3

I have heard singing teachers say something like "relax and sing".

My understanding is that you cannot sing with all the muscles relaxed. Some teachers say that using the wrong muscles are bad and that those need to be relaxed but I am not sure this is what these words refer to.

I have been asking myself if it is not more of a psychological thing (affecting how you sing) that they are refering to. Since I haven't really heard it as much from eg piano or accordion teachers it must be very much related to vocals.
Vocal terminology can really confuse me.

What do singing teachers refer to when they say "relax and sing"?

2

Firstly - I agree with Richard & ggcg's answers, that in order to sit in the zone, the only muscles tensed should be the ones you're actually using, not everything else, making you a tensed-up bundle of wasted energy.
Nothing good ever comes of being over-tense. If you're pushing too hard you will be screechy, or belty-in-a-bad-way, too far into your head, or shaky, or out of tune (probably sharp), your vibrato will be uncontrolled or unattainable, you will run out of breath. Not good for you & not good for your audience.

One thing that becomes apparent once you can get into that zone is how long you can hold a note or be able to run two lines together without running out of breath. This is a good judge of it, internally. If you're running out of breath, fading towards the end, or slipping out of tune, or you find you can't slide in & out of vibrato as you wish, can't vary vib speed or intensity, then slide back to no vib, then you're not relaxed enough.

Two fun exercises.
The big money notes at the end of Bill Withers' Lovely Day & Chris Isaak's Wicked Game. Neither is particularly difficult to sing, yet both have a good long note at the end, that you can tackle once you've used the rest of the song as a warm-up.
I wouldn't suggest ever trying either of them from cold. Use at least the full song itself to get you prepared & properly relaxed into it - then off you go. Each track gives you several shorter 'rehearsal takes' before arriving at the biggie at the end, letting you prepare for it in stages.
Neither is too difficult once you're in the zone.
Bonus points for 'playing' with your voice tone as you do it. Slide vibrato in & out, vary speed/intensity. Vary volume & intensity of the held note too, depending on your break-point move from chest to head or head to falsetto & back again.

I've actually been using the Chris Isaak as my warm-up song for about 25 years or so. I find it gives me a feel for how my voice is going to work for the rest of the day/night/session/show/whatever. It's gentle, doesn't need too much aggression & checks out whether you can open your range well enough without too much effort or any real extreme range. No belting, just control.
Added bonus for a live show on a strange stage, it lets you judge your mic proximity over several octaves & volumes for projection & on-stage monitoring. Very useful if you don't have in-ear monitoring & aren't on the monitor engineer's xmas card list for whatever reason ;)

2

There is a difference between being "relaxed" and not using any muscles.

Your statement reminds me of my Tai Chi instructor saying "Raise your arms without any tension in the muscles". That drives me nuts every time I hear it.

The fact is you do need to have the CORRECT muscles activated in the correct manner to sing properly. But as beginners, when you don't quite know how much flexing is required to support a note with steady air flow, we over do it. "Forcing" is not necessary or required to get a good tone or even volume. Proper singing technique will excite and sustain a resonance of acoustic waves in your head cavity. When you develop the ability to feel this you will realize that you barely need force to drive the sound.

Another thing it could refer to is mental relaxation. If you are overthinking what you're doing that will lead to all sorts of tension in the mind and body that will impede your singing.

You are asking us "What do singing teachers refer to when they say “relax and sing”?", and maybe that's a red herring. What does your teacher mean when he or she says that? Not all teachers say that. It's not a universal message in singing with a single meaning. So there could be more than one thing being referred to by each persona whose said it.

1

My singing teacher sometimes says that when I tense up on high notes, and I take it to mean exactly what you write in your second paragraph: relax all muscles that are not needed (in particular in the neck), don't try to force it. (Also, focus on breathing from the abdomen, and don't worry if the tone doesn't come out as powerful as you'd like). And it helps.

The same principle applies to some degree to most instruments - tensing up reduces speed, precision and stamina - but maybe most students understand it intuitively after a while, so it doesn't have to be stressed as much?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy