Singing through the nerves, an Actors approach
by Monika Tiffany Vocal Instructor
One of the most common troubles that I encounter with my students in voice lessons is the idea that they couldn’t possibly perform because they’re too nervous. What if people make fun of me? What if I make a mistake? I don’t want people to laugh at me… and the list goes on and on.
It’s true that getting up in front of anyone and singing is incredibly nerve wracking feat and if it’s your friends or family it somehow seems worse. Believe me when I tell you that every performer, even me, goes through some nerves before getting up on stage. The biggest and most important thing you can do to overcome nerves is to be almost obnoxiously prepared and ready for the performance. If that doesn’t work, there is always my favorite, the acting approach.
Start by thinking, and writing down, a few simple things. Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
Who is singing this song? What is their motivation for choosing it and singing it? When in their life are they singing this song? (What catalyst made them sing?) Where are they singing? Why are they singing at all?
This might seem a little silly if you’ve never tried it before, but lets use these to create an example. We’ll say that the song is one of my favorites, “O Mio Babbino Caro“.
The song is sung by a young woman in Italy who is in desperate love with a young man of whom her father doesn’t approve. Think opera version of Romeo and Juliet. O Mio Babbino Caro literally translates to: Oh my dear daddy.
Let’s use the message of the song and some imagination to create a character who is not from Gianni Schicchi who might want to sing this song.
Who is singing this song? A young woman who desperately wants her family to accept the person that she loves.
What is their motivation for choosing it and singing it? She wants to pull at the heart strings of her family to accept the person that she loves even if it’s not someone that they would have chosen for her.
When in their life are they singing? She’s had this innocent affair and they want to run away and get married but her family has forbidden their marriage and were shocked and dismayed they were dating.
Where are they singing? This one you can be literal, in a recital hall, duh. Or, it can be creative, perhaps in a Villa in France on a makeshift stage that was built just for this occasion by the person she loves.
Why are they singing at all? She’s spoken with her family, and especially with her father, so many times about what she wants and it never seems to help. The only hope for getting through to him is this incredible song.
There, doesn’t that seem like an interesting character to watch sing a song?
When you take on a character and perform through them, it’s easier to get up on stage because even if someone were to cast judgement, it wouldn’t be on you, it would be on them. That character messed up because she was so moved by the song and why she was singing and the emotion behind it. It wasn’t your mess up. See? Doesn’t that feel better already?
The best part of creating a character “shield” is that the performance takes on a life of its own. No longer are you just standing there hoping to get through the song but you’re performing it with emotion and heart. After all, “Music is what happens when words are not enough.” You can quote me on that.