What is Mix?

Weekly Teaching Tip – May 15, 2018
by Dean Kaelin

Even though we are the International Voice teachers of MIX there seems to be an ongoing search for what is really meant by the term “Mix”. Hopefully the following question I received and the answer I gave will help bring some clarification.

Question: I have a question for you (regarding mix) if you wouldn’t mind clarifying? (Each time I think I know what it is, I get confused again!).

I have listened to nearly all of the videos and audio files on the website and am particularly interested in the mix needed for pop and other contemporary styles. I have found myself confused over the term “transition” in this context-when singing classical music, the transition from chest to head (I mean heavy mechanism to light) is low down and the upper register is light and easy-great no problems there! There is then talk of the transition around A/Bb/B (for contemporary styles) which seems to imply a switch from heavy to light mechanism which led me to believe that mix takes place ‘in’ head voice/light mechanism. This just sounds a bit odd in my voice however and lacks the belt sound needed. I then listened to you speaking about ‘not letting go’ and keeping a narrow vowel through the transition (the latter which brings release to what would be pure chest voice). This then led me to think that mix belongs more to the chest voice co-ordination but the vowel brings that release which allows you to stay with the chest vice co-ordination (now called mix) that can be taken way past the usual transition (to an E5 and beyond?). I have lately experienced this with my own voice and was amazed that I could take ‘chest voice’ so high (what I mean by that is no feeling of transition!). The confusion therefore occurred by the word “transition”, as I felt that there wasn’t one (not until much higher, which presumably would be the transition to head voice/light mechanism/’letting go’) although it could be argued that there is a gradual transition aided by the narrowing vowels. The sensation was of being in the upper register but being encapsulated by chest- It sounded like chest but felt more like “head” and it seemed as if the voice just keeps stretching up and up! I wanted to check with you whether this sounds right as I don’t want to sing in a damaging way. I just couldn’t believe how great it sounded!!. I assume that you should allow your voice to get used to the new co-ordination? If you could let me know if any of this makes sense I would be grateful!

Answer: I could describe it much quicker and efficiently over a Skype call probably, rather than trying to explain it in writing. It would be very easy to show you what it sounds like, rather than to describe what it sounds and feels like. But I will try…

Overall what you have described is quite accurate!! Congratulations! The idea that your “chest voice can just keep going” (although not entirely accurate, but yes, that is what it can feel like) is EXTREMELY strange to traditionally trained classical singers who have been taught that they need to feel a big “shift” when ascending pitches from a “heavy” to a “light” coordination. When you sing in a “Mix” you are able to move from your lowest note to your highest note without any noticeable change in coordination. This is what leads many to believe that you are simply pulling your chest voice up, which is entirely NOT true!

Basically, Mix is a blend of “chest” and “head” and although the sensations change as you move from a lower to a higher pitch there should ALWAYS be a combination of those 2 sensations. You should never be entirely in “chest” or “head”. The vibration still moves from a “chest to head” sensation, however the vocal cord closure remains relatively consistent throughout the full range of the voice so it sounds (and feels) like you are staying in your chest voice through your full range (even though you are going to head voice) because you do not feel a “flip”. The “flip” or disconnection comes from a sudden change in the amount of vocal cord closure. Usually singers hang on to more vocal cord closure in the lower range (chest) and then move to a much lighter coordination in the upper range (head voice) causing a “flip” or a feeling of disconnection. Usually “belt” teaches a “chest voice coordination” and “legit” or classical singing encourages a lighter or “head voice coordination”. So, people tend to sing “heavy” in chest (more cord closure) and “lighter” in head (less cord closure). (And unfortunately many if not most singers are actually taught to sing this way!) Because most people sing this way, most people think of chest as “connected” (or strong) and head voice as “disconnected” (or lighter). However, if you maintain the same amount of vocal cord closure as you move from “chest to head”, there is no noticeable change in timbre or strength. Thus it sounds (and feels) like a “chest voice coordination” throughout the full range of the voice. So, you can think of “Mix” as a “Mix of chest and head”. You can also think of it as a “Mix of TA and CT” where the TA muscle is more dominant in the chest (lower) and the CT more dominant in the head (upper), similar to changing gears on a 10-speed bicycle or a manual transmission car.

Basically, if a singer will maintain what feels to be a consistent flow of air, consistent resistance of the vocal folds and a consistent “centered” vowel, and then drop their jaw as they ascend in pitch they will be able to move smoothly and evenly from “chest” to “head” without any change in sound quality. This is “Mix”. A singer can use Mix for all styles of singing. When you are driving a manual transmission car you can remain longer in 1st gear if you want to drive faster and push the car harder; however, you still need to shift, you just shift later, getting higher RPMs before shifting. If you don’t want to push the car as much you can shift gears sooner at lower RPMs getting a less aggressive approach. This is similar to the voice. When singing “belt” there will be “higher RPMs” or a greater amount of vocal cord closure or TA activity. In Mix (or pop, country, jazz, etc) there is a medium amount, and in a lighter coordination there will be less vocal cord closure (the singer “shifts sooner”). So the technique doesn’t change, there is just a change in the balance or in the relationship between the air, muscle and vowel. There are also changes that can and should be made in vowel formation for these different styles and approaches, but we will leave that to another day since that gets into formant/harmonic relationships haha!

These audio files are of a lesson I taught to a young woman who had received both “classical” and “belt” lessons, so she came in with 2 different voices and wanted to try and find her Mix. I thought they might be helpful to be able to hear along with this teaching tip.

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