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 AbilityWhen 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 ConfidenceWhen 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
- Re-train and refine your vocal technique
- 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.
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.
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