The Singer's Guide to Mixed Voice Technique
If you want to sing in mainstream musical genres, or if you would like to audition for a local theatre production, you may need to practice your “mixed voice” technique. This guide explains head voice, chest voice, and how they can be brought together into a single mixed voice.
If you would like to work 1-on-1 with a professional, send Julian Morris an email. He helps singers expand their range, strengthen their falsetto, make their head voice less airy, and everything in between. He teaches voice lessons in NYC, and he can provide online coaching as well.
What is Mixed Voice Technique?
The mixed voice singing technique refers to the blend or mix of the chest and head registers, allowing a seamless transition across vocal ranges. This combination brings the richness and power of the chest voice into higher pitches typically associated with the head voice, resulting in a more even and balanced tone. Singers who are good at singing in their mixed voice will essentially not have a vocal “break.” By developing a strong mixed voice, a singer can avoid vocal strain, enabling them to sing high notes with greater power and flexibility.
Differences Between Chest and Head Voice
Before delving into mixed voice, it's essential to understand the basics of chest voice and head voice. Here’s a quick overview.
What is Your Chest Voice?
Chest voice is the term used to describe the vocal register used typically for lower pitches and regular speech. When singing in a chest voice, the vocal cords are thicker and vibrate more slowly, producing a stronger, fuller sound that resonates in the chest area, hence the term "chest voice". This resonance can often be physically felt, creating a sense of vibration or 'buzzing' in the chest. The muscles primarily involved in producing chest voice are the thyroarytenoid muscles inside the larynx. These muscles shorten and adduct the vocal cords, enabling the heavier, more robust sound characteristic of chest voice.
What is the Head Voice?
Head voice refers to the vocal register typically used for higher pitches. When singing in head voice, the vocal cords are stretched and thinned (not that the singer feels any tension), allowing for faster vibrations and a lighter, more ethereal sound. The resonance or vibrations are felt in the head, giving this register its name. Physiologically, the cricothyroid muscles inside the larynx are predominantly engaged when singing in head voice. These muscles elongate and tense the vocal cords, facilitating the production of higher pitches. Training in head voice can help singers achieve a smooth vocal range, blending seamlessly with the chest voice for comprehensive vocal flexibility and control.
How To Develop Your Mixed Voice Technique as a Singer
Developing a mixed voice involves learning to engage both the chest and head voice concurrently. The 'mix' can differ from person to person and note to note, with some notes requiring more chest resonance and others more head resonance.
Some Common Exercises To Develop Your Mixed Voice
Lip trills and tongue trills can help balance the breath and the vocal cords, leading to a smoother mixed voice. By trilling through a scale or melody, you encourage your voice to remain relaxed and avoid unnecessary tension.
Secondly, try “Nay” exercises. Singing the word 'nay' in a bratty or exaggerated tone on different scales or melodies can help connect your chest and head voices. This nasal sound encourages the resonance to stay forward in the face, which is beneficial for singing in a mix.
Third, try recreating the sound of a siren. Sliding from your lowest note to your highest on a 'woo' or 'ng' sound can help navigate the transition between registers, encouraging a smoother blend.
We strongly recommend that you choose and practice technical exercises under the guidance of a professional teacher. You can hurt yourself (or waste lots of time) if you aren’t doing the exercises correctly.
Who Uses “Mixed Voice” Techniques the Most?
The mixed voice technique is particularly popular in musical theatre, where the need for robust yet versatile vocal delivery is crucial. A well-developed mixed voice allows performers to sing a diverse range of musical numbers with richness and power. Songs like "Defying Gravity" from Wicked or "This is the Moment" from Jekyll and Hyde are good examples of pieces that benefit from a strong mixed voice.
Pop and rock singers also often use the mixed voice technique to achieve a powerful, resonant sound on higher notes without straining their voices. Songs like "Chandelier" by Sia or "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi showcase the power of mixed voice in a pop-rock context.
Famous Singers Who Are Known For Their Mixed Voice
Numerous professional singers employ the mixed voice technique. Musical theater performers such as Idina Menzel and Sutton Foster are known for their powerful mixed voices. In the pop/rock world, artists like Freddie Mercury, Kelly Clarkson, and Bruno Mars utilize this technique to navigate their wide vocal ranges with power and versatility.
In short, mastering mixed voice is an invaluable skill for singers of all genres, allowing for a rich, balanced tone across a broad vocal range. It's a technique that requires understanding, practice, and patience, but with diligent work and potentially the guidance of a vocal coach, it can greatly enhance a singer's versatility and vocal health. For singing lessons in the Upper West Side, get in touch.
Reference Materials That Contributed to This Blog
McKinnon, Joan Wall and Nicola Vaccai. "Practical Method of Italian Singing: For Soprano or Tenor". G. Schirmer, Inc. 1986.
Miller, Richard. "Training Soprano Voices". Oxford University Press. 2000.
Titze, Ingo R., and Katherine Verdolini Abbott. "Vocology: The Science and Practice of Voice Habilitation". National Center for Voice and Speech. 2012.
Chapman, Janice L. "Singing and Teaching Singing: A Holistic Approach to Classical Voice". Plural Publishing. 2011.