Nervous about your next audition? How I got over my nerves . . .

Everyone has different things going on in their mind before they audition or perform. I hope that some of my experiences in managing performance anxiety will help you!

First of all, it took me some time to realize that being nervous before an audition or performance is normal. Now, instead of trying to get rid of the nerves, I name the attributes that can come out of being nervous. I then focus on those positives.

Being nervous helps me understand that I really care about what I am doing. It’s a good feeling to be completely invested in something. So many times, we just can’t take the time to give anything our all!

But why do I care?  What are my ambitions?

Is it to be accepted by others? Is to win accolades? Is it to feel like I have accomplished something worthwhile? Is it an important personal goal I want to achieve? Is it so I can be a part of the group? If so, why do I want to be? Calling out the many things you can ask yourself is critical to having a good experience. Sometimes, putting pen to paper can really make a difference in aligning what’s in your soul and mind.

Secondly, assessing why I care helps me understand my priorities. Articulating the answer, helps me understand if this brings a true value to my being and propels my passion or if it’s a shallow thought driven by ego.  Maybe my goal was to win the approval from the adjudicators whether they sit at the table with a score card or are members of the audience. Of course, shifting their name from Adjudicator to Listener for Enlightenment helped my state of mind.

If I’m performing, I remind myself that on this given day at this appointed hour there is most likely no one in the audience that could perform this music better than I. Who has invested all that I have? Who cares as much as I do? Who can portray what it means to me except me? But, what if that audience has the Artistic Director of Chanticleer sitting in it? Ah! But what if that audience has my mother in it?! First of all, my mother couldn’t sing it better and whatever her thoughts are belong to her. I cannot change her thoughts and I am not responsible for her thoughts. Second, the Artistic Director of Chanticleer understands I am not a world- renowned singer and really came to be still and let the music flow over him rather than feel he is working it. Still, his thoughts are his thoughts. I cannot change that no matter what I do or who I am. I must shift my focus from singing for the approval of others to singing for my own satisfaction and experience of it all.

Thirdly, before I go into my audition, I assure myself that I have adequately prepared for this. I have chosen a piece I love singing. If I sing something I love they will enjoy hearing me! Sometimes, I will question if I need to sing the piece just one more time. At some point, countless repetition of the solo will stop having the desired effect. Meaning, the brain can only absorb so much repetition effectively. As my colleague Bill Baker says sometimes, “Enough practice, it’s time to just go out and play the game.”

Fourthly, I recognize that when I get nervous, my breathing is the first thing that suffers. I automatically default to shallow breathing. The diaphragm doesn’t even appear to be working! That’s why I move. I walk and sing and look about the room and engage in something mindless. I walk or sway until the minute I walk through the door. I also do a couple of minutes of lip trills. I might even sing the piece on lip trills rather than the words. Sometimes, however, I find it more effective to not think about the music but distract myself by looking about the room and gaze on the beautiful blue color in the stained-glass window. I might even appreciate the storm brewing outside and see it as being powerful and majestic. Or I might remember that after I sing, I’ll be attending a world premiere at Symphony Hall or treating myself to chocolate cake!

Sometimes, I find it helpful to think about the mechanics of the piece rather than the outcome of my performance. I might envision the colors of the phrases, or feel the pulse of the music by swaying or dancing. It might be that I hear myself singing the arpeggio scale passage as if I were a beautiful bird soaring from the top of a tree to the next mountain peak in the Colorado Rockies.

Fifthly, I always have present in my mind two thoughts ~ One came once again from Bill Baker: “There is no one performance that will break you. There is no one performance that will make you.”

I tell myself that all I can do is all I can do. It’s not what anyone else can do. What’s the worst that could happen? I could trip over my own feet walking in, forget my first word and blow the sustained F on the last page. But, if I do, at least it will make for a good story and I’ll walk away better for having tried than not tried at all.

Finally, as with all things, the performing/auditioning I do, the easier it is to manage.

I don’t know what your issues are, but I hope this can shed light some light if you experience nerves that you can’t seem to navigate through before an audition.

Some of these conclusions came about when I took the course on Navigating Performance Anxiety written and taught by Babette Lightner. I encourage you to check out her website for more inquisitive and thought-provoking insights.



Singing Through Menopause? Why not?!

“While the vocal apparatus does change as we grow older, researchers have found that voice training may help maintain the voice as we age.”  (Butler, 2001).

The Female Voice undergoes changes throughout the lifetime. Her habitual voice pitch descends from age 4 to 50 years, & finally settles in her 80s. Adolescent girls must navigate voice changes when the larynx experiences a growth spurt in which the vocal folds experience a 3 to 4 millimeter total increase in the length (Kahane, 1975).

Female singers face additional challenges with the onset of menopause that have a direct effect on the vocal mechanism. Estrogen deprivation causes substantial changes in the mucous membranes that line the vocal tract. As estrogen levels decrease, laryngeal tissues begin to absorb water causing the vocal folds to swell, blood vessels to become enlarged, and vocal fold mass to increase (Emerich, Hoover.  Sataloff, 1996). Changes in hormone levels have been associated with decreased fundamental frequency (pitch) hoarseness, decreased vocal range, and difficulty with complex motor tasks (Boone, 1997; Emerich. et aI., 1996).

Estrogen therapy has been helpful in forestalling the typical voice changes that follow menopause. It has been shown that those on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) tend to have a higher habitual voice pitch than those not on HRT, (Hamden et al 2018) yet there seemed to be no significant difference in voice complaints between the two groups.


  • Atrophy of the Laryngeal Cartilages
  • Reduced volume and projection of the voice (thin sound)
  • Reduced vocal endurance & fatigue
  • Reduced efficiency in muscle coordination causing pitch inaccuracies
  • Rough or hoarse vocal sound
  • Tremor or shakiness in the voice
  • Hearing Loss
  • Vocal cord atrophy (bowing) causing breathy tone
  • For women: Laryngeal atrophy, edema, and increased presence of deep, narrow furrows or grooves in the vocal fold (vocal fold sulci). Changes in the vocal folds may include edema and thickening of the superficial layer of the lamina propria [the thin vascular layer of connective tissue beneath the epithelium]


  • Cartilages naturally ossify (turn to bone) by age 65 causing less flexibility & resiliency in the vocal mechanism.
  • Muscles and ligaments lose elasticity and collagenous fibers making them thin and stiff.
  • The outer layers of vocal folds deteriorate, creating less protection for the vocal muscles underneath.
  • The vocal fold edges can become ragged resulting in a “roughness” to the voice quality.
  • Folds may exhibit a gap or “bowing” in the middle third causing a “breathy” tone.
  • Decline in respiratory function beginning around age 40 with a 40% loss between the ages of 40 and 80.
  • Adverse health conditions natural to aging can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular system.
  • Many medications affect the salivary glands, and mucous-secreting membranes of the respiratory tract, reducing and thickening mucosal secretions, resulting in minimal lubrication of that area. The resulting dry cough may eventually damage the vocal folds.
  • Sedative effect of some meds slow response time of the laryngeal muscles.
  • Regular use of aspirin predisposes singers to hemorrhage especially in unconditioned singers.


Cecilia Bartoli ~

Loretta Lynn ~

Aretha Franklin ~


  • Warm up the muscles connected directly or indirectly to the vocal mechanism: groups of muscles in the face, neck, shoulders, arms, upper chest, abdomen, sides of the torso, and upper/lower back.
  • Stature: Maintain upright, buoyant, balanced.
  • Inhalation & Exhalation Exercises: Pant, Sing Staccato Vowels, Puff, Hiss, Shh, etc., Hum gently, gradually letting the sound swell.
  • Relax & Stretch the Vocal Tract: Lip & Tongue Trills: Bbb, Prr, Trr, Hrr, Motor Boat Sounds & Sirens. Drop your mouth open downward as far as you can with ease & say “ta, ta, ta, ta” while gently feeling the jaw motion with your hand: breathe out as you say the syllables & sing as many as you can.
  • Resonators: Nasal “wicked witch” to “cowardly lion” voice to stretch the larynx, pharynx & soft palate muscle groups.
  • Articulators: 5-note up & down scale exercises for the 1. Jaw (ya, ya, ya), 2. Lips (ba, ba , ba), 3. Teeth (ta, ta, ta), 4. Tongue (la, la, la), 5. Soft Palate (nga, nga, nga), 6. Throat (ha, ha, ha
  • Flexibility: Up & down glissandos (up to 3 octaves), Gliding on triplets.


Daily Exercise, Hydration, Nutrition, Regular Rest, Enjoy Friends, Mental Agility Exercises, Preventative Health, Don’t Smoke, Support the Speaking Voice (breathe as though you are singing).


Vibrato problems are often associated with the aging voice and are either due to tongue/jaw tension or the low breath energy that can be associated with aging.

Things to try:

  • Examine posture watching out for sloped shoulders, head-poked forward  and clenched jaw.
  • Vocalize with: slack jaw, use beginning of a ‘yawn’ space, try tongue out singing.
  • “Knoll” slides, add physical gestures to encourage spinning breath while singing. Imagine 3-dimensional vowel shapes and learn to clarify an open space.
  • Experiment: Sing exercises with straight tone to vibrato.

Thin Tone is due to the folds not fully closing.

Sustain vowels on a single pitch, step-wise repeating note patterns, “ngah” brings the vocal folds together without too much squeeze, gentle staccatos on vowels, ding/ming/ning. Take care to not over-blow (blow the folds open).

Creaky Voice is due to speaking at an unnaturally low pitch and not refreshing breath.

Say, “Mm-Hmm,” as though agreeing with something. Become aware of the low-pitch voice use & investigate situations that exacerbate the habit.

 NOTE: Much of the time, hoarseness and vocal difficulties are not simply age-related change. Any change that you notice in your voice should be a warning sign that something may be wrong. See your otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat doctor). Almost all voice problems are highly treatable.

For more questions, email Author Jamea Sale:

Continue reading Singing Through Menopause? Why not?!


What kind of warm-up do you do before your personal rehearsal time or general choral warm-up? Of course, warm-ups vary depending on the time of day you begin singing, your gender and age and what kind of singing you are about to do.

What are your default “must-do-no-matter what” warm-ups?

Here’s what our top vocal pedagogues, performers, & educators said ~

clarifications: Lip buzzes are lip trills. Penta-scales are five note scales. All of our vocal pedagogues had two exercises in common: 1) Use of lip buzzes or lip trills and slides (penta-scale to an octave + 1) and 2) slides or glissando as a semi-occluded vocal tract exercise for breathe motion, ease of use of vocal folds, and the thinning of them.

 1. Jamea Sale: Vocal Coach, Singer, Private Instructor.

  1. Yawn-sighs and puppy dog whines into descending slides on the penta-scale with neutral vowel.
  2. Ascending flex lip trills high to low [V15 exercise]. V15 Flex Trills
  3. Yoo-ah flexibility using skips and leaps [V14 exercise].V14 Yoo-ah Flexibility

2. Anonymous, Professional Baritone/ Private Instructor.

As a vocal warm up, I’m more interested in stretching other muscles, relaxing and resting my voice, and eating a meal with protein about two hours before performing. Singing with regularity doesn’t require that much time to warm up. That being said . . .

  1. I use coffee stirrers, often two at a time, one if I’m feeling bold. Singing through straws emphasizes feeling your voice rather than listening to yourself helps avoid pushing too much air. Quick scales that span an octave and a half or two octaves.
  2. Continue with the semi-occluded vocal tract idea singing voiced consonants in the mid-range. “Th” is great as in “the” because it naturally fronts the tongue. It’s important to maintain an open pharynx/stable larynx while your mouth is closed.
  3. Classic coloratura warm ups on [i-e-a-o-u] moving quickly through penta-scales and nine scales. Low range to high, aiming to sing three half-steps below and above the range I’ll need to sing during that day’s performance.

Vocal Folds stretch during octave slides:


3. Anonymous, Professional Lyric Soprano / Private Instructor

  1. Lip trills using the penta-scale ascending and descending.
  2. Repeat scales on 16th notes ascending and descending on one breath for at least 10 counts with the last note being a half note to prep air for the next repetition.
  3. Range scales with full extensions as high and as low as one can sing with agility.

4. Andrew Schmidt, Choral Conductor, Tenor.

  1. Falsetto slides, up or down using do-sol-do, or sol-do-sol to engage the crico-thyroid while making sure to move plenty of air through the instrument.
  2. Lip Buzzes descending in chain succession: Sol-Fa-Mi-Re-Do, followed by an immediate ascent by a semi-tone and then repeated. Sing 2 or 3 sets before taking a breath.
  3. [u]-scales to the 9th: While maintaining placement, breath motion, and thin vocal folds, start lower in the range (usually low G) and sing a scale that extends to the upper 9th and descends again. Move through the scale quickly working to maintain placement, flexibility via a thin/light mechanism, and resonance with a vibrato spin.

5. Christine Freeman, Choral Conductor, Soprano

  1. Descending lip trills slides on [u].
  2. [Ma Me Mi Mo Mu]  12312342345345645 4 3 2 1 for flexibility
  3. “Zip-Zip-Zip-Za” using do-mi-so-li-ti-do-so-mi-do for range

Jennifer Berroth, Choral Conductor, Alto.

  1. Lip trills on descending penta-scale.
  2. Ascending glissando penta-scale on a warm [i] vowel. Use a K or G consonant at the beginning to ensure strong closer (adduction) with vocal folds.
  3. As a vocal strengthener, use [V] to sing 1-3-5-8-5-3-1. Rest the top teeth lightly on the lower lip as you sing  [V] continuously.

Lynn Swanson, Choral Conductor, Mezzo.

  1. [Fu] descending penta-scale slides mid to low range for a gentle activation and to focus and streamline the air. V1-page-001
  2. Lip trills – ascending and descending penta-scales to full scales lip trills from mid to high range to ensure support of diaphragm. V2.Lip.Trill.Asc.Desc.-page-001
  3. [Nyu] to [Nya] or “Zing-Zing-Zing-Za” ascending and descending skips mixed with semi-tone movement for intonation and agility. It’s called The Mel after Melissa Shallberg who uses it very effectively. 1-3-5-dim.7-7-8-5-3-1.
    The Mel.

    To learn more about vocal warm ups, please visit:

Continue reading TOP 3 “GO-TO” VOCAL WARM-UPS

Seamless Passaggio Tips

There is so much conflicting information on the ‘Registers’ of the Human Voice! Be it speaking, theatrical, or singing the terminology and methodology of the vocal mechanism can be an intimidating subject to grasp.

Effective Exercises for Creating Seamless Singing or Evening Out Registers…

  • Always warm-up! Activate your bodymind by moving! Singing is a full body, contact sport that is most productive if attention is given to engaging the whole singer.
  • Activate breathing for singing. There are many ways to do this & you need to discover what works best for you. To allow the abdominal muscles to release as air flows in and out, you might try:
  • leaning against a wall with knees soft, hips and shoulders flat, head floating above
  • lying on the floor.
  • Add sound to breath. Manage the breath by adding fricative consonants in rhythmic patterns to reinforce abdominal control of the stream of air.
  • Add pitch to breath, imprecise to specific – descending first.
    • Sighs, lip trills, rolled “r”. Then sigh down & back up until transitions are smooth.
    • Start comfortably high and slide down in a five-note pattern then back up to the starting pitch. Aim for a consistent timbre throughout the exercise. When the voice feels like it wants to switch or fall into a different ‘register’ do a few more, but try to keep it smooth for a few notes below what feels comfortable.
    • Flip your slide pattern upside down starting comfortably low then ascending through your upper range.
  • Sing your normal stuff!
  • When you are done with rehearsal or practice, REVERSE THESE STEPS to cool the voice down.

Current scholarship proposes that register shifts/lifts/ breaks are simply a matter of imbalanced muscle development. These slides are similar to lifting weights to balance the strength of the muscles that change the length of the vocal folds to facilitate changes in pitch. Do these things every day and you will hear (or not hear) 🙂 a difference!

‘Til next time!

Melissa Shallberg


PAJAMA MOVES – easy, fun ways to maintain a healthy voice and body

EXERCISE! Thoughts of pain, time, and hassle? It doesn’t have to be that way.

Change the word to MOVEMENT to help you feel good just about all the time.

You don’t need to move your body fast and work hard in order to experience life changing benefits. You do not have to go to the gym, go to a class only offered a certain time of the day. You do not have to buy cute little work-out clothes. The only exercise I do in public is walking, riding my bike and dancing on the impromptu rare occasions I find the opportunity. I have never been able to maintain fighting traffic to get to an exercise class on time in the right clothes and with the water bottle in tow. I want to do it when it is convenient for me and without conversing with others while doing it.

But, why must we move? Because that’s just the way it is. If you don’t find an enjoyable way to keep moving you won’t be able to.

Full realization of singing can be hindered by bodies that are heavier than an optimum weight range. There can be a reduction in strength, endurance and range of mobility in respiratory, laryngeal, and vocal tract coordinations.

Every function of every organ and system in your body is enhanced by body movement. When they are activated, your:
1. Respiratory and circulatory systems deliver more oxygen and glucose to the muscles that enable more cognitive sharpness.
2. Metabolism increases.
3. Glands of the immune systems are better supported and protected(1).

The most important thing is to be consistent and use appropriate movements. This does not have to involve heavy weight lifting, aerobic classes, or even a personal trainer.


Down Dog Yoga App

Down Dog: My absolute favorite app in the world. Love it even more than iBooks!
Best feature: Operator friendly
Important features: FREE!  You can upgrade to choose what kind of music you want and what areas you want to concentrate on. Deals throughout the year as low as $29.99
Beginner to advance. 10 – 60 minute work outs that you can save to repeat.
Nice voice to listen to for an hour.

Sworkit App

Sworkit: Free trial, but then you have to pay to play.
Best feature: Designs 6 week plan for you based on age, gender, weight and skill.
Important features: Offers challenges and quick workouts.


Tai Chi: Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and health benefits. The term taiji refers to a philosophy of the forces of yin and yang.
Best feature: Lovely traditional Chinese music in background.
Great features: Written and oral explanation of every move. FREE! But, when you are ready to move to the next level you must upgrade.

Worth checking out online:

Babette Lightner


  • Ease common chronic physical pain such as knee, back and shoulder pain.
  • Shift frustration, anxiety or worry to clarity and calm.
  • Transform effort, strain in moving to light, lively mobility.
  • Experience
  •  Experiencing your current capabilities rather than always try to improve/change.



You don’t need to carve out an hour a day or even a few days a week. You can do small twelve minute sessions of any movement to receive a great benefit. I often do just a twelve minute beginner yoga session before I go to work because I just don’t have the time to do more. Those twelve minutes make a vast difference in my stamina, outlook and focus.

I hope you’ll give it a try!


1). Thurman, L. & Welch, G. (2000). bodymind & voice: foundations of voice education. The VoiceCare Network, USA, Book 3, 639-640.