'How do I sing in the mix?', 'What is my mix?', and 'How do I find my mix?' are fairly common questions asked by singers. But what exactly do they mean?
The first thing to say is that every Voice Quality is essentially a 'mix' – a combination of structures that contribute to the overall sound. Whenever we sing, we – consciously or otherwise – manipulate those structures to give us specific sounds.
But the terms 'Mix voice', 'Mixed voice' and 'singing in the mix' seem to refer to something specific, so it's worth analysing exactly what those terms mean.
Although 'Mix' is a very in-vogue term and may seem a fairly recent development, the concept of a 'middle' register dates back to the very earliest days of voice research. Although accepting that the voice had two very distinct ways of vibrating (in those days referred to as 'Chest' and 'Head' / 'Falsetto'), singers intuitively felt that there was a third way, which didn't quite feel or sound like the other two. Without the benefits of modern research, singer and teachers then started to refer to a 'Middle' register, or even a 'Mixed' voice, believing it to be a mixture of the two main registers.
In the 1840s, Manuel Garcia (the 'father of modern voice science') referred to it as 'Voix Mixte' - a term still in use in Classical singing.
In 2004, vocal researcher Nathalie Henrich, building on her ground-breaking work on classifying 'registers' as Laryngeal Mechanisms, set out to discover whether or not 'Voix Mixte' was a separate mechanism or actually a vocal technique. Her work (you can read the full paper here: Is Voix Mixte an Independent Mechanism?) led to the conclusive result that there is NO middle register in terms of vocal fold vibration, but that singers have a very clear perception that something is different.
As discussed in my vocal registers article, perceptual registers (aka Singing registers) are vital for singers, but for the purposes of understanding Mix, it's important to understand that the sound needs to be controlled initially at the level of the vocal folds (Scientific register), so to keep things simple(r) for now, we'll focus purely on what the vocal folds are doing in the 'Mix'.
With the concept of 'Laryngeal Mechanisms', we can very precisely define how the vocal folds are vibrating when producing any sound.
The two main mechanisms / registers are referred to as M1 and M2 (in older terminology 'Chest' and 'Head'). In general terms, M1 is the lower, heavier part of your voice, M2 the higher, lighter part. It's important to understand that the frequency ranges produced by two consecutive mechanisms partially overlap each other, sometimes by as much as an octave. Blending or 'mixing' (aka 'singing in the mix') is a vocal technique utilised in this overlap region, with the aim of disguising the transition from one mechanism to the other.
To reiterate - it's very important to recognise that from a mechanical perspective there is NO separate 'middle' voice or 'mix' register. But from a perceptual perspective, there's a very definite sensation of not being in a pure M1 or a pure M2 - hence why singers feel that a separate register exists.
Volume and tone are influenced heavily by subglottic pressure (SGP) i.e. how much pressure builds up below the vocal folds on each cycle of vibration. This can be altered by controlling the mass of the vocal fold (Laryngeal Mechanism) and the way that the folds are held together against the breath (Medial compression)
I like equations, so here's one for you:
SGP = mass x compression
Wherever you are in your range, your vocal folds are vibrating in a specific way. Lower in the range, the full body of the vocal fold will naturally be
involved (M1). Higher, the body stops vibrating (M2) leaving just the upper layers (cover).
The thick, deep mass of M1 naturally resists more breath than the thinner mass of M2. As an awareness exercise, try clapping your hands normally with four fingers, then with just two fingers to get the effect.
The vocal folds can be held together at the midline with more or less effort. One of the natural actions of the larynx is to close completely when you swallow. Using these compression muscles in a controlled way allows you to manipulate the amount of SGP that builds up, and therefore influence the tone and volume.
The control we have over these muscles allows a high degree of adjustment, to the point where both M1 and M2 can resist the same amount of breath pressure, even though the vocal fold mass is significantly different.
The transition in the middle of the range of an untrained singer is very noticable – often described as a 'crack' or 'break'. While this may be desirable in certain styles and songs, most of the time we want to disguise the transition. And it's certainly a great skill for any singer to acquire.
The aim of mixing is to simulate the sound quality of a different laryngeal mechanism (M2 when in M1, M1 when in M2) so that you can have Thick-sounding Thin folds and Thin-sounding Thick folds. For the voice geeks among you, the intensity adjustments required are approximately -10 dB to simulate M2 while in M1, and +5dB to simulate M1 while in M2.
The terms used by Henrich to describe these two phonation types are mx1 and mx2 (i.e. reduced intensity M1 and increased intensity M2).
mx1 = M1 -
mx2 = M2 +
Imagine that your M1 sound is 'Red' and your M2 is 'Yellow'. Around your transition, you should be looking for an 'Orange', slightly less than 'Red', slightly more than 'Yellow'.
In other words, around the regsiter transition, you need to reduce the intensity of your M1 and then increase intensity as you switch to M2. To do that, you decrease the medial compression / breath pressure in M1, increase them in M2.
Time for another equation:
mx1 ≈ mx2
Returning to the hand clap awareness exercise above, try alternately clapping with two fingers and four fingers, reducing the volume on four and increasing on two until the two claps sound the same - that's the essence of Mix, making different things sound the same.
The best exercise is an old Classical (Bel Canto) exercise called the 'Messa di Voce' which is essentially sustaining a note and changing the dynamic, going from pp to ff and back down to pp in a very controlled way.
Practice that exercise on low pitches in M1 and high pitches in M2 and you'll find that you have many shades of 'Orange' that you can utilise as you go through your range. Do that successfully and you'll completely disguise the fact that your voice has changed gear, giving you a technique that sounds the same from bottom to top, with a full range of tone and dynamics throughout.
Andy Follin is a full-time, professional vocal coach, whose methods are known for producing quick results. Quite often, Andy finds that long-standing problems can be fixed in the first few lessons. At your first session, Andy will give you an assessment of your abilities and draw up a plan that ensures you get to where you want to be, as quickly as possible.
If you're ready to take your voice to the next level, book a lesson with Andy today (see bottom of page).
Andy runs his studio from St Helens, so is ideally located for students in the Liverpool, Merseyside, Manchester, Lancashire and Cheshire areas. Please check out the separate pages for students from Liverpool, Merseyside, Warrington, Widnes / Runcorn, Wigan, Cheshire, Lancashire and North Wales.
Discover your true potential and take control of your future