Three voice ranges men can sing in
We’ve all heard of chest voice, and head voice – but did you know there is another ‘mystery’ vocal register called middle, or ‘mix‘ voice that sits smack bang in the centre of the two? Middle voice is KEY to building your vocal range and singing without strain.
Most guys when they sing, are pushing up their chest voice as far as possible, and then ‘flipping’ into a weak head voice when they can no longer sing any higher in their chest register – the secret, is transitioning into your middle register so that change is fluid and inaudible. The three different voice ranges men can sing in are the Chest, Mid/Middle and Head registers – if you train your voice properly, you would quickly find that you actually have ONE connected singing voice rather than a heavy ‘low’ range and light ‘high’ range – one connected and powerful singing range no matter what register!
Chest voice is the register that most men naturally speak in, that low, rich and boomy sound you associate with the low range. The chest voice is controlled and created by the thyroarytenoid muscle, or “TA” and involves thickening of the vocal chords for a deeper, richer tone. Most listeners assume that Men always sing in chest voice when their voice is full, before flipping up into head voice when they are singing lighter – but the reality is much more complex and fine tuned than this over simplification.
Now, head voice is the light ‘flipped’ sound that most listeners assume men are singing in when they sing light or falsetto, which again simple isn’t the case. Head voice is controlled by the cricothyroid or “CT” muscles, and involves tensing or stretching of your vocal folds. When you are singing in PURE head voice, this means that you are tensing or stretching your vocal folds without any thickness care of the TA muscles associated with chest voice.
Mixed voice is the central coordination of both the TA and CT muscles, resulting in a direct mix of tonality between your two main registers. I personally prefer the term middle voice or middle coordination, but “mix” or “blend” also works to describe mix voice too. When you are a beginner singer, it’s likely that you don’t have coordinated control over these two important muscles, leading to a disconnected vocal range that ‘flips’ in your middle up into your head coordination as your TA muscles loose control and strength. Over time, and with a great vocal coach, you can learn to coordinate your two main registers to balance in a MIDDLE coordination that is both powerful and extensive in range just like your favourite singers and the professionals!
These three registers, chest voice, head voice and then their central coordination of MIDDLE or MIX voice are incredibly important for your singing voice, and will allow you to sing with POWER, range and a professional singing tone and high range with ease.
As you can see, middle voice is a powerful, yet strain free range in your voice that allows you to sing with a ‘chesty’ sound without pushing, and allows you to fully connect your chest and head voice. When it comes to ROCK singing, then middle voice is King.
Learn how to sing in mix voice
Learning how to sing in mix voice takes time, practice and the right approach. One of the ways I have developed to help my students learn how to sing in mix voice is the concept of projection. Now, when I say projection, I don’t mean projecting your voice far away, I actually mean figuratively imagining that your voice is being projected back towards you from a far point. This visual tool really does help you release any lock from your chest voice, or, TA muscles, and allows you to coordinate your two main registers into a third honorary register know as mix or middle voice.
Using my projection approach, you should soon be able to release your voice into the mix coordination and continue to strengthen and develop this powerful middle tone so that you can connect chest and head voice will improving your overall control and dexterity as a singer.
Another fantastic way I like to teach my students to access this mix register is by way of classroom voice – basically, if you speak in a high, but assertive voice like you would expect from a teacher gaining the attention of their students “Okay everyone, look over here!” without shouting, and without sounding meek – you will realise that there is actually another resonant tonality that sits in the centre of your range there care of coordinating your registers in this way for the classroom tone. Your tone should be pleasant and assertive, and you can use this as a cue when you are singing songs and approach this range, if you alter the character of your tone somewhat towards this pleasant and assertive tone, just like the pros do, you’ll notice an increase in range, an increase in power and a total change in your understanding of your vocal registers.
What other singing techniques do I need?
While middle voice is the proverbial ‘king’ of powerful singing, there are other subjects in the Kingdom you need to acquaint yourself with, such as vocal placement, resonance tuning, twang, vowel shaping, register release, Appoggio and many others. A great way to learn the right singing techniques is to follow this list of the Top 5 important singing techniques every singer needs to learn.
Top 5 singing techniques every singer needs to learn
With these 5 singing techniques, you will be accessing your mix register in no time at all, while building a strong, robust and consistent voice that is a joy to train, and even more joyous to sing with.
#1 – Foundation
Your foundation actually includes quite a number of techniques, but it’s SO important that I’m going to cram them all into the number one spot on this list. Your foundation starts with posture, which in singing looks something like: Head up, shoulders back, chin parallel with the floor and ribs wide. This last point, a widened rib position leads me to the next technique in your foundation, known as Appoggio singing technique, which will allow you to control your breathing via extension of the diaphragm rather than contraction of the ribs and chest like often happens in speech. A great way to set your ribs wide for Appoggio singing is to raise your sternum without breathing in – you’ll often find that this sets your ribs apart while contracting your stomach, the perfect setup for a powerful Appoggio voice.
You then simply need to learn how to sing from the diaphragm so that you can control your air flow and air pressure properly. My free foundations short courses Breathing 101 will show you exactly how to engage your diaphragm and the best breathing exercises for singing.
#2 – Resonance placement
Vocal placement is the simple concept of limiting any unnecessary frequencies that may not be resonating in the most efficient manner. This is often mistaken as classical ‘mask’ technique by even some of the most popular voice coaches out there, so make sure your approach to singing includes a practical way for your to PLACE your voice. A great way to build vocal placement is to sing a gentle “NG” or “NG” sound, while attempting to limit any frequencies or vibration from occurring below your top teeth. Over time, your voice will recognise that you wish to create only the most efficient band of frequencies, and this placement will appear when you sing actual song, allowing you to sing with more power, a higher range and completely void of any strain. Vocal placement has been key to building my own baritone singing voice.
#3 – Balance your onset
Another powerful singing technique that is often overlooked in even the most popular singing courses is balanced onsets. There are three different types of onsets that your voice is able to create in singing, but only one that is healthy and useful in the long run;
- Breathy onset – air is released before your vocal chords come together
- Glottal onset – your vocal chords are forced shut before air blows them apart
- Balanced onset – your vocal chords and your air pressure meet at the perfect moment to create strain free vibration and resonance
Learning to balance your onset in this manner will allow you to sing completely free of strain, without any undue force, and without any unintentional breathiness.
#4 – Consonant groupings
I personally like to group consonant sounds into their respective types and then develop an individual approach to each of these consonant groupings considering my student’s voice type, accent and vocal physiology. A great example of this is for any thick European or Slavic accent, from Swedish right through to Polish, where a consonant sound such as “W” is actually created with glottal stop in the larynx – my approach to lifting this placement from deep in the throat would be to replace the “W” sound with a pure and well placed “OO” vowel. So, instead of a word like ‘Well’ causing strain and a throaty placement, it would become a lilting “OO-ell” that is clear, concise and placed with a powerful and efficient resonance. Learn to create your consonant sounds the right way to immediately release strain from your singing voice and build a responsive instrument that can sing ANY song.
I often build a number of consonant groupings with my students, from plosive and glottal consonants, right through to sibilance, open resonants and closed resonant sounds.
#5 – Resonance tuning
Tuning your resonance to the right mix of frequencies as you ascend in range and access the different resonators throughout your voice is the only way to increase your vocal range and connect your registers. As you ascend in range, it’s important that you make slight changes to your frequencies, or vowels, so that they resonate in the most efficient manner and never lose their depth or richness, no matter how high or low you sing. The most common form of resonance tuning is called vowel modification, and involves making subtle changes to the character of your vowels as you ascend in range, such as AH becoming OH, then ER, then OO as you sing towards your head voice. While this isn’t the most efficient or fine tuned way to tune your resonance, it’s a great introduction to the concept for a complete beginner because it works so easily.
As you start to progress in skill as a singer, you’ll note that vowel modification is simply way too general and clunky to fine-tune your resonance the way that your voice needs to build a professional singing range, so it’s important your approach to singing develops control over the individual elements of your voice that make vowel modification possible so that you can learn to control them in a much more efficient and powerful way. Here’s a great tutorial I’ve put together to show you some of the different ways you can tune your resonance:
If you’re ready to build your vocal registers and build an impressive vocal range, you can book a Skype session with me today and I’ll show you how it’s done!
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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.