Originally published March 19, 2014 on www.voicecouncil.com
Relaxation has often been championed as the cure for all things.
In singing terms, a relaxed or relatively passive sensation in the larynx is probably a good thing. However, a general sense of physical relaxation in the rest of your body will only serve to make the voice work harder. Anatole France (1844-1924) said, “Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from any kind of labor by taking up another.”
The Tension Question
There is certainly a difference between superfluous or unwanted tension and the good tension required to sing.
The easy way to determine the difference between good and bad tension is to ask, “Can I let go of this tension completely and immediately if I so choose?” If the answer is “yes” then we are dealing with good tension. If the answer is “no” then we are dealing with superfluous tension that is most likely the result of other imbalances that must be remedied. The main thing is this: don’t put excess tension on your larynx, but use the rest of your body to support your singing.
Engaging Your Body
I’m going to get into the specifics of this next week, but now I want to encourage you to avoid the all too common tendency – especially when practicing alone – of drifting into a lazy and relaxed mode with your body. Hours of mindlessly singing scales only makes you better at mindless scales. Many singers end up only producing the same old sounds in the same old ways. The whole point of learning new vocal technique is to discover more efficient co-ordinations to achieve your desired sounds. Acquiring any new skill takes focused attention and effort. The more you focus your mind on the muscular process, the sooner you will find yourself with new skills, sounds and freedom.
This exercise will reinforce the importance of your body in singing. It involves some effort and could place some strain on your joints; if not done properly – so do check in with your doctor to see if you are up for this:
Clasp your hands together in front of your body and keep your head, neck, back and pelvis aligned. Thrust your bottom out behind you and bend your knees as low as you can – keeping your bottom tucked in to avoid arching the lower back. Do this slowly all the way down into the squat position and back up. Don’t lock your knees. Repeat this a few times. You should be able to draw a line of effort down form the base of the skull to the pelvis; it should feel solid, grounded and energized. Now try coming up from the squat without locking the knees and try singing a difficult passage from a song in your repertoire. Notice the level of voice effort compared to the level of postural effort. Relax your posture and try the same passage – notice that this feels more difficult.