What Is Mixed Voice [A Beginner’s Guide]
Mixed voice is a concept that really took a long time for me to understand personally, I spent many years trying to work out how to sing in head voice and chest voice at the same time to achieve a ‘mix’ – only to realise after many years this was not a practical manner in which to achieve mix voice.
Mix voice refers more to resonance than it does your registers in a mechanical sense. Many singers refer to vocal fold weight as chest voice, and vocal fold tension as head voice – weight is a function of the TA muscles, and stretch is a function of the CT muscles. Now, many singers will try to take their chest voice as high as possible to achieve a chesty mix, and are doomed to failure from the start because they miss one key word – mix. That’s right, you NEED head resonance to sing with a chesty, fully mix – if you avoid head voice because you feel it’s a ‘weak’ part of your voice, then you are quite simply not singing in mixed voice.
What is mixed voice?
Mixed voice occurs when you achieve resonance in the head and chest at the same time, in essence blending the full tonality of your low range with the ease of extension allowed by your head register. Mix voice is a confusing term that basically means “full voice in head voice” and can be achieved with a few simple tweaks to your technique.
The first thing you need to do is ensure you have a strong foundation, as your singing voice will only ever be as strong as the base you’ve built it upon. When you’ve set up your posture, breathing and placement to ensure a strong foundation, you will be able to move forward with the next aspect of mix voice – your vowels.
Vowels are your pals
Cringeworthy, I know – but it’s TRUE. Vowels are the true key to singing in mix voice and achieving efficient resonance through your full vocal range. In singing, your vowels have two main parts, the shape of your tongue and your resonant space. A great way to illustrate this concept is to have you alternate between singing an EE vowel and an AH vowel – can you feel how your tongue is raised on the EE, but lowered to a concave on the AH? Bingo, this is vowel shaping. Now, resonant space occurs when you alter the vocal tract shape and length to permit higher frequencies to bounce and resonate in a powerful way, essence turning your voice into a set of tuning forks or tubular bells that ‘ping’ at certain frequencies in a powerful way with little effort.
Altering your space takes time, but can be achieved with practice and perseverance. To illustrate the process, if you yawn through your mouth only (no air through your nose), you will feel a ‘rising’ feeling at the top of your mouth towards the back of your throat, known as the soft palate. Now, if you learn to make this motion without the actual yawn (which contains many bad muscle engagements and causes unbreakable habits), you will soon be in control of your resonant space and able to bounce your resonance into the pharynx for that powerful and open buzz you hear in a professional and established singer.
The key is to realise that each vowel needs it’s own resonant space, and that no two vowels are alike. As an example, the aforementioned EE vowel is naturally narrow, while and AH vowel is wide – this means you will need to alter the vocal tract in two different ways to sing each of these vowel sounds respectively.
A simple way of achieving this altered resonant space is called vowel modification. Basically, the sound of each of your vowels alters in character as you ascend in range, if you identify the character of each of your vowel sounds at a particular range, you can automatically create the right resonant space for your vowel by singing the right vowel character – it’s easier than it sounds.
To illustrate the concept, lets approach your first vocal break with an AH vowel. As you get towards the point of your break, allow your vowel to travel backwards into the soft palate area where you felt that ‘rising’ feeling from the yawn – you will notice the vowel opens up to an OH or AUGH (like laugh) somewhat. Now, if you do it again and deliberate go towards the OH or AUGH sound, this resonant space change happens automatically – how cool is that?
A vowel modification chart will show you the sounds required for each vowel modification in a general sense, but it’s important you understand how your voice differs in percieved pronunciation to the person who wrote the guide – if you ask an American, and Englishman and a Swede to sing an OH sound, no doubt you’ll get three different vowels from each singer. The important thing is to understand that singing doesn’t actually involve pronunciation, and relies on the shape of your tongue and resonant space to form each of your vowel sounds – resonant space occurs when you move the root of the tongue and raise the soft palate, make sure this is how you are modifying your vowel, not just mangling the sound of your vowel to match the vowel modification chart.
The key to singing with a powerful mix voice is to develop efficient and consistent resonance throughout your whole vocal range. By pinging the sound into the open resonance space we just created with your vowel modifications, you will have an otherworldly powerful resonance that is occuring with ease and very little effort – this is the secret to mix voice. Unfortunately the term “mix” conjures up images of the registers and chest and head voice, but the truth is, you can connect chest and head voice in a fluid way without a break – this makes the concept of mix rather redundant unless you’re talking about resonanance.
A great place to start is thefree foundations short courses available here at BVS which will show you how to set up THE best foundation for your voice so that you can support and resonate with ease. Then when you’re ready to take your voice to the next level and start improving your mix so it can be used in actual songs, you’re welcome to book a Skype Session and we’ll get started increasing your range and building control and consistency in your voice EVERY time you sing.
If you have any questions about mix voice or connecting chest and head voice, 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.