How To Sing a Mix Voice Tone
Mix voice is the holy grail of singing technique and is the result of dedication, practice and perseverance. Mix voice occurs when you develop a blend of frequencies between chest voice and head voice, allowing the tonal depth and efficient resonance of your chest register, while accessing the extensive range and bright timbre of the head voice. Learning how to sing a mix voice tone is actually very easy to do, and really starts with your vocal foundation – in particular the way you form your vowels and how you place your frequencies. If you’ve been struggling to sing high notes, your tone sucks or you experience a pronounced voice crack through the middle of your voice, this is how to sing a mix voice tone!
Foundation is key
Your singing voice will only ever be as strong as the foundation you have built it on top of – this is something I often remind my own singing students about. Foundation in singing is literally like the foundation of a house, the concrete slab and base that your build the voice (or house!) of your dreams on. Posture, breathing, placement, vowels and onsets are an important part of any singer’s vocal foundation, from the way you engage your diaphragm through to the manner in which you create your vowel sounds and manage your frequencies.
Lets start with the basics before moving on to how to sing a mix voice tone – remember, foundation isn’t a “beginner” technique that you will out grow, it’s actually something that will carry through with you as you become an established singer and your voice matures. Lets look at breathing first.
Posture and diaphragmatic breathing
You’ve probably heard the old saying “breathe from the diaphragm” or “sing from the diaphragm” – and while these aren’t technically correct ways to describe the mechanism of breathing in a great singing voice, they do illustrate the important role that engagement of the diaphragm plays in building a great singing voice. The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that sits between the abdomen and chest cavity, and when engaged properly, lowers down to create a negative space – like a vacuum in the lungs, which instantly fills with pressurised air. In reality, you don’t “sing from the diaphragm”, you breathe using the diaphragm. The best way to engage the diaphragm is to start out with a strong posture:
- Head up
- Shoulders Back
- Proud Chest (ribs wide)
- Chin Parallel with the floor
- Release any tension
With this healthy posture, it’s now easy to engage the diaphragm by imagining you are breathing through a tiny drinking straw, low and sharp, in a manner that doesn’t involve the top of your chest or your shoulders. The breathing should feel as though it occurs in the belly, this is actually due to the manner in which you use the diaphragm and isn’t physically related to your stomach. This is similar to the concept of belly breathing in health doctrines like yoga, except diaphragmatic engagement is maintained and altered as you hold a phrase or ascend in range. The big difference between belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing actually lies in your posture and how you retain engagement – if your ribs are wide, then you will be able to control your breathing solely through engagement and control of the diaphragm. This is the basis of support in singing, which is basically a fancy word to describe the balance between air flow and air pressure; a supported tone is skewed towards air pressure, and an unsupported tone is skewed towards air flow.
Resonance is king when it comes to singing, and it’s likely you aren’t know how to sing a resonant sound or two. Learning how to sing and maintain your resonance while singing is one of the true secrets to a great singing voice. Remember how we just created air pressure by engaging the diaphragm? Your singing voice requires air pressure, not necessarily air flow to create resonance, so resonance really starts with your breathing. An easy way to illustrate a resonant sound is to sing a Z, V or NG sound with as little air flowing out of your mouth as possible. Sure, you get a resonant buzz at your lips or in your mouth when you sing these sounds – but the secret to singing with resonance is to identify the separate resonant sound that is occurring in the back of your throat and head, separate to this forward articulation. Over time and with consistent practice, you will learn how to create this same resonance at the back of your head while singing open vowel sounds instead of just resonant consonant sounds. The key to singing with resonance while singing vowel sounds involves another important aspect of your foundation which we’ll talk about next, your onset.
One of the most important steps in learning how to sing a mix voice tone is the manner in which you create your vocal onsets – literally, the way your resonance begins. A vocal onset is a result of balance between release of air and vocal fold closure. The only onset that you should form as a habit in your singing is a balanced onset, sometimes called a coordination or simultaneous onset, where airflow and vocal fold closure occur at the very same moment to create an instant, powerful, resonant and strain free tone. Now, if you release air first and there is air flowing across the folds before they achieve closure, this is known as a breathy or aspirated onset, which often dries out the vocal folds, is weak, lacks resonance and has the tendency to result in flat intonation. On the flip-side, if you achieve vocal fold closure BEFORE you release air pressure, this creates a glottal onset or an attack, which is a forceful and unpleasant sound which is tiring to the voice in many ways and results in sharp intonation and trouble singing with fluidity and release.
The best manner to learn how to sing balanced vocal onsets correctly is to practice a crescendo from quiet to fully resonant without increasing volume or airflow – instead, using diaphragmatic engagement and vocal fold closure to increase and focus your resonance. The key to singing a good vocal onset is to learn control over both of the mechanisms involves in this crescendo, closure and support. As you get better with this mechanism over time, you’ll learn that you can actually ‘start’ this same crescendo from the middle without the weak tail at the start, resulting in instant and strain free resonance which is neither aspirated nor glottal – literally, your onset will be balanced.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your vocal onsets is to hold your breath before you sing. While there is a ‘hold’ aspect to creating vocal compression, at the beginning of your journey towards learning how to sing a mix voice tone, it’s important that your onset occurs with an open column of air so that you learn to balance correctly. The ‘hold’ part of singing comes from a separate mechanism and really occurs in the glottis itself rather than a direct result of vocal fold closure – learn to balance your onset first before attempting a more powerful sound. The key to power in singing is resonance, not force.
Placement is a tricky concept for some beginner singers, so lets simplify this archaic terms and look at resonance and frequency placement from a practical perspective. Placement is simply a fancy term that refers to the frequencies that you create, and how they resonate within the vocal tract. If you find that your vocal tone lacks resonance even though you seem to be breathing correctly and creating a balanced onset, it’s likely that your placement is off, and the frequencies you are creating are creating resonance in the vocal tract, most likely either just exiting your mouth without any ‘echo’, or even that your tone is being absorbed by the non resonant parts of your body. One of the best ways to develop vocal placement is to look at it from a different perspective, instead of ‘creating’ frequencies which occur in the nose or face (often called masque or mask in classical technique), spend some time limiting any frequencies which occur below your top teeth. Now, we’re not trying to ‘create’ a nasal or bright vocal tone, instead we’re simply trying to remove any frequencies which aren’t resonating in the pharynx and nasal cavities. If you practice like this for a few minutes over the span of a few days, a few weeks, you’ll start to recognise a specific vocal tone that occurs above your throat rather than in your neck or mouth – this is the key to vocal placement.
The term placement is often a confusing one, and really comes from a figurative perspective – while it’s not physically possible to ‘move’ or ‘place’ your voice, it IS however, possible to encourage the creation of a specific band of frequencies which resonate efficiently within the vocal tract – this is the true meaning behind vocal placement.
How to sing a mix voice tone (5 hacks)
Mix voice occurs when you balance the frequencies and resonance which occurs in chest voice with the frequencies that occur in head voice, resulting in a direct connection between your two main registers, and the creation of a third ‘honorary’ register which is often called mix voice or middle voice. These 5 vocal hacks will help you learn how to sing a mix voice tone with ease – remember, your foundation carries through with you as you progress as a singer, so don’t forget to engage your diaphragm, place your frequencies and balance your onset every time you sing!
#1 – Classroom voice
You might have noticed that your favourite singers possess a particularly pleasant but powerful tone when they sing, while you might be struggling to keep resonance and connection in the same passage of your voice – this is because you’re lacking a blend between chest and head voice. One of my favourite ways to illustrate this blend is the concept of ‘classroom’ voice, where your vocal tone takes on an assertive but pleasant sound, similar to the sound you would use when trying to get the attention of kids in a classroom – you don’t want to SHOUT at them, but you can be meek or weak either. In essence, classroom voice results when you access resonance from both registers of your voice and maintain a proportional blend as you travel in either direction from the centre point of connection in your voice. “Okay everyone, over here!” is a great way to practice this concept, and if you immediately follow this pleasant but assertive phrase with a correctly formed vowel sound, such as “Okay everyone, over here AHHHH”, you’ll notice you can maintain this same pleasant tone when you sing your vowels, and best of all, it actually connects with both chest and head voice when you either ascend or lower in pitch!
#2 – Projection
Another method I’ve developed for helping my students learn how to sing a mix voice tone is the concept of projection. Now, rather than ‘projecting’ your voice away from yourself, imagine that your voice is being projected BACK towards you from a far away place, as though there is another singer singing to you from a far away point, like the corner of the room or the back of the auditorium. You’ll notice that this shift in focus through the centre of your voice often results in a similar tone to ‘classroom’ voice because it allows and encourages a blend of frequencies. Projection is another one of my favourite ways to illustrate the concept of mix voice singing. Basically, as you ascend from your chest voice, imagine that your tone is being projected back to you around your first vocal break. When you learn how to do this correctly, the tension that you feel in your chest voice as you ascend towards your vocal break will dissipate and you will be able to access more range and a better vocal tone while developing a fluid connection between chest and head voice.
#3 – Silence
What? You heard me – silence is a great way to access your middle voice. For this hack to work for you, it’s important you understand the physical aspect of your registers, the Vocalis and CT muscles which contact and stretch the vocal folds respectively. The Vocalis muscle physically contracts the vocal folds so that they shorten and thicken, almost into a square block which resonates slowly and with the deep, rich tone of your low end. Now, your head register occurs when you release the vocalis and instead use the CT muscles to stretch and thin the vocal folds. The reason that you strain through your middle range is because you’re holding on to vocal fold weight by retaining full engagement of the vocalis muscle past the point where you should be transitioning like a gradient between weight and length. So, when you sing a low chest voice note, this is actually not your voice in the resting phase like when you are silent, it’s actually a result of contraction of the vocal folds. With this in mid, if you practice going from complete silence to a low chest note, then complete silence to a high head note, you’ll notice two difference sensations, weight from the vocalis and stretch from the CT – now, as you ascend towards the MIDDLE of your range, you need to lessen engagement of both of these muscles, we first need to relax the vocalis so that the weight you are creating by contracting the vocal folds dissipates, but we’re not yet stretching and thinning the chords – instead, we’re doing neither. This central point is the springboard you can now use to develop power and resonance in your mix voice.
Chest voice = Contraction
Head voice = Stretch
Middle voice = Neither
With this equation in mind, you can now alternate between all three vocal fold coordinations with connection and start to develop a bridge between chest and head voice! Over time you will learn to retain a small amount of thickness in the vocal folds so that you head range remains full and powerful instead of light and weak – but for now, take it slow, start light and remember, singing is a process of balance, not a feat of brute strength!
#4 – Resonance blending
One of the best ways to develop mix voice is to blend your resonance. Like we discussed earlier, if you sing a low note, and a high note, you’ll be using two separate registers. Now, if we travel from one to the other, we don’t actually ‘hand off’ between chest and head, instead, you need to sing with BOTH types of resonance at the same time. Start light with a lip trill first and work through your sounds from small to large, N, NG, EE, OO, OH, AH etc, and focus on the area where your chest voice resonates, and focus on the area where your head voice resonates – by rights, if there is to be connection between chest and head, there MUST be a point where both types of resonance overlap and ping at the same time. Blending your resonance is one of the most effective ways to connect chest and head voice while developing mix voice.
#5 – Crescendo
Practising crescendos all throughout your range is a great way to develop strength and maintain vocal fold closure through the more difficult parts of your range. Now, you can also use the same crescendo to learn how to sing a mix voice tone. If you start from chest voice and ascend up an octave towards your first break and allow your voice to go very light and breathy at the top, you can then do a crescendo from this breathy tone into a fully resonant middle tone. Surprisingly enough, you’ll notice that the tone of your voice likely sounds different to when you just sing in full chest voice up an octave – no doubt you’ll experience some tension or a voice crack along the way. Allowing your voice to release into a light tone with very little weight, and then increasing resonance with a crescendo from this point of release will illustrate the tone required to then sing the octave in a FULL and resonant tone without going light. The first few times you do this you’ll probably just push, or stay weak, but the more you practice “Chest to weak (then crescendo), then Chest to full voice”, you’ll start to notice where you’re going wrong in your vocal tone when you push, and also where it’s weak. The resonance should occur in the back of your head rather than out of your mouth or ‘forward’ like you do when you push. Learning how to allow resonant space in the pharynx in this manner really is a great way to achieve a mix voice tone.
Middle voice is key to a great singing voice
There’s a reason why mix voice is the holy grail of all singing techniques, and that’s because every great singer is using mix voice. This is why your favourite singers can sing in a full ‘chest’ tone high in their range without flipping into a weak falsetto or singing overly heady. Learning how to sing a mix voice tone really will change your voice for the better, and allow you to develop many other aspects of your voice more efficiently too – from connecting chest voice, to improving your tone, to singing actual songs, these elements of a great singing voice really do depending on how well you can blend and mix your resonance. Are you singing in mix voice, or are you trying to drag your chest voice into your high range?
A great place to start is the free foundations course foundations 101 available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will show you how to set up a rock solid foundation for your mix voice to be built upon. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional coaching you’re welcome to book a Skype Lesson with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range, developing your mix voice and building control and consistency in your voice every tine you sing!
If you have any questions about learning to sing a mix voice tone, feel free to leave any questions or feedback below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.