Uneasiness or disquietude of mind.

Anxiety seriously disrupts communication between voluntary and involuntary systems and the vegetative and nervous systems, fragments the personality, and limits personal expression. Most singers are afflicted by anxiety to a greater or lesser degree. For many, it is merely a matter of temporary, controllable performance “nerves.” For others, however, it is a chronic, apparently insurmountable problem resulting from various deep-rooted neuroses.

Chronic anxiety is a serious pedagogic concern since its physical manifestation often immobilizes the very muscles most crucial to the vocal function. In addition, the muscular armoring associated with anxiety frequently places the body in a state of permanent rigidity, making it difficulty, if not impossible, to establish contact with movements which are free and natural. Curiously, however, some singers who suffer from chronic anxiety are able to cope with their inner tensions and make their neuroses work for rather than against their functional capacities. According to the theories advanced by Wilhelm Reich, and endorsed by Elsworth F. Baker, MD, different types of “armoring” (primary and secondary layers) are reflected in specific types of physical and psychic reaction. Those who succeed in breaking through a secondary layer are those who are able to react in a more outgoing manner.

A second category, anxious singers who repress their feelings, presents a special problem. Not only do they resist, but the suppression of their anxiety is accomplished by bringing the swallowing muscles into tension, which inadvertently constricts the throat. Even when forcing themselves as an act of will to be more aggressive, those falling within this category find it difficult to relinquish the safe hold they maintain on their throats and feelings, and the use of greater energy is often counterproductive: the more vigorously they work to open up, the hard the constrictor muscles tend to resist. This is not to say, however, that the resistances peculiar to either of the types described cannot be broken down. With time and patience a more open-throated resonance can be achieved, in which case the singer will gain on two levels: he will have freed his voice and freed himself of many psychological inhibitions.

A possible explanation for the contradiction in behavior between the two broad types described is this: those who suppress their anxiety by minimizing the ebb and flow of natural respiration cause the dammed-up energy to move into the internal organs where it is bottled up, whereas those less armored are able to release energy into the muscle system. From this is should be evident that the manner in which energy is utilized represents the qualitative factor in rhythmic sensitivity, in one’s capacity to identify emotionally to a given stimulus, and in one’s general capacity for motility. Psychologically, singing is an aggressive act. For one to “open up,” energy must move into the muscles rather than turn inward.

If emotion is understood to be a process of bodily expansion, of moving out, it will then be clear that anxiety not only arrests organic motility, but inhibits healthy emotional expression as well. That this has an adverse effect upon the vocal process goes without saying, for whatever the degree of chronic muscular contraction brought on by anxiety, to that degree with the vocal process and the respiration be impeded. Here, obviously, is an aspect of interference having nothing to do with singing per se. For this reason, among those who are equally talented, some will forge ahead and progress while others will pull back, literally being forced to remain within the boundaries set by their psychic tensions. In sum, the fears underlying psychic tensions arouse a profound distrust of involuntary movement and thus act as a serious impediment to vocal progress.


Reid, Cornelius. “Anxiety,” A Dictionary of Vocal Terminology: An Analysis. Recital Publications, 1995.

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