the word "render" means to "give". This is the core that will lead to successful performance. Simply render (give) the message (communicate!).

I believe with all my heart that the biggest contribution to stinking thinking in performance is the subtle and not-so-subtle messages we get (and deeply accept as true) from society and most definitely from the music business.

Some examples of rotten messages:
  • You better be better than everyone else, or you are a loser.
  • You are being compared to everyone else, and you probably won't measure up.
  • You better get everything right, and you better look right, and you better move right, and you better be perfect. The audience is judging you. If you aren't perfect, they will think you suck.
  • If you suck at performance, you will or should die because you are worthless. (American Idol/Gladiator, etc!)
  • You are a failure unless you win the part/award/contest.
  • It's all about the high notes. It's all about the long notes. It's all about the vocal licks. It's all about the strong notes. It's all about YOU!
Here is the truth in two words: SO NOT! What do any of the above things have to do with rendering (giving) a message? Not a thing. And if you believe any of those things, you will have stage fright to one degree or other. Why?

The voice runs on instinct. We must train ourselves to instinctively use correct technique, that's true, but in practical application, we perform instinctively, based on habitual thinking and on actions of the automatic nervous system. Change your thinking and you can change the automatic nervous system response. Let's ask some questions:

Q. Why do we have voices?

A. To communicate messages TO someone. Period.

Q. To whom can we direct our communication?

  • To the one heart of the audience physically present in your venue,
  • To people-not-physically present (those who will in future hear the cd)
  • To fictional people (but you must make them real for yourself to do this)
  • to the living camera eye,
  • to a character we're talking to in a play,
  • to our own hearts (but to truly communicate to ourselves effectively, we must mentally send our voices outside ourselves so that our ears hear as if from someone else).
Q. To whom should we not direct our voices?

  • To more than one person at time (writer Michael Clark once told me that if you sing like you're singing to thousands, you can't really move anyone; sing like you're singing to one person, you can move thousands.
  • To someone you can't make real for yourself.
  • To no one in particular. This is completely unfocused and is NOT communication. It's thinking about communicating, but it's not the act of doing so.
Q. What messages can we communicate?

A. Happiness, relief, humor, pain, anger, sadness, hope, warning, love, an understanding, a request to be understood, a story, specific information, whatever the lyric is really about.

Q. Where are the hardest places to authentically communicate?

A. In auditions. Why? Because it's the most artificial circumstance to be communicating. They, after all, really ARE judging you. You must consciously choose people, either present or not, real or fictional, to deliver the message to, and mentally ignore and block "judging" as motivation for your delivery. Read the comment on my last post from "Leigh Ann" for some great suggestions.

Q. If we accept the communication of messages as the primary conscious motivation to perform, how does it change things?
  • We will assume a different posture and body language, which will affect your breath and the openness of your throat.
  • Our automatic nervous system's flight-or-fight response will be calmed, once again affecting breath and throat.
  • Our self-consciousness will dissolve quickly into other-consciousness
  • "Stage fright" will turn into "stage presence".
Here's a cool, entertaining video put out by coach Janet Tabaka that shows a transformation from just changing stinking thinking to actual communication.

For those with Social Anxiety:

And here is an article by Rob Liu with helpful advice for anyone with a very special and debilitating phobia. It's called Overcoming Social Anxiety

In the matter of winning awards and contests, getting parts, even in the act of moving an audience, all you can do is all you can do... and that is always enough! If you have joy in the actual act of performance, you have succeeded in doing your job. Believing this truth will set you free.
I agree with writer and retired CEO Adrian Savage, who says in his brilliant post "What Is Performance":
Finding satisfaction and purpose in the action itself is far better than fixating on an outcome that lies mostly in the hands of chance. If doing something well increases the odds on success, that’s a pleasant bonus... Winning is rarely as important as we assume, but if winning is all that counts, as in war, remember Napoleon. When someone asked him what kind of people he looked for to be generals, he replied: “Lucky ones.”
What's your experience with stinking thinking, or with changing it? To comment on this post, click on the title which will take you to my blog on the web. Then click the comment link below this post.

Next post we'll talk about severe forms of stage fright based more physical issues such as biochemical imbalances in the brain. (Getting a doctor's input for this one!)



  • At July 6, 2008 at 2:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Good subject!! A few quick thoughts follow...

    Best prevention is preparation? In my amateur theatre work, I feel less nervous and unsteady when I know what I'm doing; when I know my lines, have thought about my character enough to try to become that character just before I'm on stage rather than "acting as if" so that all the stuff that goes along with saying the words comes more naturally and does not require so much purposeful thought.

    Also I find it important to have practiced with others with whom I share the stage so as to be able to trust what they will do and how they will be able to react to what I do. This doesn't mean that each performance has to be exactly alike (that's pretty impossible), but it means that you can trust others to help you make it work and to try not to throw in unexpected changes on a whim.

    When I feel pretty good about preparation, then I really just try to enjoy the performance, because if you aren't doing that, #1 probably no one except your loyal family is going to enjoy it and #2, what the heck are you doing it for if not to satisfy some basic joy of the experience?!*??

    Knowing the principles of Power, Path, and Performance is a life-saver for my singing stage fright but just having listened to the tapes in the past and practiced then is not going to be enough for a potential performance in less than a month. Neither will it be enough if I procrastinate till the week before, so I will now dust it off and get back to basics wishing that I had kept it up and not been idle. It will also help to know that other cast members will be using the same techniques and preparation. Of coarse, adequate rest, vitamins, being in shape, and a big bottle of water with lemon and cayenne pepper backstage also help!

  • At July 7, 2008 at 9:27 PM , Blogger LA said...

    What a great post; this is the kind of stuff people pay to hear or read. And it's amazing how much of this kind of thing translates directly to acting, as well (and probably other types of performing).

    I'm going to try to put some of it into practice tomorrow at an audition. One thing I heard once is, "The audition IS the job." You're to leave everything in that room.

    I like the definition, "an accomplishment," for an audition situation. Cool.

  • At July 8, 2008 at 9:25 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Good luck on your audition, Leigh Ann!! Let us know what you experience... Thanks!

  • At July 9, 2008 at 5:08 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    I practice being aware of my thoughts as though i am a third party observer, and gently, over and over again, changing "stinking" thoughts to beneficial thoughts and actions--practising, preparing, and even repetition of the lyrics (over and over again) help me turn away from thoughts that aren't helpful to ones that are...being kind and nuturting to myself in word and "deed" ...eating protein food, root veggies, kavakava and valerian tinctures, meditation, brain gym, soothing baths, taking a walk, receiving massage...

    the other piece is analyzing why I have the stinky thinkies...your blog adressed these well...

  • At July 9, 2008 at 8:32 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Kim, you hit on a great point. Many times our minds aren't thinking well because the bodies they are housed in have not been cared for properly! Great wisdom there... Thanks for joining the conversation!

  • At July 15, 2008 at 3:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Does everybody like red sauce on their pasta? Does everyone like creamy white sauce? Some simply like olive oil and herbs. I try to keep that in mind when I am performing. There will always be people talking among themselves. There will always be those with blank stared that are hard to read. And then there are some who are clapping their hands, moving their head, closing their eyes, and are outwardly enjoying your performance.

    When I first started performing, I remember desiring everyone there to show obvious signs of approval. I now realize that not everyone will get the same thing out of each performance. I don't always want white sauce on my pasta. Does that mean that the chef should be insulted when not every restaurant patron comes in to order his special alfredo sauce? Of course not. There are many factors that go into why someone is enjoying a performance on a particular night. A person may love your songs, but may have had an argument with a loved one that day, and is frowning. It has nothing to do with you or your abilities. I am there to share what I have to give with whomever is ready at that moment to receive it. And I focus on how wonderful it is that I reached that (sometimes only) one person that night. God bless!

  • At July 15, 2008 at 9:01 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    AiRen... Thanks for your insight!

    I think you are so right... we have to get past the mentality that says we must be all things to all people whenever we get up to give a performance or speech. If we make it ok with ourselves to move ONE person... we will indeed succeed, and will actually move more than one.

    A writer friend of mine named Michael Clark once said "if you sing like you're singing to one person, you can reach thousands, if you sing like you're singing to thousands, you can't really reach anybody." I agree.

  • At July 15, 2008 at 9:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I like what you said about not forcing young children to sing. We all do that innocently with our children, and then we wonder why they get more and more afraid to sing again, but if you surround them with music, they participate naturally.

    I have found that stage fright has everything to do with acceptance. We all want to be accepted, and fear rejection, sometimes so much as to cause physical symptoms in the body. When this happens, a person is often confused as to why their fear is as intense as it is.

    But what we fail to understand is that often the "stage fright" first occurred in early childhood. Perhaps it was a school play where you botched a line, and the audience laughed, or you harmonized in the car and your brother gave you "a look" of disgust. The stage fright may have nothing to do with music whatsoever. It may have been when a young girl told a joke that her friends didn't find funny.

    Whatever the case, finding the root is what will remove the problem. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs, as you say, may work temporarily for some, but is nothing to wink at. I feel the same way about prescription drugs. There are almost always side effects associated with chemical drugs, and the side effects often lead to the need for another drug, which may lead to another.

    It is refreshing to find alternatives to such problems as stage fright, addictions, and pain, that are natural and effective and pluck out the root, often from early childhood. One such alternative that I have taught others to do for themselves is EFT (emotional freedom techniques). To find out more about this technique, visit www.emofree.com.


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