Updated: Aug 17, 2022
Have you ever tried to sing something really low and then jump really high, but there is this sudden flip or “break” that happens? That obvious sudden and abrupt change can be frustrating if it was not supposed to happen. There are times when singers use that method to create a vocal effect, but usually, it is not preferred when singing a song.
Let’s talk about mixing and how it can be achieved so that you can sing with more ease and focus on your actual performance during a show.
Mixing in singing is about blending vocal registers. We use this method to transition through the passaggio (vocal break) better without hurting our throat. The two registers we are going to talk about is the low register, which is where your chest voice is used, and then the high register, which is where your head voice is used. Before we can practice mixing, we need to really have a firm foundation of chest voice and head voice.
It’s like baking a cake. You need all the ingredients to mix before they can be put in the oven. If you have a strong chest voice, but an underdeveloped head voice, it is going to be difficult to mix even if you tried any of the vocal exercises meant for strengthening the mix.
Let’s talk about CHEST VOICE.
Chest voice is where you usually sing lower notes and you can feel the vibrations and resonance around the chest area. This is where your vocal folds are thicker and have a firmer cord closure, allowing better resistance when air is flowing through. This is why singing in our speaking range is so nice, because it’s just easier to make a clean sound. Chest voice can be heavy and rich, which means as you go higher some of that heaviness will need to lessen and blend with the head voice to make sure we don’t damage our vocal folds, but with the right amount of chest voice it can make your higher notes sound really nice. There is a certain point where the chest voice “ends” and then we enter the head voice range. If you try to belt that high, it can be very detrimental and that is when mixing comes into play to reduce the harshness of the closure, but still make a strong clean sound as you go higher.
Let’s talk about HEAD VOICE.
Head voice is where you sing higher notes and you can feel the resonance around your head. This is where your vocal folds are thinner and have a mild closure, which means you don’t want to push too much air through or it will shove your cords apart, causing you to create a breathy sound. If you are too breathy, you run into problems such as dryness, throat irritation, coughs, and it makes you sound weaker. You will run out of air faster. This is why mixing your head voice with a bit of chest voice will be beneficial because it will thicken up the sound without pushing too much air out. There are other factors involved such as compression, but we can save that topic for another day.
Before you can mix, you need to develop your chest voice and head voice.
Understand the difference between the two registers and understand what happens to your vocal cords as you go higher or lower. Mixing exercises will come easier if you made sure you are solid with your registers.
Now that we finished discussing the difference between chest voice and head voice, let’s talk about mixing.
Again, mixing is about blending the two registers to help transition through the passaggio with more ease and less strain. Think of blending as degrees. There is no one mixed voice, but there are varying degrees of blending that you can play around with to get the sound you want in your voice. For instance, if you are starting in your chest voice, the lowest part of that register will predominantly sound like a full chest voice, which is sometimes called a chest-dominant mix. As you start to go higher, you’ll notice that the weight of the chest voice starts to shift and becomes less heavy. That’s because you are starting to blend into your head voice.
You actually start blending way before you even reach your passaggio because your body actually knows that it’s getting you ready for the transition.
However, what tends to happen too often is that people want to take their chest voice all the way beyond the vocal break point, and what ends up happening is they raise their larynx too high and that will cause strain and tightness. Not good for your vocal cords and it doesn’t sound nice either. Start blending before the passaggio and as you pass it, you’re going to notice that there is a 50/50 blend right where your passaggio sits. Then once you go beyond the passaggio you enter the head mix. If you want more head voice attributes to your mix, then you will reduce the weight of the chest blend and add in more head resonance, making it a head-dominant mix.
Back to the idea of baking a cake. The eggs represent CHEST VOICE. It provides stability and richness to a cake and helps the cake to rise when put in the oven. The way your cake can rise will depend on the number of eggs you put in the mix. Without the eggs, the cake will be dry and lackluster with no depth of flavor. The sugar represents the HEAD VOICE. The more sugar you add, the sweeter it gets. Since sugar locks in moisture, it makes the cake soft and tender, similar to the way your head voice can sound. Sugar can make a cake fluffy and light too, just like the head voice. So you can see how you can play around with the idea of cake ingredient measurements if you want your sound to be sweet or rich, bland or dry. The key idea is that you need the two ingredients to make the cake. Without the other ingredients, your cake won’t even bake!
One more thing to add to help you with mixing is BREATH SUPPORT.
Breath support is about the amount of airflow coming in and out and how much resistance is happening when air is flowing through the vocal cords. If too much air is pushed out with no resistance, you will sound breathy and the flip will be more obvious especially when transitioning from chest voice to head voice. Make sure to train on breath support as well so that you don’t damage your vocal cords will practicing.
Here are some tips on how to practice your mix once you have developed your chest and head voice.
Use exercises with these consonants:
N, M, Ng, G
These consonants will bring your sound towards the nasal cavity which will brighten up your voice as you transition from chest to head voice. Don’t get too wide with your mouth when doing these exercises or you will crunch your vocal cords and you won’t produce the actual mixed voice.
Take it one step at a time. I like to take one vocal exercise and do it in three parts.
For example, try singing the word “Nay” on an 8 note ascending scale and sing the word on each note one at a time till you reach the top note.
Now sing the word “Nay” legato, meaning you are singing all the notes but as one continuous melody with no stops till you reach the top note.
Then sing the word ‘Nay’ and start from the first note and slide through all the other pitches to reach the top note of that scale.
With this order, you will take your time to not only warm up your mix but to gradually smooth it out as well. It’s much better than drilling a mixing exercise over and over and not seeing results.
There are many other mixing exercises that you can do, but the most important thing to take away is to strengthen your chest and head voice first before you attempt any mixing exercises. Otherwise, you will get really frustrated when the exercises don’t work.
Check out this video if you want to see how the exercise I mentioned in this blog is demonstrated.
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