When a singer wants to move between low and high pitches, often they’ll hear an obvious ‘break’ in their voice; an unsteady sound as they shift between head and chest voice. In order to smooth out this break, a singer needs to learn to seamlessly transition between registers. Once a singer masters this essential skill, they can then work on strengthening and balancing this blended register for a strong, sustainable mixed voice.
What exactly is mixed voice?
Simply put, it is a mixture of chest and head registers, with a balance of weight and sound quality between the lightness of head voice and the heavier chest voice.
When singing low notes, you generally feel the vibration in your chest, while higher sounds vibrate in your head – hence the terms ‘chest voice’ and ‘head voice’. By blending these registers, you achieve mixed voice.
Learning the fine motor skills to balance the breath and larynx as you ascend or descend pitches needs a safe, patient and rewarding setting, working with an experienced singing teacher. And it takes target practice. Think of it like working your muscles in the gym. The cartilages in your larynx and vocal cords need to lengthen, shorten, get thinner and thicker to allow discrete, defined and perceived acoustic characteristics known as registers.
When practising mixed voice singing, you need to focus on blending the more textured, thicker sounds with lighter sound qualities. It can be a brain and ear workout too, as both need time to work out the muscular moves, the resulting sound, and the combination so it is smooth, balanced – and remembered!
When I work with beginner singers, my goal is to help them understand the muscular ‘tug of war’ that happens when moving to different registers, so they learn to sing smoothly between them, with balanced resonance.
How do you achieve mixed voice?
Slowly and carefully! Part of the journey is understanding how your voice works, and making adjustments as needed. So, it’s best to start on exercises with smaller intervals, to allow your vocal muscles to create easy chest sounds, without a break or heaviness in the tonal quality. At the same time, you need to work on your lighter head voice sound, moving down slowly, carefully and consciously blending into middle register, looking for a thicker quality – and then move to chest voice.
Arpeggios, both ascending and descending, are great to strengthen and smooth the blending of your registers and balancing tonal quality. Sometimes I use arpeggio exercises with syllables, to make singers conscious of how their tongue needs to move as they articulate vowels and consonants.
Why would you use mixed voice?
Mixed voice is a conscious choice. You need to make decisions about the texture or weight of your chest and middle sound and balance these, depending on the material and interpretation. One song may be better with a lighter chest sound and a fuller head voice, while another needs a light touch for head voice and a thicker chest sound. It takes time and exploration.
You also need to balance technical aspects such as abdominal support, vowel shape and quality, and air flow between registers. Again, it takes time to notice the differences that lower support and air flow make to voice tone and quality.
Mixed voice is different in male and female singers. Women spend more time singing in their mixed voice register (between E 4 to E 5), and much material is written in this range. Female singers need to negotiate both chest to middle register and middle to head register.
In men, mixed voice is a little higher in their range. And for some men, at certain stages in their training, using falsetto to find the balance between head and chest voice is worth exploring. Their challenge is to find how to balance weights of voice to find a mix that is not too light or too heavy.
Mixed voice is often used in music theatre and contemporary songs. These examples require different blends of head, chest and mixed voice:
It Might As Well Be Spring (Rodgers and Hammerstein) needs more head voice-dominated sound to suit the song and character.
I Don’t Know How to Love Him (Andrew Lloyd Webber) needs more chest voice-dominated sound.
My Cousin from Milwaukie (Gershwin) needs a well-developed blend of all registers. It occasionally needs light but clear upper notes, and generally sits in a strong middle voice with easily blended chest voice.
She’s Always a Woman (Billy Joel) is dominated by middle voice quality. It also needs well balanced muscles to allow the head voice to sing and not crack as the song ascends.
Learning to sing in mixed voice is an important skill to work on. The rewards are greater vocal agility and versatility, giving you a richer palette of voice tone colours, to sing a broader repertoire of songs that bring you and others joy.
Keen to develop and strengthen your mixed voice singing? Kathleen Connell’s in-person and online singing lesson packages will help you make real progress with your singing goals. Get in touch to find out more.