Associate Professor of Voice,
Northwestern University


Pamela Hinchman - Soprano


Pamela Hinchman - Soprano



Vocal Performance Anxiety

Crippling effects of performance anxiety can destroy an otherwise brilliant career potential whether in singing, teaching or public speaking. Temporary memory loss, inability to support and breathe adequately, lack of self-confidence and inability to problem solve in the moment are signs of unmanageable anxiety.

My pedagogical practice addresses this issue specifically with a portable biofeedback program that demonstrates both excessive anxiety and its resolution. Through breathing and focusing on heartbeat, it is possible to reduce and even eliminate performance anxiety.

Reducing Vocal Performance Anxiety Abstract

Although stress-induced anxiety is common to many professions, the vocal performance professional experiences unique physiological and psychological demands that can present formidable barriers to success. The physiological basis of the shortness of breath, memory loss, cold hands, sweating, nausea and other responses commonly referred to as “stage fright”, is our medullar “fight or flight” reflex to perceived environmental threats that are hard-wired into our bodies by eons of evolutionary development. This important survival function precipitates the release of adrenaline that can act as both friend and foe for the performer. The heightened awareness afforded by this natural coping mechanism is designed to maximize strength and provide the energy surge necessary for surviving the anxiety event. The autonomic adrenalin “rush” (often dampened by medications) heightens all aspects of our faculties and is essential to achieving optimal vocal performance; however, maladaptive anxiety can occur when the amplitude of the adrenalin stimulus handicaps the performer.

Much has been written about the cognitive, behavioral and physiological components of performance anxiety as well as the causes, effects, and behaviors. There is also a cornucopia of coping strategies ranging from homeopathy, counseling, cognitive and behavioral therapies, and hypnosis to medications. However, because correct breathing and technical perfection is critical to the success of the vocal performer, mastery over the physiological fight or flight reflex becomes the foundation for successful career development and therefore will be the subject of this workshop.

Our innate fight or flight response is a chemically-induced state not based on cognitive rationality; therefore its mastery requires a thorough understanding of bodily rhythms and the disciplined use of techniques to maintain proper equilibrium. Heart rate increases with inhalation and decreases with exhalation, therefore, synchronizing breathing with heart rhythms is the fundamental formula for performance anxiety reduction. For the serious vocal performer, student, or teacher, learning to synchronize heart rate with breathing is best accomplished using heuristic software available to the non-medical community on laptops and hand-held devices convenient for studio or backstage use. This workshop will demonstrate software that is used to train performers to master heart rhythms and breathing and show its positive effects on vocal performance. The workshop, intended for voice teachers and singers, will include an introduction, description of the technique, a step wise procedure on applying the technique to vocal performance, and a software demonstration using conference delegate volunteers.

Workshop/demonstration will be presented at the International Society of Music Educators in Beijing, China, August 2010.


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