Singing requires considerable energy. It cannot be done if someone is relaxed in the way one is relaxed in a recliner with a beer in his hand at the end of a hard day’s work. So why do so many people promote “relaxation” as so important to singing? What kind of relaxation would be helpful?
Like any highly skilled activity, singing is as much about getting rid of unnecessary actions as it is about doing the necessary actions. There is no benefit from a locked jaw, engaged swallowing muscles, or a stiff tongue. If these are present, they must be “relaxed”. We need to peel away the unnecessary and unhelpful so that the right movements can occur freely, without interference.
The body must be upright, balanced, and ready to act, not loose and floppy. The intention must be clear, with an alert mind, so that the body can learn to do what is needed. Breath must be taken in freely and released in a steady fashion, with the vocal folds properly adducted and stretched for the pitch, vowel, volume and style. High or loud singing requires especially significant, correct energy input to get energetic output. Where the effort is placed is the crucial thing. There are good tensions! Learning which are good and which aren’t is very important to efficient, healthy singing.
Reduction of unnecessary tensions and movements, and the strengthening and coordination of the necessary ones, is the purpose of technical practice. You can get there without specific exercises, but exercises developed for you by a knowledgeable teacher can be very helpful to quicker progress.
The next time you see a singer for whom singing seems effortless, remember that for most it took a lot of effort to get that “effortless” place, and there is considerable work being done on the inside, invisible to the audience. The good news for singers is that it doesn’t feel like work when it becomes habitual and produces satisfying results!