The audience is staring at you, waiting for your first note. You’ve got people to impress. A reputation to uphold. You’ve also got nerves so bad you wish you’d borrowed one of Grandpa’s diapers.
I thought after years of singing in front of people I wouldn’t get nervous anymore. Unfortunately, that never happened. But I learned a big difference between a pro and an amateur is that a pro knows how to control their nerves. And sometimes controlling your nerves is simpler than you might think.
Here’s a trick I use all the time, especially on the first song. The first song is the hardest to perform. So much adrenaline. If you’re like me, you wish the audience was waiting for you to lift a car over your head rather than sing them a song. And sometimes you only get one song. You’re the soloist in church or you’re singing the national anthem.
So try this.
Change the key a half-step higher. If you’re a terribly nervous type, go a whole step. Why? Most people sing sharp because they’re excited. All that blood pumping causes them to overshoot the notes, especially the higher melody notes.
Here’s a video of me doing this very trick on the Current radio station in St. Paul, Minnesota. The song I’m playing, “Making All Things New,” is in the key of C, but I’m performing it in C# (capo on the first fret).
Honestly, if you compare any live recording of me with the studio version, you’ll find the key fluctuates. I’m not that great of a singer. I’m not trying to sound modest. It’s a fact. Yes, I can sing and I know I have a “sound.” But that’s different than being technically good. I know my limits. So I adjust the key for however I’m feeling. If I’ve got a cold, I’ll lower the key. If I’m overly excited, I’ll raise the key.
Beyond embarrassing myself, I adjust the key so people hear the song. I hope you’ll remember that for when you sing your song. You’re inviting people into a moment. Cut anything within your control that could potentially take them out of that moment. Fight for the song and the moment. Don’t make it about you wanting people to think you’re a good singer. Trust me, if you do what I’m telling you, they’ll think you’re a good singer anyway.
P.S. A word of warning. If you do decide to adjust the key, you’ll still need to keep the song within your vocal range. Having adrenaline doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sing higher notes than you normally can. I like to give myself a note or two of wiggle room on the top and bottom ends of my vocal range.