Camille van Niekerk
When it comes to nerves and confidence, we can work from the inside out. That entails:
• Gaining performance experience
• Identifying your strengths
• Listening to encouragement from others
• Addressing any underlying fears at the root of your nerves
That’s all great, and it’s the main way singers build confidence over time. But we can also work from the outside in to get some more immediate benefits. That might look like:
• Assuming a tall, confident posture
• Singing with energy and engagement
• Not looking flustered if/when you make mistakes
• Putting confidence on display, even if you don’t feel naturally confident
Implementing both an “inside out” AND an “outside in” philosophy will help you truly become a more confident singer over time, with a healthy dose of “fake it ‘til you make it” in the meantime.
With any skill, we build confidence by starting small and increasing difficulty or scale. Here are a few ways you can apply that principle to your singing practice:
1. Choose songs with a relatively narrow range
You’ll feel more confident knowing that the pitches are easy for you to sing! For beginners, it’s best to avoid extremely high or low notes that don’t feel consistent yet. You may also want to avoid your passaggio (the point at which your voice “flips” from chest voice into head voice) until you’ve developed mixed registration and can navigate through that middle section more easily. See https://singingcarrots.com/home for some song ideas listed as “easy” for your range.
2. Focus on just one thing per performance.
It can be overwhelming when your goal for a performance is perfection on every level. Instead, establish one goal to focus on. Maybe it’s engaging your body or relaxing your jaw. Whatever it is, that can really help ground you and give you a sense of accomplishment.
3. Gradually increase the stakes.
Your first step into performance might be singing in front of a friend or taking a voice lesson. Next, you may sing with a friend or family member. Then you could sing for a small group of friends or family. Try an open mic night. Send a recording of yourself to a trusted friend or teacher for feedback. Join a local church or community choir. Go to a karaoke bar.
Of course, you could jump straight into something like an audition or singing at a wedding. But as you gain experience in low-pressure environments, you’ll also gain confidence to gradually increase the stakes.
See below for some more advice from our 30-day beginner course:
1. Remember your breath.
When we’re nervous, it’s the first thing to go! So, return to that low, relaxed breath, and use it to help calm your body.
2. Trust your technique!
When you’ve consistently practiced with good posture and then step on stage, just getting into that same posture helps your muscle memory take over.
3. Acknowledge what you’re feeling.
Denying or resisting those feelings of anxiety or fear won’t necessarily make them go away. Instead, address them. You can say to yourself, “I’m feeling nervous, because I care about this performance. I’m thankful that I care, and that I have energy to fuel my performance.”
4. Use confident postures.
This includes during performance and prior to it. Assuming a confident posture actually increases your testosterone and decreases cortisol, meaning you actually are less stressed and more confident (at least biochemically).
And don’t let your face show when you’ve made a mistake. Chances are, you know the song way better than the audience does! They might not even know you’ve made a mistake unless you act like it.
6. Focus on the text and the story.
This one always helps me. It’s a welcome distraction from your nerves to really connect with the character and the emotion. Communication through song is the ultimate goal of any performance, regardless of the setting!
See this live lesson on performance prep for some more tips on building confidence, managing nerves, and learning from your past performances: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E3iU5XCNOY.