Updated: Sep 28
Last weekend I was away with one of my school choirs who were singing in the finals of a national choral competition. The word "confidence" came up many times, and there were lengthy discussions about it.
What makes us feel confident about our singing? Can you be confident, but still nervous? What circumstances can knock your confidence? The discussions gave me an opportunity to explore where my own confidence comes from. For me, it's like a river which is fed from several major and minor tributaries, but it all stems from one initial "spring" or source. My "spring" is a natural desire to entertain others through my own creativity and self-expression. My first love was dance. My father was extremely musical and there was always music at home….and I responded to it by dancing. Ballet and tap classes followed until I began to suffer with allergies and asthma. My parents were sadly advised to stop me from taking part in intense physical activity, and just hope I'd grow out of it.
I did, but by then I'd missed too much to go back to serious ballet. Fortunately, I joined a children's theatre group and discovered that I could sing. I got the same feelings from singing as I had from dancing. I realised that I could respond to the music even though I was also making it…..and take people on an emotional journey with me.
The tributaries which feed my river of confidence include preparation, practice, an inner drive to always want to do better, repetition, getting out of my own head and trusting my instincts.
I know that if I've cut any corners with my preparation, there's a greater chance of making a mistake. A mistake can range from taking a breath poorly, to forgetting my words or going to the wrong section of a song. Any of those things can sucker-punch my confidence, so I try to limit the likelihood of it happening by being fully prepared and rehearsed. I know that practice and repetition will embed everything I need for performance in my muscle memory. I also know that there's no substitute for this. If you're a choral singer, for example, merely attending the weekly rehearsal and trusting your brilliant brain to remember everything at the next rehearsal just isn't going to cut it.
Muscle memory is both utterly fascinating and under-rated in terms of its importance. When a good breathing technique is embedded in your muscle memory, you can largely forget about it. So, how do you get it embedded? Hours of focussed practice and repetition, until it becomes fully automatic. The same applies to all those other elements of a good vocal technique. You have to get them fully embedded so that you can trust all the technical "stuff" to work, thus allowing you to focus on the communication of the song.
Once I've reached a point where I can focus on the communication, I know I can leave my "self" in the dressing room and be the character I'm playing. It's their story I'm going to tell, after all….not mine.