The Hidden Signs of Performance Anxiety: Singer’s Self-Improvement Series, June 2019

Everyone experiences performance anxiety to some degree. We know it as it’s happening. You’re about to go on stage and your palms are sweaty, your heart is racing, maybe your throat is clenching up and you feel nauseous. These are examples of symptoms that are obvious and recognizable.

But are there signs of performance anxiety that you’re missing? Keep reading to find out, because if you’re misreading the cause of a problem, you are likely not properly addressing the fix.

Before we get to the signs of performance anxiety that you could be missing, let’s talk more about what we mean when we say performance.

A singing performance is an obvious example. Speech-giving is another event that commonly activates performance anxiety. But these are only two of many forms of performance. How many? I can’t even tell you, because just about everything is a kind of performance. Some examples:

  • Going on a job interview
  • Asking someone on a date
  • Expressing your opinion among a group of different-minded people
  • Raising your hand to answer a tough question in class
  • Leading a team project at work

If you struggle with performance anxiety as it relates to singing, there’s a good chance that the same anxiety creeps into other aspects of your life. This is why I broach this topic with my students over and over again. It’s an important life skill, not just a singer’s problem.

Different people land at different spots along the anxiety spectrum but if you struggle to any extent, the information here will be helpful to you.

The effects of performance anxiety can be broken into two categories:

  • Real-time effects. The physical, emotional, and mental reactions experienced at the moment, or just before the moment a performance begins.
  • Preemptive effects. The physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions to an impending (or even considered) performance.

Since most folks recognize the real-time effects of anxiety, I’m going to focus here on preemptive responses.

A definition of Preemptive: “Serving or intended to preempt or forestall something, especially to prevent attack by disabling the enemy.”

This is what part of your subconscious is attempting to do. It views your planned performance as a kind of attack on your wellbeing and wants to “disable the enemy” (you) to prevent the perceived threat (the performance).

Your subconscious knows your weaknesses.

If you’re someone who frequently gets migraines, you may find yourself coming down with one a day or two before a performance. If you’re prone to depression or extreme overwhelm, then you’ll probably experience those things instead. My Achilles’ heal is congestion. Before I understood the workings of performance anxiety, I frequently came down with cold symptoms before a performance. Here’s a chat video I made discussing this:


Moodiness is another preemptive symptom of performance anxiety. Impatience and arguing can increase. People may become frustrated, negative, and downright mean to others and/or to themselves.

I did another chat video about moodiness and performance anxiety. If you’re the parent of person with performance anxiety, this video might help you better support them through their anxiety.


There’s one more video I’d like to share. This one is a presentation about performance anxiety that covers the phenomenon from start to finish.

I’ve shared this before, but if you haven’t seen it yet and you struggle with performance anxiety, please watch it. In it, I describe the greatest tool you possess for lowering performance stress and improving assertiveness. It’s the knowledge that will empower you to continue following your passion successfully.

(Please disregard the reference in the video to my Patreon page. My membership service is now run directly from my website, if you’re interested.)


One more important thing to remember if you want to move beyond your performance anxiety.

You have to perform. It’s the only way to practice performing.

You have to perform.

You need to practice the advice I give in the presentation above regarding how to hold your body. You have to practice not completely losing your mind as you perform. And you have to rack up “wins” so that the part of your subconscious that is trying to protect you learns that protection isn’t necessary.

Last month, I challenged my readers to schedule a performance. For some of you, this may have been no big deal. Maybe you already run the karaoke circuit in your town. For those of you who felt you were not up for the challenge, I encourage you to consider it again.

But you can start in small, manageable steps. Start at home.

Over recent years, several of my adult students began coming to lessons with their tablets in hand, ready to plug into my sound system and use the very karaoke tracks they’d been practicing with. This is how I learned about the Karafun App.

With this app, you can lower or eliminate the lead singers voice. You can lower or eliminate the background singers’ voices. And you can change keys to better fit your range. It’s a great tool to use at home as a stepping stone to getting yourself on a more public stage.

This is a link to a page on my website with where you can read more about the Karafun App and other karaoke-related things.

Full discloser: If you use any of the links on that page to make use of what I’m sharing there, I will receive a small commission.

That form of support is appreciated, but it isn’t what’s most important to me. My main motivation is to help you move past the obstacles between you and a life that challenges, excites, and fulfills you. And, if I’m being honest, I want to encourage you in ways that I wish someone encouraged me when I was younger.

I also love the Karafun app. It’s super handy, and the library of songs is huge. Check it out for yourself.

If you think I’ve left something out regarding performance anxiety, please let me know in the comments. Or if you have your own performance anxiety story to share, I’d love to hear it.

Good luck and happy singing!

Four Common Newbie Singer Mistakes

There are all kinds of misconceptions surrounding the art of singing. In this video, I discuss four common ones that I encounter pretty regularly as a vocal coach. I also offer a new and better perspective regarding each one.

Let me know what you think!


More great singer-related content: On YouTube, on Patreon, the OwJF website.

Whose Passion Is It? Talent vs. Passion.

(If you find the following post helpful, consider joining my online community through Patreon. Your support makes it possible for me to continue creating great singer-related content and gives you access to a myriad of posts and courses that I don’t share publicly.)

Does your child exhibit a talent that you had as a kid? Or a talent you wished you had as a kid?

And now, because you love your child, you want to expand that talent. With passion and commitment, you cart him or her around to lessons and explore performance opportunities and buy practice materials so they can pursue this dream like you once did. Or like you were never able to do.

That passion and commitment is a beautiful thing, because some young creatives go unsupported, which is always a shame. But I encourage you to take a break from all of that to ask yourself this important question:

Whose passion is it?

Talent and passion aren’t the same thing. A person can have lots of talents they are not passionate about.

And since kids are kids, they have a hard time separating what’s theirs from what’s yours. Simply asking if they want to do a particular activity doesn’t necessarily get you to the real answer. They love you. They want you to admire them. They want to be like you.

If you ask your daughter if she wants to take singing lessons, and she knows that you want her to want that, she could very well conflate her desire with what she knows will please you.

I see it all the time.

As a teacher, and an outsider in these families, it feels wrong and out of place to tell a parent that I think they don’t know what their child wants. If I detect no genuine desire in a student, I try to encourage him or her to be honest with mom and dad about dreams and goals.

But here’s what happens almost every time. The student tells me that she or he DOES want singing lessons. Because (as I said) kids are kids, and they have a hard time separating what’s theirs from what’s their parents. It’s up to us adults to help them find their true paths.

So then, what can you do to be sure you’re not pushing your own desires onto your child? You can check in (often) with the three P’s.

Practice. Passion. Progress.

Practice: Does your kid practice? This isn’t a definitive clue by itself, because some kids just haven’t developed their “homework muscles” yet. But if the answer is a solid no, check in with the next two P’s.

Passion: Does your child exhibit a self-propelled desire to learn the topic? Even if there is limited practice, are there moments of excitement over new accomplishments? Does your daughter look forward to lessons? If you forgot to schedule a lesson, would your son remind you?

Progress: Even students who are bad about practicing will progress in their skills if they are genuinely inspired. Those who are not tend to forget information from one week to the next, because it didn’t hold their interest.

If you’re not seeing the three P’s, it’s time to look for a new instrument or outlet for your child. Kids have all kinds of talents waiting to be explored. The key is finding a talent they also have passion for. Even if the choice disappoints you. Success in any endeavor requires more than talent. It takes self-propelled passion, which leads to practice and progress.

One final thought: If you’re heartbroken to discover that singing/performing isn’t your child’s genuine passion, maybe YOU are the one who should be taking lessons…


Things to Consider When Choosing a Musical Instrument

Judy hands keysHow do you choose a musical instrument to learn? Some potential music students are drawn to a particular instrument. All a parent need do to provide music lessons is seek out a teacher of that instrument. But what if neither you or your child know what which instrument to choose?

Below, I’ve included a link to a PBS Parents article to help you with this. Before I get to that, though, here are some things to consider…

  • The size of your child. Did I really need to mention this? Asking a six-year-old to play tuba is just mean, but you already knew that. Some stringed instruments come in kid sizes so they can make a good option.
  • Physical ability – Motor skills. Again, this is pretty obvious. You have to gauge how much your child is physically capable of (finger dexterity, lung capacity, etc…) and discuss this with any potential teachers. Some lessons in specific genres also have specific physical needs. For example, classical voice lessons require a more developed body while non-classical modern singing lessons  work well for young students.
  • Attention span. If your child has trouble sitting still and focusing on a task, well, any lesson may prove to be a challenge. But he or she can still benefit from the joy of music education. You want to consider an instrument which is dynamic while also offering an opportunity to partake in music that is especially interesting to them. That often includes drums, keyboards, guitar or singing lessons, since young people are more commonly drawn to popular music. Drums can be particularly great for active children because you get to hit things with sticks.
  • What’s the purpose? Many private lessons focus in large part on the specific mechanical needs of an instrument. If you’re hoping that your child grows to master the craft of a particular instrument then this type of lesson is perfect. If you’re hoping to expose your child to a general musical experience, you may want to consider instruments that can teach a child to think in chords, keys, and meter. The top instrument for this would be guitar. Keyboards is another great option, although you want to be sure the teacher understands that you’re looking for a music theory-based approach, as opposed to simply learning to play written scores.

Still don’t know which musical instrument to choose? Maybe the link below will help…

Good luck and enjoy your lessons!

Cultivating Creativity and Confidence with Music

(If you find the following post helpful, consider joining my online community through Patreon. Your support makes it possible for me to continue creating great singer-related content and gives you access to a myriad of posts and courses that I don’t share publicly.)

20110805-DSC_8583Creativity and Confidence go hand in hand.

As a music coach and ensemble director, I have worked with children as young as six and adults as old as eighty. Working with both children and adults has had a reciprocal benefit. What I mean by that is, there are things that I have learned from observing adult students that help me better teach my young students, and vice versa. For now, I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned from working with adults. After all, adults are the “After” picture in a Before-After comparison.

What adults have taught me about teaching children.

Adult students frequently have tales of woe from their younger days. It could be overhearing a parent joking about their tone deafness. Or being asked by a teacher to only pretend to play during a band concert. Yes. That really happened.

There is a particularly important lesson to be learned by all parents and teachers regarding children and creativity. It’s a tough one to hear, but I’m going to be blunt.

It’s not about you.

The details of a student’s creative output is not a test of your worthiness as a teacher or as a gene donor. It can be tough not to squirm in your seat as your child or student proceeds through a performance only nailing 70% of the pitches. Do it anyway. Don’t even blink until it’s over, and then tell them all the things that were great about the performance.

And then work more on nailing pitches in the next lessons.

What is it about? Cultivating creativity.

Every kid deserves the time and space to experiment with creative expression. No one needs us adults injecting fear and doubt into the experience. That’s our own stuff. Young people come into the world as fearless creators. We adults can build upon that to help them grow into fearless adults. Or not.

So, how can we cultivate creativity in young people?

Based on what I’ve learned in large part from adult students over the years, I’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts. It’s geared toward music teachers but applies to anyone surrounded by young people.

1. Do recognize that any progress is progress:

Let’s say your student is learning a new scale on the piano. He needs to get the fingering correct, the volume of the notes consistent, and the tempo steady. If in his next lesson he only has mastered a consistent volume, cheer him on. Any progress is progress, and you’ll see more of it if you don’t focus immediately and solely and what was not accomplished.

2. Do end every lesson or practice session with a “win”:

Did your student just master a new skill and there are still seven minutes left in the lesson? Don’t start a new challenge. Instead let him or her practice executing the new skill and leave the lesson with the experience of a win. The student will feel successful, charged and inspired to continue.

3. Do encourage imperfection:

There is a learning progression that goes like this – can’t do it – can do it but not very well – can do it well. Executing a new skill “not well” is a sign of progress and should be treated as such.

4. Don’t be critical of others:

I don’t just mean about musical pursuits. If you are critical of other people for any reason in front of a young person, the subconscious assumption will be that you are also critical of him or her.

5. Don’t be critical of yourself:

Just the way a mother can model, and therefore teach, bad body image to her daughter, adults can teach young people that imperfection and mistakes are terrible and something to hide. But imperfection and mistakes are a requirement for progress of any kind. Don’t treat your imperfections like they are shameful and the young people around you will follow suit.

6. Don’t limit special performance opportunities only to your more skilled students:

Confidence and a can-do attitude will grow with each accomplishment of a new challenge and all students need and deserve that opportunity, not just the ones with special gifts. As a teacher, I had to learn to put my pride and concern about my teaching image aside and allow students with average skills the chance to challenge themselves on stage. It didn’t always lead to the most technically amazing performances but it ALWAYS paid off in the form of added confidence and inspiration for the student (and a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart).

7. Do remember that amazing gifts don’t always reveal themselves at a young age:

Don’t ever discourage a creative pursuit because you think a student doesn’t have enough talent. Young people are just that – young. You don’t know what they are capable of until they pour some experience, passion and effort into any pursuit.

8. Don’t buy into the misconception that only people with special skills deserve to pursue the arts.

Creativity, musical or otherwise, is for anyone and everyone who is called to it. It improves health, well-being and mental functioning. Creativity is not a club. It’s an experience. Teachers and parents should be gateways to creativity, not gatekeepers.


The Trouble with Traditional Music Education

wp judy teachI fully support Music Education.

But I have always been an outside-the-box sort of person, and I am the same as a music educator.

Standard music education, in my opinion, has many great attributes but also falls short of what creative education should entail. This is the primary reason that, although I hold a Master of Music, I never entered the university or public education worlds.

A lot of music education is “paint-by-numbers.”

What do I mean by this? All students must learn the fundamentals of whatever subject they are studying. That’s a given.  A piano student must learn such things as reading music, finding notes on the piano, hand positioning, fingering for scales, etc… A more advanced student learns how to interpret dynamic markings, perhaps with the help of knowledge of the musical era in which the piece was written. Making choices regarding what you believe a composer intended when he/she wrote a dynamic marking is an example of artistic choice.

But is it self-expression?

A writing student will read and analyze a classic story to break it down and then apply what she learns to her own writings. A painting student will copy the work of a master painter to learn the techniques used and then have the option of using those techniques in his own future works.  When does a music student take the lessons learned from a composition and apply them to his or her own musical work? Just about never.

Where is the musical self-expression?

I once had a discussion with a woman who ran an extremely successful dance program made available to a cross-section of school-aged kids – not just dance students.  She mentioned during this conversation that it frequently seemed to be the music students who were afraid to step out, to try their own moves during rehearsals. Music students are taught to follow rules. Take the rules away and they don’t know what to do. They become afraid of being “wrong.”

Case in point:

I can’t even remember the number of times I heard this statement (or something similar) from a potential adult student: “When I was a kid I took 3 years of piano lessons. Now I want to know how to play without music.”

In my version of a perfect world, this is a crime.

Only a few of us are “Teachers to the Stars.”

Most of our music students are not going to become career musicians. You have a brief period of time to have a lasting impact on their lives before they choose a completely unrelated career path. So, ask yourself this…

What do I want my lasting impact to be?

If your primary goal is to teach all the rules you can before the student stops taking lessons, well, then you’ve probably already stopped reading this. But more importantly, how does that benefit a person who is learning music for personal enjoyment? Is mastering all the rules what’s most important?

My primary goal is to leave each student with a creative means for self-expression.

Then they have a tool for life, a tool for celebration, enjoyment, coping. I want my students to not need me or a staff with notes on it to enhance their lives with music. They still have the option of playing previously written music, but they won’t be a slave to the page. Isn’t that the point of creative outlets?

I know I won’t change the long running (and sometimes snobby) tradition of music education with a single blog post. I merely write this today because I’d like to plant a seed, to expand your perspective, and perhaps spark some discussion about music education.

One more thought…

If you are a music educator or the parent of a music student, I’d like to leave you this one experiment to try. The next time your student or child tells you how they are feeling, ask them to show you how they feel with their instrument. Just see what happens…

Questions for Those Considering a Creative Career (and the Parents Who Don’t Want Them To)

Many times, when a young person expresses a desire to pursue a creative career, parents immediately try to steer them away. This article is, in part, for you parents who are experiencing anything from mild, quiet concern to downright refusal to pay for art school. This is also for the young person considering the career, so you can critically think out your dreams with or without your parents support.

Why is this an important topic?

I have witnessed variations on this situation from many angles over the years. I was once the kid who chose to study music and quickly understood the burden of paying student loans on not a lot of income. I’ve witnessed other young people who were bullied (essentially) out of studying music by their parents (out of love, of course) and who spent subsequent years flailing and directionless. And then there is the adult I once coached who was a doctor but who felt perpetually unfulfilled because she didn’t pursue her musical dreams when she was young.

Is it possible to be fulfilled and financially sound at the same time?

It always breaks my heart when I meet a young person whose parents are trying to divert them from a creative career. I also understand it. We want our children to thrive in the world, to be self-sufficient and happy.

There is no one right answer for every person.

But to get to the right answer for YOU, you have to ask the right questions. Here are a few (and there is a free downloadable version of the questions here):

For the parent.

You’re going to begin with the basic question, “What do I want for my son/daughter?” You’re going to come up with at least five answers and for every answer you give, you’re going to ask three follow up questions:

  1. Is my desired outcome guaranteed if he/she chooses a more “practical” major?
  2. Is this same outcome possible with an artistic career?
  3. How can I help this outcome be achieved no matter what field of study he or she chooses?

I’ll explain more.

Let’s say your first answer to the first question is, “I want my son to be financially secure.” Your follow-up questions would be:

  1. Is financial security guaranteed if he studies business (law, psychology) instead of art?
  2. Is financial security possible with an artistic career?
  3. How can I help my son achieve financial security no matter what major he chooses?

Let’s say your second answer to the first question is, “I want my daughter to be fulfilled.” These would be your follow-up questions:

  1. Is fulfillment guaranteed if she studies business (law, psychology) instead of art?
  2. Is fulfillment possible with an artistic career?
  3. How can I help my daughter achieve fulfillment no matter what major she chooses?

You get the gist of it.

I think you’ll find that all of the things you want for your children can be achieved no matter what they decide to do with their lives–as long as you are there supporting them and teaching them how to be successful.

Meaning, if you’re worried that your son will be a starving artist for the rest of his life, refusing to pay for college is the worst thing you can do. The best thing you can do is teach him to go for money as much as fulfillment, to expect financial security and then do what is necessary to have it. You could even hook him up with some kind of business coach, or other mentor. Success is incomplete without happiness, so we should all be striving for both.

But the reality is, some young folks don’t really want to do all that is necessary to be successful in their chosen art discipline. Which brings us to the next set of questions.

For the artist/musician/actor, etc…

  1. What exactly do you imagine yourself doing to earn a living? What are the challenges you may face? Are you up for those challenges?
  2. Are there related jobs that could help you support yourself while you pursue your art (teaching, for example)? Do they require specific schooling that you should include in your studies?
  3. What is it about music/art/acting that you love the most? What percentage of the time do you think you’d be doing those things? How do you feel about having to do the parts that you don’t like as much?
  4. What work are you willing to do to support yourself until you can reach your ultimate goal?
  5. What if it took you 10 years of working a side job and not making a lot of money before you could earn a living at your goal? Would you still want to do it?

Answering these questions will require time and research.

Your happiness is worth it, so don’t skimp on either. Many will walk away deciding to be avid hobbyists rather than career artists. Others will decide that any potential struggle is worth following dreams. No matter what, though, the decision will be made with eyes wide open.

If, after all this, you still need more help drop me a line. I know a really great music coach!