Episode 49 – How to Handle Nerves when You Sing
Updated: Sep 13
This is a very important topic and something I’m asked all the time.
In this episode I offer 4 practical things you can do to assist in having more freedom with this and some specific performance tips to help shift your focus.
If you get nervous before or while you sing, this episode id for you!
Listen and enjoy!
The Inner Singer Podcast
Episode 49 – Transcripts
How to Handle Nerves when You Sing
Well, hey there everybody. This is Mike Goodrich. And thank you so much for listening to the Inner Singer Podcast, episode number 49. I can hardly believe that it’s almost been a year. So, next week we hit 50. Oh, my gosh! I remember 50, that’s awesome. I never thought I’d be able to say that. But actually, it’s good that I can say that.
Anyway, hope you guys are doing great. Thank you so much for tuning in. I’ve got about 20 minutes. I’m so glad that I don’t script these. And I’m so glad you guys don’t mind that I don’t script these because if I had to script them and write this stuff out, I would never do this, literally.
I would never make a video. I would never make a podcast because I can’t stand doing that. It’s much more fun to do it on the fly. That’s all I have time for anyway.
So anyway, we’ve got about 20 minutes to go here. I was inspired to do this podcast by questions actually I have had over the years—the same question, basically, that somebody in our class recently said. “I’m getting up here and I’m singing. My knees are shaking, and I’m really nervous. Heart’s beating fast, my palms are sweating,” everything that happens when we get scared or nervous and go to survival—which is what we do.
So, my question is, “Do you ever get nervous when you sing?” And there are various degrees of nervousness. There are a lot of great singers who—Luciano Pavarotti, one—who says he always used to get nervous before he sang. Once he was out there singing and what have you, he relaxes, calms down because you get so present with what you are doing and the joy of what you’re doing that the nerves leave.
But before, maybe at the very beginning, people can get really nervous. And there have been very famous people who really have short-lived careers because their nerves got so much to them. That’s terrible English, right? Their nerves got to them so badly or so much. That’s slightly better.
Anyway, I have a few, I guess what the world would call, practical things that you can do, some suggestions, things that you can do to help that a little bit to help be with that, so that it doesn’t stop you—and then, some other ideas as well on top of that.
The first practical idea I would suggest—and I do this myself. I’m going to mention some things you might have heard of. That’s great if you may have heard of them, and you do them. That’s awesome! But I’ll probably mention something in there that maybe you haven’t heard of. Let’s hope, huh?
So, anyway, the first thing that I will mention is a very practical way to address this situation. And if you’re going someplace to sing or record, some place where the stakes are a little higher and you feel nervous and you have all those symptoms or some of those symptoms that I mentioned my student has, then one thing that you can do is something called EFT.
I’m sure many of you have heard of that by now. Back when I first started doing it, it hadn’t gain—I don’t think—such popularity. But now, with online summits like the Tapping Solutions, and things like that, a lot of people have heard of EFT which stands for Emotional Freedom Technique.
It’s impossible for me to show you how to do this on a podcast. Well, if I had a video podcast, it would be possible. But with the audio podcast, it would be ridiculous. It’s EFT and it really works quite well. I really enjoy doing it. I do it not all of the time, but I do it a lot when necessary. I really do like it.
I know a lot of people have had tremendous results with it, so I recommend if you don’t know what it is, and even if you—well, if you do know what it is, you might already know how to do it—but if you don’t know what it is and you don’t know how to do it and you’re interested in looking into it, I would go to Youtube and I would just “beginning EFT” or “EFT” or “how do you do EFT” or whatever, EFT. As long as you’ve got “EFT” in there, Emotional Freedom Technique, a ton of videos is going to come up.
You might even go to theTappingSummit.com. I think that’s probably a website because they have an online summit with people who do tapping every year. There are many, many ways to find out about it. That’s what I would recommend.
That’s really a nice thing to be able to do before you sing if you get nervous. You can sneak in to the bathroom if you’re on a gig, or if you’re on recording session, or if you’re singing in a wedding, or doing karaoke or whatever. You just do that, and see if it helps.
The second practical thing is, believe it or not, we’ve covered this in another—well, I don’t know if we’ve covered this in a podcast, actually. I sent an email out and a link to my subscribers with a video, with this girl. Her name is Amy. I can’t remember her last name. But she does something—you can also find her on Youtube—and it’s called ‘Power Poses’. That’s what she does and she teaches.
They’re scientifically-proven to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and raise testosterone—scientifically-proven, they’ve done tests before and after. So, this is science. This is real stuff.
You can find her on Youtube as well. If you put in ‘Amy power poses’, I’m sure her TedTalk will come up. If you haven’t seen it, really fascinating, she looks like she’s just a terrific girl. And this looks oversimplified. They look like, “Oh, how is that ever going to work?” but it’s science and it will work.
You couple that with some EFT and that could really do some neat things.
The other thing I learned recently from a brain expert named Mark Waldman—and he does a lot of work with John Assaraf who’s a guy I had studied with years ago. I was in a coaching group with him for about a year and had some private time with him. He’s a great guy and a real expert on the brain. He gets a lot of brain people together and does a lot of things. Now, I think his new business is called ‘Neurogym’. He does some really, really good things.
I learned this technique from Mark Waldman, who, they do a lot of brain scans, brain imaging and all these things. And it’s a simple thing that we all do—and it’s yawning.
He says, “If you yawn five or six time in a row and stretch slowly as you’re yawning, it really changes your brain state, and it brings you down.”
If you consciously yawn, if you are consciously yawning rather than just yawning and everything else is going on as you are watching television or whatever, if you consciously are being present with the yawn, it does amazing things.
If you have to fake the yawn the first two or three times, that’s fine as well.
That’s something I do and I love. That’s something that really is very relaxing. It really brings you down to the present moment. It relaxes you. Everything slows down.
Another thing that I do everyday that I really like is called TRE. I have a lot of these, right? What do you call those things—I can’t even think of it right now—when they’re initials. Acronym, is that it? I’ve got a lot of these acronyms. TRE, and that stands for Tension Release Exercises. It also stands for Tension/Trauma Release Exercises. These are terrific. These are a series of exercises.
You really should learn these from somebody that’s certified to do them. They’re a series of exercises that guide the body into a state wherein you’re lying down where it begins to tremor and shake as if you were shivering from being cold or like when your knees are shaking when you are nervous. That’s adrenaline leaving the body. It’s tension leaving the body.
Oftentimes, if we are nervous and we start to shake or our little kid start to shake, “Oh, just relax,” we try and stop ourselves from shaking or maybe our kids from shaking, we should, if we can, we should always let ourselves shake when we’re in that sort of a state, or let our kids shake, because what they’re doing is they’re shaking off the trauma or the tension. They’re not storing it in the body. They’re releasing it from the body. So, that’s a really good thing. And these exercises are great.
And after you do them for a while—I don’t do any of the exercises anymore. I just lie down, take the position, and my body knows to do that. I start my day with that, and oftentimes, meditating. I just love that. It really lowers everything. It brings you right back to present.
And the nice thing about that, if you learn it from somebody that’s certified to do it just so they can guide you the proper way—if you are interested at all—because the tensions and the traumas, the things that it releases from the body don’t usually have any stories involved, no stories come in. Things will leave your body that you’ve been storing in your body, and no story comes attached to it. They just go away.
I particularly like things like that. I don’t want a bunch of—I’ve got enough stories. I don’t particularly want to relive old stories, or old traumas, and any of that stuff. Some of us are really valid, I understand. But if I cannot do that, cool. I’m much happier.
So, if something can just leave my body and leave my unconscious awareness and dissipate into nothingness without me even knowing it, wow! Okay, I’m on board. Sign me up!
Anyway, those are a few things that you can do consciously that can help you to take action, that can help you with the nerves that you might experience when you’re singing or before you’re singing.
Now, the other thing that I would offer you is if you get nervous—if we get nervous when we are singing, what are we usually focusing on? If you’re anything like me, I’m pretty much focusing on the nerves or the fact that “Wow! I’m really nervous right now.” We can really get in to telling ourselves the story of how nervous we are, and then being really nervous. It becomes like a treadmill. We’re telling the story, we’re feeling nervous, we’re telling the story, we’re feeling nervous.
Now, we’ve talked about this, I think, in the second podcast, and I talk about it all the time. If we can begin to just be present with the nervousness and practice what is called ‘mindfulness’—which I know you all know. That’s just being aware of the nervousness, and being aware of the part of you that’s nervous, watching it like an observer observing the nervousness, observing the part of you that’s nervous and being present and loving and compassionate with that part of you that’s really scared, that feels very threatened.
That’s why we get nervous. We’re going into a new place. The amygdala, that part of the brain that is the fear center, gets triggered, and boom, we’re off for the races. We are now in survival because the brain thinks that there is a clear and present danger even if all we’re going to do is stand up and sing a song in karaoke that we’ve sung a thousand times. It doesn’t matter. The amydala perceives that as life-threatening and we get scared and we get nervous.
So, if we can be compassionate and loving with ourselves and realize that that’s what’s going on, a part of us feels like we’re in a really threatening position, and be mindful of that and aware of that, then it creates a little space between you and the nervousness (or me and the nervousness).
Now, the other thing that I want to offer you with that is if we are getting nervous when we’re singing, what are we focusing on—like I’ve said, usually, the nerves. But what if I can offer you something else to focus on? I’ve already given you some ideas of things that we can do if we’re nervous, some things that are physical that relieve that or let some of the steam out of the pressure cooker, but what if there’s something else we can focus on?
What I want to segue into now just for a brief second here—or maybe even for the remainder of the podcast, who knows?—is the idea of performing. You’re going to sing in the karaoke, you’re going to sing at a wedding, you’re going to sing in a studio, you’re going to sing a recording, you’re going to sing, you’re in a show, whatever is bringing up these nerves for singing where the stakes are high.
Most people would call that ‘performance’. Now, in a performance class that I teach—and I may have talked about this before, but it bears repeating if I have—in the performance class that I teach here in Los Angeles, the first class, I always get everybody to substitute the word ‘experience’ for ‘performance’.
‘Performance’ is very loaded. It comes with a lot of conditions that we have to meet. We got to be perfect. We got to remember everything. We have to be great and fantastic and wonderful.
But with an experience, if we’re just having an experience, none of those things necessarily apply. We’re going to have an experience, and we open ourselves to having a really nice experience.
Now, if we’re singing a song, what can we focus on in that song that’s going to be almost like a mantra to us? It’s going to help us be so present with ourselves, the material and the audience, because it’s the synergy of all of that—help us be so present with ourselves and all that is during that experience. If we can have something to focus on, that is going to really help us be present.
So, what I would like to offer is, number one, with a song, get very specific with regards to who you are singing to or about because specific is where it’s at. If it’s not specific, then the audience will not get anything from it—and neither will you. And if you’re not specific in terms of your focus, all you’re going to think about is how nervous you are.
I recently had a girl in my class. She got up and sang. She [inaudible 00:15:42] I think. She did a beautiful job with the singing. And interestingly enough, that’s what she was nervous about. She was going, “Yeah, I’m really nervous. I don’t know if I have enough voice to sing this song.” So, she got up and she sang, and she sang it really well. She played guitar and sang it beautifully. It wasn’t really moving, but it was nice.
So, at the end, I said “Would you like to have some ideas here?” She said, “Oh, yeah, totally.” I said, ‘Well, you sang it great. You sang beautifully. You’ve got plenty of voice for that song. You did a great job.” But what’s this song about?” She looked at me and smiled, and she said, “I don’t really know.” And I said, ‘I know! We all know that you don’t know what the song is about.”
That’s not a put-down, it’s just an observation. She was focusing on how nervous she was and she didn’t think she had enough voice. The odd thing is, she had plenty of voice and sounded really good, but it still wasn’t a “stellar performance” because of her focus.
We went through the song and got a feel for what the heck it is about. And honestly, I can’t remember if she turned around and sang it again. But what usually happens in that situation is I’ll help somebody get specific, “Okay. Who are you singing to or what are you singing about?” and it’s a conversation.
Now, granted, they feel like a one-way conversation because nobody may be responding to you since it’s not a duet, but it is a conversation. We have to know who we’re talking to, who we’re telling the story to, who we’re having this conversation with, and it has to be very specific.
We put them out. We do what we call, “we fourth wall it.” We put them out over the audience, so you don’t stare at the audience. They’re there somewhere. You have your eyes open a lot and you sing with your eyes open to whoever you’re singing to.
Even if you’re telling a story, even if it’s a story-song, you’re telling the story to somebody. Don’t be so general as to say, “I’m telling the story to the audience,” or “I’m telling the story to the world.” That’s not going to get you specific enough. That’s too vague. No, no, no.
Why are you saying these words? Who are you having this conversation with? And what are the stakes?
And the other thing is, “What is your intention?” What are you trying to get out of this? What are you trying to do? Are you trying to persuade this person to agree with you? Are you trying to convince this person? Are you trying to prove something to this person? Whatever. But look at this like a real conversation that’s happening in real time that isn’t a song, and yet very, very, very specific with these things so that you have that to focus on.
Now, another thing, I just warned you, you don’t want to do this. When I was a kid, I played baseball. And I played baseball until I was a young adult. I loved baseball. But I remember when I was a kid all the things that you would learn when you wound up to the plate to hit the ball, and all the things I said at the time.
I didn’t pay much attention to any of them honestly because I really liked Willie Mays and I just copied everything he did. I copied his swing. I did everything. I had the wide stance, just everything. “So, just leave me alone. I’m copying Willie Mays. Unless you hit as well, don’t tell me how to do this.” I was a cocky kid.
But anyway, I would just stand like Willie Mays. But everybody else, all the coaches were like, “Okay, so you’re feet is shoulder-length, your knees slightly bent, elbows up,” and there were like five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 things they tell you to be concentrating on. And then, all that “level swing, follow through, don’t step on the bucket,” by the time they finish telling you everything, if you were listening to them, you already struck out. Three pitches, boom, boom, boom. You get called out on strikes, you’re done. You don’t have time to think about that stuff.
So, I’m not saying that now we’re going to fill your mind with all these things that are going to take your mind off the fear. Now, you have to think of “Who am I singing to? Why am I singing? What are the stakes? Boom. Boom,” all these kind of stuff. “Okay, I’m going to fill my mind with all that.” No, you don’t have to do that.
You just have to think about it ahead of time so that you have one thing to think of. “I am singing to my girlfriend… I’m singing to my boyfriend… I’m singing to my best friend… I’m singing…” to whoever you’re singing to. Boom! Now, “I’m having this conversation because I want to convince them that they should stay with me” or whatever. All songs are about love, right? “I want to convince them that they should stay with me and that they’re no good without me” or “I want to convince them that I’m no good without them” or whatever. Boom!
You just feel into that, you file that away now. And all you do is you put the person out there and you sing and have this conversation with this person. All of the work that you’ve done, all of the rehearsal that you’ve done, all of the specific things you’ve come up with, will stick. They’ll be there running in the background and they will influence you and your focus is just on the person with whom you are speaking.
Granted, there is no person there, but if there’s a person there that you see, and you sing, you have this conversation during this song with this person about this event for this particular reason, that is going to, number one, make your “performance” so much better.
Pop singers, generally, do not do this. Musical theater singers have to do this because in musical theater, the song propels the story forward and it’s character-driven. So it has to. The songs are always about something like that.
Now, in pop songs, sometimes, the lyrics are a little challenging to find how one would do this. I’m creating a performance program. I’ll go into much more detail. But for the sake of this podcast, I can’t go into that kind of detail. But you get the idea. It’s about being specific and having something to focus on and somebody to have this conversation with. That is enough to really, really, really get you started.
And if you do that, the things that we talked about on this podcast with regards to shifting your focus to what’s going on really in this life event, in this conversation, that also is going to help a lot with the nerves.
So, I look down. I see, here we go, 22 minutes, almost 23. By the time I edit this thing—well, I don’t really edit. I actually add more, music and an outro. So who knows? It’s going to be about 22, 23 minutes if I don’t be quiet right about now.
So, I’m going to say I hope this has helped. I hope this has offered you some good insights. Let me know if you try this stuff. Let me know if you agree, disagree. Have fun with this. I’ll see you in episode 50 next week. Thanks a lot. Bye bye!