Understand and Conquer Performance Anxiety

The subject of performance anxiety often appears in my posts and videos. That’s because I had a severe case myself when I was younger, and it became paramount that I figure out how to move beyond it. I know I’m not alone. Most of us experience this kind of anxiety, at least to some degree.

But this isn’t a challenge exclusive to singers because pretty much everything we do is a performance. Job interviews. Running team meetings. Asking someone out on a date. If you struggle with public singing or speech-giving, there’s a good chance you struggle with these other types of everyday performances.

Overcoming performance anxiety is beneficial to everyone. The tools to improve your ability to get on a stage without completely losing your mind, are the same tools you can use to perform better and with less stress in other areas of your life.

I put together the following video presentation to answer three questions:

  1. How does performance anxiety manifest?
  2. Why does performance anxiety happen?
  3. How can I conquer performance anxiety?

The answers to these questions changed my performing life. I feel certain they will do the same for you. Let me know if you think I left anything out. Enjoy!

 

More great singer-related content: On YouTube and the OwJF website.

 

Sound Gear and the Newbie Performer

I spend a lot of time posting singing tips, vocal exercises, and other advice regarding being a singer, but I haven’t talked much about gear. So, let’s do that now.

This is for newbie (or wannabe) performers who have limited or no experience with stage gear.

When I was young, I completely neglected the concept of gear. My thoughts and energy (and projected fears) centered around learning lyrics and just generally hoping to not stink at singing during my performance. In my twenties, I did some cafe gigs – just my keyboard and myself singing originals. I plugged directly into an old practice guitar amp using a crappy mic some relative had gifted me that, if memory serves, had no brand name.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I started gigging with more experienced musicians that it occurred to me to reconsider my gear. And now, I regularly meet aspiring singers who also forget to consider such things.

Think about it…

I spent countless hours and other resources honing my singing and playing chops only to send my voice through crappy sounding gear. I didn’t even use reverb! Mission defeated.

Don’t do what I did.

I was reminded of my gear-neglected past last Saturday when my new duo, Uptown Boogie gigged at a Greek restaurant in Naples. We used standard stage mics and went through a Mackie mixer with onboard FX and into a couple of Peavy speakers. This isn’t a super high-end setup, but it’s a solid system, unlike the cheap mic and practice amp of my twenties. With this system, all the work I did preparing for the gig was worth it.

We did lack in one area, though. The small space we had in the corner of this restaurant made setting up a monitor nearly impossible. A monitor (for those of you who don’t know) is a speaker (or ear bud) that you use to hear the music and yourself as you perform. Because of where we had to fit it, we had to keep the volume down to avoid feedback. This made it almost useless.

As is often the case when a singer can’t hear herself, I started the gig by over-singing. This is never good, not for your voice and not for your show. But I caught on early and whenever I needed to hear myself better, I stepped forward so I could hear one of the main speakers. Not ideal. And kind of a rookie mistake not planning our monitor situation better.

Just as I did back in my twenties, I had been so caught up in making sure we were prepared musically that I didn’t put enough thought into how we’d use a monitor in that small space.

I share this with you now, not because I enjoy admitting it, but to try to be helpful. After all, we are all human. Annoying as that sometimes is…

So, if you’re a newbie (or wannabe) performer, you want to understand what a singer needs to perform her or his best. Here are the four basic necessities you want to be sure you cover as you plan:

  • Quality Microphone
  • PA (the speaker system)
  • Monitor (to hear yourself)
  • Reverb (or other vocal effects)

Before you can choose gear that’s right for you, there are a few things to ask yourself:

  • What size rooms will I be gigging in? Smaller rooms are easier to fill with sound. Big rooms with loud dance music will need a more powerful system.
  • What kind of volume do I expect to create? Again, how much power do you need in your PA?
  • How many instruments will be going into the system? If you’re starting with just you on guitar and singing, do you hope to add musicians over time? If so, look for a system that has the number of inputs (for each instrument and mic) that you’ll need. A quality PA system will be your biggest expense. You want to try to find one that will fit your needs for some time.

Examples…

Below, I give you some examples of gear that might work for you. But I’m not a gear-head (and you don’t need to be one either), so I encourage you to explore other options. Read lots of reviews and get feedback from people who know about gear before making purchases.

The mic is probably the easiest purchase.

You can get a decent stage mic for a minimal investment. The industry standard in stage mic’s is the Shure SM58. They run about $100 and are good for small or big/loud shows.

If you’re planning to stick with acoustic or quieter gigs and you want to go higher-end with your vocals, the Neumann KMS 105 is my favorite mic ever. But it comes at a relatively hefty $700 cost (and it requires something called phantom power in your PA). Just sharing in case you have a wealthy benefactor…

The PA is your biggest investment.

In a nutshell, a PA consists of a board/mixer you plug instruments and mics into, and the speakers the sound comes out of. An extremely popular system that many acoustic singers use is the Bose L1 ($1000). Performers set it up behind themselves to use it both as the main speaker and a monitor. It has two instrument inputs (1 mic, 1 guitar/keys) and doesn’t have built in reverb.

Around the same price point is the Fender Passport Venue. This system has built-in reverb, six instrument inputs (4 mic, 2 guitar/keys), and phantom power (for condenser mics like the Neumann I mentioned above). I have an older version of the Passport and my built-in reverb isn’t the greatest I’ve heard, but it is waaaaaay better than no reverb. There is a less powerful version of the Passport called Event, with 5 inputs (4 mic, 1 guitar/keys), reverb, and no phantom power. That one runs about $700. Any Passport system will require mic stands.

If you want to keep it simple and more budget-friendly, you can try a system like the Behringer Europort ($400). This has six channels and built-in reverb. It also has an mp3 player if you use backing tracks or want mood music for between sets.

You don’t have to buy a prepackaged system. Uptown Boogie uses a Mackie PROFX8V2 mixer (with built-in effects, like reverb. $200) and a couple of Peavey powered speakers. Speakers like ours can run from $300 to $600 for a pair. If you do your research, you can combine a good quality mixer and speakers for less than the cost of the Bose L1 or Fender Passport. But keep in mind, you’ll be humping a lot of gear. One of the perks of the other two systems is their ease of portability. Especially the Bose.

Monitors.

Many solo and duo acts use systems like the Fender Passport with one speaker facing the audience and the other facing inward, acting as monitor. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether that works for you.

If you want both speakers facing the audience then a personal monitor is super important. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (some instrumentalists just don’t get it!). You need to hear yourself, preferably WITH reverb. In-ear monitors are great, but expensive (can be between $400 and $1200). If you’re on a budget, save the big purchase for your PA and try a more affordable monitor option, something like the Nady PM-200A Powered Personal Stage Monitor. It’s small, effective, and you can get an adapter to attach it to a mic stand.

Reverb.

Many mixers and PA systems come with reverb built in. If not, you’ll want something like the TC-Helicon Mic Mechanic ($150). You plug your mic into it, and then plug it into your mixer/PA.

Keep in mind that setup and breakdown times are best kept short. The more separate components you have, the longer it will take. That’s why a lot of folks choose a portable PA system with reverb and simply turn one speaker toward themselves. But I encourage you to do more research to find what’s right for you, and read lots of reviews to see what other users have experienced.

The most important thing I want to impress upon you in this post is that Sound Matters almost as much as honing your craft matters. That means your mic matters, your speakers matter, reverb matters, and being able to hear yourself matters.

Good luck in your research, and let me know how it goes!

 

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

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.

A Great All-Purpose Vocal Exercise

Now and then, I like to put together a targeted workout routine for singers who are striving for a particular goal with their voices (a multitude of such workouts are available only to my patrons: www.patreon.com/onlinejudyfine). This time, I thought I’d go ahead and do an all-purpose workout routine. This one is particularly good for newer singers. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Please Stop Telling Me You Can’t Remember Lyrics…

Well, yeah. I got a little sarcastic with the intro and outro of the following video. But I’ve reached the point where I just don’t want to hear it anymore. So, I’m asking you (very nicely and with the utmost respect) to please stop telling me you can’t remember lyrics.

Because you can.

There are three primary tenets to lyrics memorization. The last of those three involve the actual memorizing of words. The first two are much more important and often overlooked. Take a few minutes and join me as I walk you through a fail-safe process for lyric memorization. You can do this!

 

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

Truth! How to be a Great Singer

There is a plethora of posts and videos out there offering tips and methods for improving your voice. While the occasional suggestion for how to breathe, or pronounce a word, etc… can help with a particular application (I make these kinds of suggestions all the time), there is only one rule to follow to become a great singer. In the video below, I tell you what that is. Enjoy!

Love Your Head Voice!

Yes. You can learn to love your head voice. If you come from a choral background, you may already love it. But a lot of singers who start from a popular music background don’t.

Why are so many of us comfortable in our chest voices and not in our head voices? That’s easy. You practice your chest voice every day, when you speak. And because developing your voice is about muscle building and motor memory, your chest voice (or at least your speaking range) is worked out daily.

What exactly is your head voice? It’s the upper part of your range (where you experience a greater vibration in your head). In my version of laymen’s terms, it’s the part of your range where you have to change the way you sing or you can’t hit the notes. For a lot of singers, this part of their range is thinner, breathier and weak. But it doesn’t have to be.

So, how can you develop your head voice? By working it out!

In the video below, I selected vocal exercises from the Singer-Athlete Workout Series to create a basic warmup/workout routine with a focus on your head voice. Here are a couple of things to remember as you try the workout:

  • Sing with an easy-going volume. Pushing for too much volume can create unnecessary tension. An easy-going volume will help you focus on maintaining relaxed shoulders, neck and jaw.
  • Don’t try to create vibrato. Prettying up the sound by forcing vibrato is another way to create unnecessary tension. If vibrato happens naturally, fine. But don’t try to make it happen. Which leads me to…
  • Don’t care about how you sound. This is a workout routine, not a performance. How you sound is irrelevant. How you create your sound is all that matters.
  • Repetition is key. Do the workout multiple times (on multiple days) to get the full benefit. Again this is about building muscles. If you want to maintain strong abs, you have to keep doing ab exercises. If you want to maintain a strong head voice, you have to keep doing head voice exercises. (When you get tired of this routine, there are tons more HERE. Just saying…).

Enjoy the routine, and feel free to reach out to me with questions! 

Why Does My Voice Crack?

We vocal coaches get this question a lot. A lot. There’s a simple answer: Tension.

Okay. Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it and…

KIDDING!

Simple answers and easy solutions aren’t the same thing. Once you recognize that tension is the culprit, you have to figure out the source of the tension and then retrain yourself to sing without it. Since I can’t hear or watch you sing to give you first-hand feedback, I’ll discuss the common causes of singing with tension. Then, in the video below, I show you a couple of ways to work out the tension that’s interrupting your song delivery.

Some common causes of vocal tension:

Mistaking Passion for Volume: When singers reach the most passionate portion of a song, they often attempt to express the intensity of emotion with volume. Passion can increase volume, but they are not the same thing. Instead of getting louder, intensify your story-telling by feeling the emotion of the words, and let the volume happen naturally – if it’s going to happen.

Frustration/Impatience: It seems that newer singers often feel good singers always sing great. Even on a first try of a new song. It’s just not true. Because of this mistaken belief, singers who don’t immediately nail a song can get frustrated, sometimes berating themselves and thinking things like, I’ll never be a singer! This negative self-talk alone will tense a body, but add the sometimes maniacal insistence to “make the song work” in one practice session and you get more and more tension, leading to a worse and worse performance. If you do this, STOP.  Take a break. Not only is singing a journey, but each song you work on is a journey, too. Don’t be a jerk to yourself and let the progress unfold.

Tilting your head back: Just about every singer at some point tilted his/her head back while singing higher notes. It’s some kind of human impulse. When you do that, the muscles at the front of your neck have to engage to keep your head from falling backward. I’ve been able to help some students immediately release tension in their singing just by having them lower their chins. Try it!

Consonants: I don’t mean to sound judgey but consonants are troublemakers. It’s easy to sing open vowel sounds all day long but then words like “ground,” and “quick,” and “watching” come along and ruin it all with those throat-closing, airflow-stopping consonants. If consonants are getting in your way and contributing to voice-cracking tension, you’re going to have to find ways to alter your pronunciation of them unnoticeably to keep a more open position in your mouth. Or you may just need to jump off of them faster and stay on the vowel sounds longer before getting to the consonants at the ends of words. Experiment with it.

A Weak Practice Routine: Yup. I said it. If your voice frequently cracks or shows other signs of tension (gets fatigued easily, for example), there’s a good chance that you have either no vocal workout routine, not a strong enough workout routine, or not a consistent enough workout routine. You may be sick of hearing me say it, but singing is a sport. You have to work out your voice if you want your best athletic performance. End of story. I just so happen to know a great online singers community that gives you access to a vast library of vocal warmups/workouts (www.patreon.com/onlinejudyfine). There. Enough said.

 

Music Theory for Total Newbies

A lot of singing students come to me with the goal of learning to read music. For some, it’s to better read choir charts. Others want to set their lyrics to music. Still others want to accompany themselves at the keyboard. Whatever the reason, if you’re a total newbie to music theory, this video and accompanying pdf (Getting Your Feet Wet with Music Theory), can help you get started.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

If you found this helpful, you may want to try additional Free Theory Downloads from my site.

Once you feel competent with notes and rhythms, you’ll be ready for the Chord Book. The Chord Book is free to OwJF community members or can be purchased from my site HERE.

Thanks and enjoy!

 

How Singers Should Practice: The Anatomy of a Practice Session

I’ve talked a little in the past about how singers should practice, but until now, I haven’t really laid it out in an easy-to-follow way. So, that’s what I’m going to do here.

If you find this information 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 that I don’t share publicly.

You can read about The Anatomy of a Practice Session below or watch the video: 

Those of you who have gotten to know me, even just a little, know that I think serious singers should look at singing as a sport, and at themselves as athletes. Both require your body to be in top form for practices and performances (or games, matches, etc…).

How singers tend to practice vs. how singers should practice.

Most new students have a similar (what they call) practice routine, and it just about never includes warming up or executing vocal exercises. If a football player practiced the way most new singers practice, he’d be working solely on field plays (practicing songs) and playing games (performing songs). But a football player does a lot of off-field work, like jogging and lifting weights. This is how he stays strong and in shape to improve his performance on the field. A singer’s version of jogging and weightlifting is vocal exercises. Too many singers don’t do vocal exercises.

And of course, a football player will warm up and stretch to prep for each workout. The most common way new students tell me they prep to practice a new song is by singing a different (usually lower range) song. My response to this common approach to practicing is always the same.

Would you warm up for a 100-meter dash by running a 50-meter dash?

Please tell me the answer is no. If you’re not warmed up for the primary song then you’re not warmed up for the “warm-up” song. And how is singing in a lower range going to prep your upper range?

(Not only that, but did you get enough sleep last night? Did you drink plenty of water so far today? These are also important questions for an athlete to ask him/herself – but I’ll cover those in a different post.)

When you think of yourself as an athlete, these kinds of questions make sense. And warming up by singing a song makes as little sense as preparing for an important soccer match by doing nothing other than playing a soccer scrimmage. If you’ve been warming up this way, no worries. You’re not alone. But it’s time to make your future practice sessions as productive as possible. You can do that by thinking of yourself as an athlete and using the following advice to develop your new singer-athlete workout routine.

How Singers Should Practice: The Anatomy of a Practice Session

1. Begin by warming up your body. What this means and what your body needs will vary from day to day. If you’ve had a stressful day so far, you may need to massage and gently stretch out your neck or back. Shaking out your shoulders and arms can feel good. So can shoulder rolls or neck tilts. It’s best to learn a variety of options and then use what your body tells you it needs each day. I have some simple stretch sequence videos on my YouTube channel. There is also a plethora of short yoga routines you can find on YouTube. I love doing yoga before I practice. It’s my me time. But you have to find what works for you. Part of what you’re doing here is shedding whatever went on previously in the day to focus your body and mind on the practice session you’re about to begin. This is also a good time to do your Palm Presses.

2. Warm up your voice. It’s best not to stretch cold muscles, so the first part of warming up your voice should focus on easy-going, high-vibration exercises, like humming, lip trills, vocal slides, etc… Then you want to move into a repetitive vocal warm-up that covers your entire range. I strongly recommend using one that keeps your jaw still as your tongue does the work. This will both stretch and strengthen the muscles of your tongue and throat. Here is a three-exercise warm-up you can try: Basic Warmup for Singers.

3. Work out your voice. Next in your practice routine, there should be at least one vocal exercise that tackles a goal you’re currently working on vocally. It could be a general goal, like expanding your range, or a specific goal, like an exercise that focuses on your head voice or on nailing pitches. There are quite a few on my YouTube channel. Here’s a general range-strengthening exercise you can begin your new routine with: Open Vowel Vocal Exercise.

4. Do your song-work. This part may seem easy, but most students practice songs in an inefficient and ineffective way. If you play a song and sing along to it, you ARE singing, but you ARE NOT practicing. Song-work practice should have a specific goal (memorizing lyrics, smoothing out the transition into the chorus, singing the first verse with more feeling, etc…). To achieve whatever the goal is, you’ll need to stop and go back and try again. Stop, go back, try again. Change up your timing, your pronunciation, whether you use your head voice or not, etc… Experiment to find the best delivery of whatever your focus was for that session. THAT is practicing.

As you’ve seen in the links to YouTube videos I’ve included in this post, I’ve tried to put a fair amount of free stuff out there to help you get started with stepping up your workout routine. But there’s another way to whip yourself into Singer-Athlete shape.

The Singer-Athlete Workout Series

I’ve developed a series that puts an ever-growing collection of workout routines at your disposal. Each workout set includes warmups and vocal exercises. The first six modules include learning segments (how to sing with your diaphragm, how to practice, etc…). Additional modules vary from overall improvement workouts to those targeted toward specific goals (head voice improvement, vocal agility, etc…).

The way to have access to these workout routines (and much more), is to join my online community by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Even if you choose not to try out the series, I encourage you to take my recommendations here to heart. If you haven’t been practicing this way, you’ll see an improvement within the first week. Happy singing!