The Great Mixed Voice Swindle – Is Mix Voice Just High Chest Voice?
I still remember when I first discovered mixed voice singing – the feeling of freedom in my singing, the pleasant but powerful tone, the ability to slide up into head or slide down into chest voice without breaking.
I remember thinking “Hang on – this sounds JUST like chest voice.”
And “This pretty much FEELS like chest voice too – but without pushing, yelling or straining.”
“Is mixed voice singing just the ability to sing high chest voice notes?”
I started to understand exactly why there’s so much argument over whether “mix” is really a thing, or just a marketing term – Had I truly discovered the magic secret to all great singing; or had I just trained my voice for long enough that I was now able to extend chest voice?
Well, it really depends on how you look at singing.
From a scientific perspective, registration like Chest and Head voice is just an acoustic thing – a “tonal centre” for your high and low range and the tonal difference you get from shifts in the vocal mechanism. Basically, voice scientists see “registration primarily as acoustic events” (1)
But most singers, at least those who are trying to work all of this out, think of chest and head voice as the physical sensation they get when they control the TA muscle during chest registration, and extension of the CT cartilage when they are using head registration – almost like there’s a “chest muscle” and a “head muscle”.
I have to say, now that I’ve worked much of this out and I’m able to sing in mixed voice at will, I lean towards the former – at least in my own singing, and predominantly in my coaching approach.
Excessive importance put on the physical feeling and muscular process of the voice often leads a singer to sound quite clunky and lack control – and leaves them without the freedom and smooth delivery that they are trying to work towards.
When you focus on acoustic registration instead of the physical, it’s much easier to form a fluid, free and controlled approach to singing that is without any bumps or lumps in your delivery.
That’s not to say there’s not a physical element to some forms of singing – belting for example is much more the latter, in that you support heavily and aim for more contraction within the TA muscle; but again, this is really done within the mixed register – a balanced use of both the TA and CT muscle.
And that’s the tricky thing about singing – actually, about being human in general. We just have to label everything in what we see as a hard, scientific, irrefutable, factual way; when singing itself is altogether not a scientific, muscular pursuit – in fact, the less you overthink the science of it, singing becomes much easier.
You can have two singers making the same physical choices – and one may be a world class singer, and the other a total amateur.
Herein lies the big Mixed Voice Swindle:
One guy says it’s not a thing, because he’s a very physical singer – chest feels like chest, and head feels like head; and there’s a defined shift in those physical feelings when he ‘hands off’ to head in the higher range.
Another guy, like me, says it really IS a thing – because the acoustic blend between the registers definitely sounds and feels partly like chest and partly like head; with no defined dominance in physical feeling other that singing with full connection in an acoustic sense (no “handoff” per se), and a smooth balance physically between the TA and CT in a natural way – no dragging, no physical force; just quality resonance in any and all registers.
The cool thing about the latter approach is that it ties together many other important techniques like vowel modification and tonal intent.
Pure chest occurs with a neutral vocal tract – and the vowel sung in a natural way either like AH or AY for example (Hard or Hey), the chest-mix register occurs with a wider vocal tract and opens up to AW or EH (Hawed or Head), the head-mix register occurs with a narrowing/raised vocal tract and opens to OU and IH, and finally head voice itself occurs with a fully narrowed tract to OO and EE.
Register: Chest/Chest Mix/Head Mix/Head
Tonal Intent: Bright/Mixed/Cry/Bright
AH Vowel: Hard/Hawed/Heard/Who’d
AY Vowel: Hey/Head/Hid/Heed
Clear as mud?
Let me share with you exactly HOW to modify your vowels in this way to split the voice into four blended registers:
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