I had a great lesson with Dr. Martha Rowe of New Mexico State University the other day, and her ideas reiterated to me very clearly that I have tons to learn (which makes me happy). The main point I took away was to use the breath as a moment of relaxation. I had been experimenting with this before, but I was not going as far as she asked me to. Taking it that next step really worked for me.
What to Do
If you’ve ever sung a very challenging aria, you will know the feeling of fatigue that sets in as you approach the end. Your voice may not register it externally, but there is an impending sense that “Wow, this really takes a lot of energy”. If you don’t know this feeling, then that’s great.
To counteract this sensation and the panic that comes along with it, use each breath as a chance to release any tension built up during the preceding phrase. At the cut-off, release all the muscular pressure you’ve used, and inhale with as little muscular effort as necessary to feel satisfied. The breath should feel like it’s falling into you rather than being forced in. I sometimes use the image of the breath “beaming” into the lungs (you know, like Star Trek).
Just as important is that by reminding yourself what “relaxation” feels like, you can find easier paths through which to sing. If all you know is tension, then you will sing with tension.
Ways to Practice Outside of Singing
I practice this breath relaxation every day in my yoga and meditation practice, so that may be helpful to you as well when you are not singing. Practice also by walking with a very relaxed abdominal area. Many of us walk around with unnecessary ab tension. Let it go. Then apply it to your singing breath.