The #1 Problem With Mixed Voice Singing
The concept of middle voice is a powerful tool, but is often paired with confusing instructions or abstract jargon. No doubt you consider your low range “chest voice” and your high range “head voice”, but what about the central connection between the two? To understand the problem with mixed voice singing, you first need to understand how your registers function and how the idea of mixed voice singing can help you connect chest and head voice more efficiently along with eventually allowing you to actually sing in this most difficult portion of the voice, the central balance between chest and head.
Here’s how to fix the #1 problem with Mixed Voice Singing
Chest Voice is a contraction
When your voice is in the ‘resting’ phase when you are silent, your voice isn’t actually sitting in the ‘chest voice’ coordination ready for you to speak or sing. Chest voice occurs when you use the TA muscles (thyroarytenoid) to contract the vocal folds, making them shorter and thicker, allowing them to resonate with the low frequencies you associate with your chest voice, and literally, allowing them to vibrate at a slower speed. Slower speed vibration = lower frequency resonance.
Head Voice is an expansion
When you sing in head voice, your vocal folds actually expand due to engagement of the CT muscles (cricothyroid) so that they are longer and thinner, allowing faster vibration, resulting in higher frequency resonance. This isn’t the opposite of chest voice, it is actually a separate process that occurs with a switch in the contraction/expansion mechanism.
Many singers experience a vocal break during this central point of connection between vocal fold contraction and vocal fold expansion, but connection between the chest and head voice can be achieved with practice, perseverance and the concept of middle voice.
Middle voice is neither
The #1 problem with mixed voice singing, or middle voice as it’s often known, is that many singers treat the middle of their range as the central sensation between the contraction of chest voice and expansion of head voice, when in fact, it is neither of these mechanisms – you really can’t contract and expand at the same time, but you CAN change how this balance and changeover occurs.
If you alternate between complete silence, and then a chest voice note, you will essentially have the feeling of ‘mixed voice’ first, and then chest voice. If you then sing up an octave and aim to move from the feeling of chest voice to the ‘feeling of silence’ (aka middle voice), you will find a central point in your voice that sounds like chest voice, but no longer feels like middle voice. This is the initial key to finding your middle voice.
Find your mixed voice
You can find your mixed voice in many ways, and there are many useful mixed voice exercises you can try to help build this central balance between chest and head voice. One of my favourite ways to develop middle voice singing in my student’s voices is the idea of projection. Now, just like middle voice, “projection” is simply a concept, you aren’t physically throwing your voice away from yourself, you are instead imagining that your voice is coming back to you from a distant point. This shift in focus allows the natural balance of middle voice to occur with little effort, and from this point, you can then start developing a fuller connection with a moderate amount of weight to your sound without strain. Releasing your chest voice contraction in a fluid way as you ascend past your first break is paramount to a great singing voice – remember, the central point in your voice is neither contracted now expanded, it is neutral, just like silence!
Another great way to find your middle voice is to practice “classroom voice” – the same voice you would use if addressing a classroom full of rowdy kids. Use the voice you would speak with if you were trying to get the attention of the back row of kids in a classroom, pleasant but assertive – you don’t want to yell, but you don’t want to be meek. If you do this properly, it will feel effortless and strain free, but you will have a full and adult sounding voice that is easy to control. Over time you can then impart this same tone into your vowel sounds, warmups and vocal routine and start bridging between chest and head voice with more power and a solid connection.
There is no “magic” third register… however…
The conceptual idea that there is a balancing point central to chest and head voice is intrinsic to building a great singing voice. Many singers actually follow the concept of middle voice and mixed voice singing without even realising they are doing it. Instructions like Relax, Shed The Weight, Childish Voice, Passive Voice, Pleasant Voice, these all mean exactly the same thing. Shedding weight from your chest voice, or dropping weight from your low range simply means to lessen the contraction of the muscles responsible for your chest voice, it’s likely you’re just not aware these instructions all mean exactly the same thing.
Do you need help with your mix voice?
A great place to start is the free foundations short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will show you how to set up a strong and confident base for your middle voice to be built upon. When you’re ready to take your mixed voice singing to the next level with professional guidance and training, you can book a Skype Session with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range and building balance and consistency in your voice every time you sing – you can check out this week’s Skype Specials in the booking calendar.
If you have any questions about mixed voice singing, feel free to leave any feedback or questions 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.