Overcoming Stage Fright at Karaoke

How to deconstruct your fears and tackle your anxiety so that you can begin to truly enjoy singing

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s Friday night, and you’re surrounded by your best friends. Dinner was great, but then someone suggested karaoke, and you don’t want to hold the group back. 

friends at karaoke

The TV is flashing a twirling lady in a field, clearly a stock-video, and someone is wailing “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the top of their lungs. You know you should be relaxed, and yet your palms are sweaty. 

As the song fades out, what you’ve been dreading finally happens. Your friend, sweaty and panting, shoves the mic into your hands. “It’s your turn!” – everyone looks at you expectantly. 

You freeze. Your mouth feels dry, and your heart is racing. You can’t recall a single song that you like to sing. 


Maybe your experience isn’t quite as severe, but everyone can relate to some kind of anxiety with singing. Even professional singers – Adele, Lorde, Eddie Van Halen, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Barbara Streisand, and many others, have described feeling severe stage fright. 

We’re here to tell you – there is a way out.

In this article, we’ll deconstruct the sources of your anxiety, and then define actionable steps including 2 Tried and True techniques that I use with all of my students so that you can unleash your voice. 

Where does your anxiety come from?

First, know that everyone’s experience is different, so it’s good to interrogate where your anxiety comes from. Understanding what is fueling your anxiety may help you tackle it more effectively. 

Here are some common possibilities, although there are many more:

Insecurity around vocal technique – That your voice might crack when you go for the high note, you don’t think you’re singing the right notes, etc. 

    man singing a high note

    Perfectionism, or disliking your sound – It doesn’t sound the way you want it to, or it doesn’t sound as good as you want it to. Hearing your voice brings disappointment or shame. 

    man plugging his ears

    Fearing judgement – Perhaps tied in with every other source of anxiety. 


    Anxious personality and lifestyle – You deal with anxiety in other aspects of your life. 

    Here are some questions to ask yourself:
    • In what contexts do I feel comfortable singing, and what is it about them that puts me at ease?

    • Who do I feel comfortable singing around, if anyone, and what is it about them that puts me at ease?

    • What do I truly expect of myself when it comes to singing? Where do those expectations come from, and are they realistic?

    • What is it about singing that I enjoy? What benefits do I seek from singing?

    Make a list, write your answers down. Understanding yourself goes a long way to planning how to overcome your weaknesses. 

    Take Action: 2 Tried and True Techniques

    No matter the source of your anxiety, there are things you can do to move towards becoming a more confident and comfortable singer. 

    Here are 2 tried and true exercises that I give all of my students to help them manage and overcome their performance anxiety.


    Take small steps working up to singing in front of others.

    Each step should challenge you just a little. Here is something you can try:

      1. Hum / sing as you do household chores at home, with no one else around
      2. Hum while walking on empty public streets
      3. Hum softly as you pass people in public, gradually getting comfortable having others hear you briefly in passing
      4. Increase your volume over time, or switch over to lyrics

    Accept each step as a fresh challenge. Progress through the steps at your own pace, but motivate yourself with deadlines and setting accountability measures. For example, do the steps over 2 weeks each, and ask a loved one to check in.

    stairs represent step by step progress


    Use a pre-performance routine

    to calm the body and mind, and channel anxious energy in more positive ways. Mindfulness is a proven tool to manage nerves. Here is what that could look like:

    1. A minute before performing, start thinking about the song itself. What is the story? What do you want the audience to feel? What atmosphere do you want to create in the space? 
    2. Before taking up the spotlight, focus in on 1 or 2 strong emotions that you want the audience to feel. Try to feel it yourself. 
    3. As you step into the spotlight, take 2 or 3 slow deep breaths. 

    In this process, you are first redirecting focus away from your own ego and insecurities, and towards serving the song and audience. Then, with the deep breaths, you calm nerves and re-anchors your body in healthy singing technique. 

    Zen man sitting on a rock

    A few other possibilities to consider:

    Everyone is different, and you know yourself best. Ultimately, you should do what is best for you. But if you are ready to take action, here are some other places to start: 

    If you are insecure about your singing technique…
      • Understand your limits, and work around them to set yourself up for success. Bruno Mars songs sound great when he sings them because they’re arranged around his vocal strengths, not yours. Become familiar with your vocal range and tone so that you can pick songs that match. Don’t be afraid to sing in a different octave, or use the transpose buttons.
      • Experiment with your voice on your own. This will help you understand your voice and its limits, and might also lead to techniques that work unexpectedly well for you. 
      • Take lessons, or join a singing program. The science of singing is a relatively new field. A coach or program should be up to date in understanding how voices work, and be able to guide you towards new techniques.

    Perspective shift: Humans have sung since the beginning of human history, way before singing lessons or voice science were created. And there are plenty of amazing singers who’ve never had a lesson in their life, but still found their way to a great sound. Not having “formal knowledge” or “the right technique” does not have to stop you. Even if you aren’t sure about what you’re doing, as long as it’s not uncomfortable and you’re not losing your voice, you can be singing and experimenting however you want. 

    If you are perfectionist, or don’t like the sound of your own voice:
      • Narrow the scope: prepare specific songs – Instead of mastering your voice to tackle any song, start with picking a single manageable song. Record, listen back, and iterate. Use imitation – “how would Billie Eilish sing this?” to stumble upon new sounds and interpretations. 
      • Explore other styles – You might stumble upon genres that fit how you’re already singing. For example, lots of today’s male pop songs might be out of your current comfortable range if you have a lower baritone voice. Some jazz or country, which more commonly feature lower voices, might suit. 
      • Learn to accept risk by trying improvisation. It forces you to become comfortable rolling with the punches, and build confidence that you can overcome tricky situations. 
      • Reframe your relationship with singing – Of course, this is much easier said than done, so be kind to yourself! Take a step back and (re)set realistic expectations. If singing is just a hobby or for fun, instead of focusing on the skill or quality of your voice, how can you maximize the fun in singing? If you’re a beginner, approach things with a Beginner’s Mind. Expect to do things badly sometimes, and focus on the process rather than the outcome.

    Perspective shift: There is a biological reason why we dislike the sound of our own voice. Most people typically describe their voice as sounding high, shrill, or annoying. While some sound is transmitted through the air and into our ear from the outside, much of your sound is conducted directly through the tissues and bones in your neck and skull. These are better at conducting lower frequencies, so we’ve been conditioned to expect a deeper, richer version of our voice. 

    If you are afraid of judgement...
      • Shift your perspective: Reframe your relationship with singing, your expectations for yourself, and assume the Beginner’s Mind (see above, and the perspective shift below). 
      • Find the right support: Do you feel like you’re singing in a safe space? If you feel that you’re being judged, consider who might be doing the judging, and where you might find a less judgemental crowd. A group singing program might be a great place to start, where you’re in a cohort with other learning singers. 

    Perspective shift: There are many cultures which more openly encourage singing in upbringing and daily life. Consider the forces in your society – singing competitions on TV which make fun of contestants, teachers who put letter grades to subjective qualities, etc., which have contributed to your feeling judged today. Then, think about how you would react if you saw someone happily humming or singing along to their music in public. In most cases, as long as it’s not obnoxiously loud, people generally find it endearing and uplifting.

    If you have an anxious personality or lifestyle...
      • Consider a mindfulness practice. There are many which complement singing really well, such as breathwork, yoga, or mantra / chanting. 
      • We won’t claim to be experts in diagnosing and treating anxiety disorders which may affect you outside of your singing practice. Chances are, you are already taking steps to address them. However, even singers with generalized anxiety can still take any of the steps above. Just remember to be patient and loving with yourself, and take the long view. 


    Ultimately, dealing with anxiety related to your voice will take time, patience, and courage. Take time to understand yourself and the source of you anxiety, and define small and manageable actions that may help you reframe, expand, or recontextualize your singing practice. And remember to be kind to yourself in the process. 

    You can experience the benefits of singing no matter where you are on your singing journey.

    the vocal gym group photo

    We created The Vocal Gym to help people become more comfortable with their voice. Weekly group lessons with other engaged singers create community and make it easy to stay consistent. You get access to top coaches at a fraction of their private lesson cost and have opportunities for feedback through video submissions and other events. 

    Robert Lee

    Robert Lee


    Robert Lee is a vocal coach, music director, and founder of The Vocal Gym. Read his bio here

    Let’s get you singing

    How to design a Singing Experience that works best for you.

    So you’re looking to take your singing journey to the next level. 

    Maybe you feel anxious to sing with your friends in the car. Perhaps you’re worried that you’re damaging your voice because karaoke nights leave your voice hoarse. Maybe you want to sing today’s pop songs in their original key without struggling to hit the high notes. Or perhaps learning to sing was always something on your bucket list, and now is the right time. 


    Stress about singing, the vocal gym can help

    Private lessons are too expensive. YouTube is too overwhelming. Practice is a chore. Singing in front of others is scary. You don’t have the time. 

    Let’s take a breath. Yes, there are many options out there, and it can be overwhelming. But the key to cutting through the noise knows yourself and finding options that work for you. 

    Knowing how you like to learn, what motivates you, and what support you need from people and your environment will all help you to design a singing experience that will not only be fun, but will also motivate you to stay consistent and grow. 

    feeling stuck with singing

    The 4 key pillars, and how to build them

    From years of directing and teaching and a lifetime of singing, I believe that a great approach to learning how to sing includes 4 key pillars: Consistency, Knowledge, Direction, and Support. Here is a little more about why each is important:

    Consistency, to build new muscle memory

    • Singing often, first and foremost. You need time to build strength and muscle memory, and experience is the best way to get to know your voice.
    • This doesn’t mean that you need to carve out 30 minutes a day to sing scales (although that wouldn’t hurt). Singing regularly (ideally daily) in the shower or car, at a place of worship, or in a choir or group lesson goes a long way.
    • As a beginner, it’s important to sing thoughtfully or under guidance a few times a week to rewire your muscle memory.
    calendar represents consistency

    Knowledge: Understanding of how your voice works

    • When you can visualize the structures and muscles that make up your voice, you can translate mysterious sensations into actionable insights, allowing you to troubleshoot your own voice.
    • You can learn about anatomy and voice science from YouTube videos and other free resources, books, from a coach, or in a structured program.
    • The important thing here is to make sure that you trust your information sources, and are able to spot patterns and distill the truth.
    power source filter

    Direction: Finding techniques that work for you

    • No single approach works for everyone – every singer is different, and the sensations of healthy singing feel different to each of us.
    • Experiment with your voice to find comfortable and efficient ways to sing in different styles. This comes in part with singing often, but a coach or some other feedback mechanism, such as listening back to recordings, can help point you in the right direction.
    • In general, you are looking for techniques that make your voice sound the way you want with the least effort or strain. Listen to your body – if it is uncomfortable or it hurts, don’t keep pushing – try something different.
    compass represents direction

    Support: A supportive and nurturing environment

    • Singing is intimate, vulnerable – it can be scary! Having the structure and right atmosphere with supportive people in your corner goes a long way in unlocking your potential.
    • Singing with others will also motivate you to be consistent. It’s not about “practice,” it’s about belonging and spending time with people you like.
    • You can find support in learning with fellow students, finding a jam buddy, in an ensemble such as a choir or an a cappella group, or with a voice coach.
    linked hands to represent support

    Each person needs something different for each pillar, so everyone should think about developing their own approach. 

    Here are a few questions to ask yourself in designing your singing experience:

    Consistency (📅):

    • How do you enjoy singing most? With others, or on your own? In a specific space (e.g., in your car), at one particular time (putting kids to bed), or while doing a daily chore (cooking dinner)? 
    • What can you change in my environment or schedule to make this easy?
    • What motivates you? How do you like to be held accountable? 


    Knowledge (📚):

    • How do you learn best? 
    • Do you need a structured program to cut through the noise, or do you thrive in ambiguity?
    • Where can you find singing knowledge in the media or platforms that you’re already on?


    Direction (🧭):

    • What is your level of body awareness? How confident are you in assessing yourself?
    • What do you need to take the risk? What kind of encouragement or environment do you need to step outside your comfort zone?
    • Do you want expert guidance, or do you prefer exploring at your own pace? 


    Support (🎉):

    • How much would having the right environment and community help your consistency and enjoyment of singing? 
    • What kinds of people do you want to surround yourself with on your singing journey? 
    • What kind of structure would you most benefit from?


    And a few more:

    • What will learn to sing do for you?
    • How much, if at all, are you willing to spend on your singing journey?

    Creating a Singing Experience for Growth

    To design a singing experience that works well for you, you need to assemble activities that create the Consistency, Knowledge, Direction and Support you need in ways that would most serve you.


    To get your creative juices flowing, we’ve curated a few options so that you can mix and match to design an experience that works for you. 


    Here are some that are commonplace: 

    📅 Consistency

    📚 Knowledge

    🧭 Direction

    🎉 Support


    • Private singing lessons (📅📚🧭🎉) ($$) – working with a voice coach 1:1 weekly can be enlightening and motivating—perhaps the most impactful, but also the most expensive. 
    • Free online resources (📚): the most accessible, but it’s up to you to find the truth in the noise and to put things into practice—YouTube channels, podcasts, influencers, mailing lists, or articles. 
    • Joining an ensemble (📅🎉), such as a choir or a cappella group, can be a fun and engaging way to sharpen your skills. Although the technique is probably not the main focus here, some conductors will throw in a tip or two along the way, and you may be able to rely on fellow singers for feedback.


    And here are some others that you maybe haven’t considered:

    • Group singing lesson programs ($) (📅📚🧭🎉) – these offer the Consistency and Knowledge of private lessons, plus the Support of instructors and your cohort of fellow learners. Our program, The Vocal Gym, includes video submissions as a way to receive feedback, rounding out the 4 pillars at a fraction of the price of private lessons. 
    • Video-based courses (📚) ($), such as DVDs and structured online courses, are typically more structured than free resources. If you are good at motivating yourself to stay consistent, interpreting and following instructions, and are confident in assessing your progress, this could be a good option for you. 
    • Starting your group (📅🎉): forming a band, a regular jam group, or even a karaoke group is a great way to spend time with friends and get a great vocal workout at the same time. 
    • Singing rituals in daily life (📅🧭🎉): people often underestimate the impact of singing in the shower, in the car coming home from work, or at a place of worship every week. Although a coach would give you specific advice on what Direction to move in, these are great times to experiment with your voice and build some vocal stamina. 
    • Listening critically to (📚) and mimicking (🧭) great singers: when combined with even a little knowledge about technique, this can be a powerful way to solidify concepts and play around with different ways of using your voice to discover what works best for you. 

    Putting it all together, here are a few singing experiences that hit all 4 pillars

    At $300+ / month:

    • Weekly 60-min 1:1 lessons (📅📚🧭🎉)
    • Daily 20-min practice routine (📅🧭🎉) 
    • Joining a local choir (📅🎉)

    At $190+ / month:

    • A group lesson program (📅📚🧭🎉)
    • Bi-weekly 30-min 1:1 lessons (📚🧭🎉)
    • Singing and experimenting whenever you take a shower (📅🧭🎉)

    At $40 / month:

    • A group lesson program, especially one with feedback mechanisms (📅📚🧭🎉)
    • Singing on daily commute with technique in mind (📅🧭🎉)

    At no cost:

    • YouTube’s videos and following a few credible influencers (📚)
    • Singing whenever you take a shower, experimenting thoughtfully with new techniques (📅🧭🎉)
    • Regular karaoke and sharing feedback with other thoughtful singers (📅🧭🎉)


    Listen to your body and stay within limits, creating an excellent way to engage with singing. 

    Educate yourself technique, some direction in figuring out what works for you, consistency to change singing habits, and support to keep everything positive will help to accelerate your growth.

    the vocal gym group photo

    We designed The Vocal Gym to be affordable and with the 4 pillars at its core. Weekly group lessons with other engaged singers create community and make it easy to stay consistent. You get access to top coaches at a fraction of their private lesson cost and have opportunities for feedback through video submissions and other events. 


    But even if you’re thinking: “I don’t know if I’m doing this right,” or “I’m not sure that I sound good,” you can still feel the psychological, physical, and communal benefits of singing. 


    The most important thing is to get out there and unleash your voice!

    Robert Lee

    Robert Lee


    Robert Lee is a vocal coach, music director, and founder of The Vocal Gym. Read his bio here