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!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Singing Scared - The Ironic Danger of Guarded Voice

Nope. Guarded stance won't help.

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Fear can be a healthy thing. It can keep us inside when the mountain lion is in the neighborhood. Or make us change travel plans where the Zika virus is prevalent. Or stop us from eating food we become allergic to. Fear can also cause problems. It can even bring about the very thing we're afraid of. Such is the case when a singer sings scared. Here's what happens:

A Trigger Event Happens.

There is usually at least one trigger episode, or consecutive series of episodes, that induces chronic fear for the voice. This event is often when you are injured, sick or very tired and still try to perform. A trigger can also be the anxiety of stage fright.

Fight or Flight Response is Initiated.

Stress and fear cause a release of the hormones adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. They increase the heart and breathing rates, change blood flow priorities and tighten muscles to focus on and prepare to respond to the perceived threat. You'll assume a 'guarded stance', where your core contracts to protect itself. This counterproductive tightening is the very opposite of the wide open ribs necessary to stretch the unconstricted diaphragm for breath support and control. You also notice a locking of the jaw and face, and maybe a lump in the throat. This is the opposite of the relaxed tongue, jaw and throat conditions needed for clear articulation and free access to resonation zones, as well as free laryngeal movements necessary for vocal cord lengthening and shortening and accuracy of pitch.

You Experience Loss of Vocal Ability

When the guarded stance is triggered, you will absolutely lose some some degree of vocal ability. It will be noticeable by you, and often it will be noticeable by your audience. Anybody remember Adele's 2016 painful Grammy performance? Start listening about 2:15. Though she tries to hide it, you won't listen for long without recognizing her fear, pushing, loss of control, sharp pitch and tightness that actually led to her previous vocal cord hemorrhage. The trigger in this performance for the fight or flight response was something totally out of her control... a microphone issue. She should be applauded for finishing the song like a pro. Tech disasters can happen to any of us!

You Have a Crisis of Confidence

When you experience singing scared, it is very likely to compound itself, causing you to fear the same thing or worse will happen when you sing again. You really must do something to reverse this vicious cycle in order to protect your instrument from developing bad habits leading to worse vocal strain and possibly damage. The good news is, barring true organic disease, you really can get your voice operating as good or better than ever, and defeat the vocal problems caused by fear.

Two Keys That Turn Vocal Fear Into Vocal Fearlessness

  • Understand why the problem exists
Vocal confidence and healing begin in the mind. Understanding can truly change reality. It is my hope that this post has taught you some things that can help you let go of your guarded condition and believe in your voice again.
  • Re-train and refine your vocal technique 
Muscles operate in one of two ways... they contract and they relax. They get shorter and they get longer. Every action of our bodies come from a coordination of what and when certain muscles contract and relax. It's like a beautiful dance, which is directed by the automatic nervous system. When the dance is unlearned or the steps are learned wrong leading to dysfunction and inefficiency, we need to retrain by relearning the dance. That's where vocal training and vocal exercises, done with correct form, can free the voice to operate optimally again. Many times the need to correct or relearn vocal technique actually causes a voice to gain ability it never had before! 

It's a very good idea not to try to self-correct singing fearfully and guardedly without some kind of expert help. A vocal coach who helps you back off breath pressure, open your throat and free your face can be a lifeline to your vocal freedom and healing. But beware of anything that makes your throat feel worse, or your vocal cords more stressed. This should never happen. If the coaching and the new techniques are correct, you should feel the improvement immediately. Then you have to practice the new dance moves into muscle memory. 

Case studies:

I have tons of case studies of turning vocal fear into vocal confidence and fearlessness. It's one of my favorite things to do. Here are three:
  • I had a student whose chronic vocal problems we traced back to a show he sang with neck muscle strain. He had hurt his neck from a weight lifting workout he did incorrectly.  The resulting pain created a tightening of the neck muscles which inhibited the freedom in the vocal apparatus as well. His voice didn't work well that night and he didn't have a vocal coach he could consult, so he started pushing his voice a little harder to sing notes which used to be easy for him. This caused a vicious cycle of tightness, loss of breath control and vocal cord swelling. He stopped singing publicly until our vocal training put him back on stage and in studio.
  • I had a Skype lesson this week with a person whose vocal fear manifested in numbness and limitations. His problems started when he had to sing with a virus, and though he recovered from the virus, his voice never got better. Of course he became guarded and very concerned, tightening up like he never had previously. He was eventually diagnosed with partial vocal cord paralysis. He finally reached out to me to see if there was hope he could get his voice back. I'm happy to say that within the hour we worked, even his speaking voice felt better! His range opened up, his high notes began floating up effortlessly, and we even got his head voice working again! He will need to practice vocal exercises to remember what worked, but he does trust the process so the prognosis for his gain of vocal ability is excellent.
  • I understand singing scared, because I did it myself. You can read my story in a previous post, but suffice it to say I earned my living for many years as a session singer and when I lost my voice, I was very afraid. I started going to Nashville coach Gerald Arthur, who worked with most of the other major session singers in town. The first thing I remember him telling me was that I had to stop 'guarding' my voice. The only way I could do that was to choose to trust him. This was back in the early 80s, and I've sung on plenty of hit songs on plenty of stages and studios since then, including my own. I offer this hope to you as well. 
Power, Path and Performance vocal training has been proven to unlock vocal tension, strain and fatigue. I teach you to pull instead of push your voice, to open your throat and to use it fearlessly in the service of delivering a message. It is a great privilege for me to midwife the voice back to health. Check out my products and vocal lessons, and keep reading this All Things Vocal blog, which I write so that absolutely anyone can receive help if they want to do the work.

What about you? 

Have you ever sung scared? Have you learned any techniques that helped you become vocally fearless? I'd love to hear about your experience.

And please help others by sharing this post and podcast. Thanks!

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  • At July 20, 2016 at 8:35 AM , Anonymous Ronald Calabrese said...

    Hi Judy. This is a particularly pertinent posting, which eventually effects all singers.
    Many naturally talented vocalists never truly understand their instrument, and when a vocal
    problem arises, they don't know why it's happened or how to correct it. A good vocal teacher's ear is a necessity. He/ she can instantly tell when the voice is off track and get the singer back to the basics.
    As a personal example, I was once having some problems with high notes and for some irrational reason started cocking my jaw to the side, instead of dropping it straight down. I associated my better high notes with the incorrect jaw position, when common sense should have told me otherwise. My teacher had me sing exercises holding a mirror, proving to me, the improper jaw position was a detriment, not a benefit.
    As my teacher, Walter Kirschner, loved to remind me; " tenors have resonance where others have brains!"

  • At July 20, 2016 at 6:17 PM , Blogger WSM said...

    wow. this describes me to a T. It is such a shame, because when I am not scared, I can sing so beautifully. what a shame. I have such terrible stage fright when singing. I would love to learn to let go of that and be able to sing with abandon. I admire those who can.

  • At July 21, 2016 at 7:11 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Glad you enjoyed the post. I believe you can learn to sing without fright. Here are more posts you might like to read on the subject:

    And of course if you'd like to take a lesson, let me know!

  • At November 23, 2016 at 8:01 AM , Anonymous Terry Green said...

    Excellent information, which would explain why you sound so much better when you are confident than when you are afraid or timid. I can see a couple of ways this fear when singing could correlate with a fear in business. Fight or flight is real in many situations. Thanks so much!

  • At November 23, 2016 at 10:05 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    I don't do any singing, however, these tips are excellent for those of us who speak.

  • At November 23, 2016 at 10:11 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you so much Terry and Leesa for your comments... I really do love working with voices of speakers and business folks, too, and love hearing that you find this focus useful!


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