How do I find my mix voice? And what is mixing anyway?

Have you ever tried to go for a high note and been thwarted by a massive crack in your voice? Have you ever wondered how to eliminate the break between your low notes and high notes?

Learning how to mix should help you with that! But what is mixing and how do I do it?

Oxford Languages defines “mix” as: two or more different qualities, things, or people placed, combined, or considered together.

Two or more things combined together!

In regards to our singing voice, mixing, or developing a “mix,” refers to seamlessly combining our chest voice and our head voice. No matter the styles of music you sing, your voice has two distinct registers: head voice and chest voice.

The transition or area between these two registers is known as one’s “mix” (noun). The process of that coordination is known as “mixing” (verb).

You cannot build a bridge to where there is no shore

If a mix (or mix voice) is a combination of two different registers in our voice, then you first and foremost need access to those registers before you can start blending them!

What is chest voice?  

imagine chest voice as the strong, stable base in the ‘pyramid’ of your voice.

Also known as your lower register — it’s the range of notes in which we comfortably speak. Chest voice is the foundation of your singing voice. Strength and success in the rest of your range depends on the stability of your chest voice! Imagine your voice is shaped like a pyramid: chest voice is the strongest, thickest (literally, in your cords!) part of your voice. The rest of your voice is built on that foundation!

Without utilizing chest voice properly, singers may sound breathy or weak, lack dynamics, and have a less powerful middle and upper range. Whether you sing classical music or classic R&B, using your chest voice is essential to having a strong and balanced voice. 

What is head voice?

Also known as your upper register, and sometimes referred to as falsetto (although they are not one and the same!). Say an excited “Whoo hoo!” like you’re cheering at a game  — you’re using your head voice! A well balanced voice releases into head voice at the proper time to access brilliant high notes. Resisting this transition will lead to strain, poor pitch, and a limited range. Everyone from Whitney Houston to Bruno Mars to Pavarotti use their head voice, so get on board!

What is mixing / mix voice?

Mixing is the coordination process of blending chest voice and head voice together. Sometimes this coordination is referred to as “bridging,” like bridging the gap between chest voice and head voice. You cannot build a bridge to where there is no shore…so chest voice and head voice need to be accessible, if not comfortable, before you can expect to build your mix voice.

mixing involves elements of both chest and head voices.

 While not every singer experience mixing in the same way, I’ll argue that any singer with somewhat decent technique is mixing in one way or another, from classical music to classic rock. Some people feel it as a gradual stretch out of their lower register, some people feel distinct and different “mixes” in their voice, such as a “head dominant mix” and “chest dominant mix,” etc.

If you are singing through one or more passages (transitions spots) in a connected way (ie, not flipping or disconnecting to a breathy, falsetto tone) then you are mixing through your voice!

The ratios of how much chest voice to how much head voice you’re using in different parts of your range may be different depending on what style of music you sing, but some kind of blend must be present in order to sing with ease and full vocal freedom. For example, because their genre requires it, classical sopranos may have more head voice in their recipe but the very best sopranos still access chest voice in some way. 

How do I find my mix?

The term “finding your mix” or “discovering your mix” is rather misleading. You aren’t going to stumble upon your mix voice one day after you find the magic “mixing” exercise. A mix voice is developed over time!

Like I said earlier, learning to mix (or blend) through your registers is a coordination that takes time and practice. It’s quite literally like coordinating any other muscle group in your body.  Just like any high level athlete takes years to perfect their moves, you will need to do the same! Singing is a physical activity that depends on many muscles and systems working together at once in order to deliver a seamless, smooth transition from low notes to high notes and back down again.

Here’s the honest truth: It’s unlikely you’ll be able to teach yourself how to mix, despite the hundreds of YouTube videos available on the topic. Acquiring any new skill requires coaching! How do you think Serena Williams became the world’s greatest tennis player? Or Michael Phelps the most decorated Olympian of all time? Or Mariah Carey one of the most enduring pop singers of the last 30 years? They certainly didn’t do it alone!

My top two tips for learning how to mix:

1. Get a copy of my Warm-Up Series for Mixing.

Click here to check it out.

Want to improve your mix voice but aren’t sure where to start? My guided vocal warm-up recording takes you through a series of exercises designed to help you strengthen your mix.

Your digital download comes with a PDF guide, walking you through how the exercises work and tips for how to get the most out of the warm-up series.

Plus, with any purchase of the Warm-Up Series, you’ll be added to an exclusive Facebook group with hours of additional video content to help you improve your voice, plus direct access to me for all of your questions!

2. Take a voice lesson.

Click here to learn about lessons with me and my associates.

A voice teacher’s job is to point out the things you can’t hear about your own voice and to guide you through exercises specifically designed for your vocal goals. Investing in private lessons is the most efficient and effective way to make progress with your voice. There’s simply nothing else like it!

With proper guidance tailored to your unique voice and singing goals, you will be well on your way to building your mix and finding vocal freedom!

What is Vocal Balance?

Have you ever struggled for a high note, felt out of breath after singing a single phrase, or experienced a break in your voice? Have you ever hoped to train your voice to sing in multiple styles but felt limited by your current abilities? If so, you’ve probably longed for a magic bullet that would solve all your singing problems.

What is it that allows some singers to sing with total freedom? It’s vocal balance.

Think of your voice like a three-legged stool: If one of those three legs is shorter than the others—or, worse yet, is missing!—you will have a difficult time sitting on that stool . . . that is, if it even stands at all!

Singing is made up of three systems: respiration (breath),  phonation  (your vocal folds coming together), and resonation (how your vocal tract is shaped). 

If any one of those three systems is out of whack, you’ll feel that familiar frustration or even discomfort in your voice.

When you are able to bring these three systems of singing into (vocal) balance, you will have access to your full range of notes, with control, ease, power, dynamics, and flexibility. 

These three systems of singing are the only things we singers are in direct control of. 

We can choose how much air to inhale and then how quickly or forcefully to expel it (respiration). 

We can choose (with GREAT amounts of practice!) how thick or thin our vocal folds are when we go to speak or sing, therefore affecting how heavy or light of a tone we create, as well as on what pitch (phonation). 

And we can shape our vocal tract in a variety of ways to achieve brighter or darker sounds, namely by shaping and modifying our vowels and adjusting our larynx position (resonation).

Vocal balance means that in our neutral, relaxed state, no part of the voice feels more squeezed OR more breathy than any other area. We have access to our lowest and highest notes, and they sound and feel connected, meaning there aren’t any flips or breaks between our chest and head voice. 

There are certainly transitions that occur that we may be able to feel and hear, but for the most part, we enjoy a smooth singing experience from the bottom to the top of our range.

When these systems are in balance, your voice is free to make the widest possible variety of sounds! 

But how do I find vocal balance? 

There are four key steps to finding what “vocal balance” means for you:

  1. Finding basic intonation. This means coordinating your brain and your voice to match pitch and follow melodies.
  2. Finding what is known as chest voice and head voice.
  3. Finding what we call a “connection.” You’ll need to learn how to blend head voice and chest voice and find what is often referred to as “mix.” The effect is singing with one continuous voice instead of disjointed registers that don’t meet in the middle. This is really where you’ll make great strides towards vocal freedom!
  4. Eliminating unnecessary extrinsic muscular tension. The extrinsic muscles are the muscles around your larynx (voice box) in your neck, jaw, and tongue. We don’t want them to get in the way of our larynx from functioning how it’s supposed to.

The feelings you discover when working towards vocal balance may be different from other singers, and that’s ok! While certain vocal technique principles guide us all, each voice will be, feel, and sound unique. That’s the beauty of the human voice, each instrument is unique.

Think of training your voice like a gymnast might train for the balance beam.

When the gymnast is first starting out, she may only be able to very carefully, and with a lot of effort and thought, walk from one end of the beam to the other. No fancy turns, jumps, or leaning off one side or the other. 

But imagine that as the gymnast increases her strength, muscle memory, and coordination, she is able to add in a turn, then a leap, and one day somersaults, backflips, and then finally that crazy helicopter leg thing that Simone Biles does at the Olympics! 

How is this possible? 

Well, this gymnast first found balance on that narrow beam. She knew where the exact middle was. She memorized the feeling of her whole body in perfect alignment over those few inches of beam and knew how to always come back to that placement. 

Only then could she start to lean off one direction or the other. She probably fell plenty of times along the way, pushing herself too far from “balance,” but that just taught her to come back to “center” each time.

The same is true for us vocalists!

Once we find balance and are comfortable there, we can lean toward that powerful belt-y Adele song that we long to nail at karaoke night. 

Or we can lean in the other direction and commit to a legato, legit classical piece for an upcoming music school audition.

Whatever your vocal goals are, I am thrilled to guide you to finding YOUR balanced voice. Because from there, anything is possible!

How do I find the right vocal placement? And what does “placement” even mean?

“Placement.” It’s a word singers love to use. I’d say it’s right up there with “breath control” as one of the terms singers use most often!

But what is placement? And how do we actually find the “placement” we’re looking for?

Shooting hoops—what leads to good placement?

Let’s compare vocal placement to shooting a basketball. (Go with me on this!)

When an athlete is shooting hoops, you know they’ve made a decent shot if the ball goes into the basket. If the ball misses the hoop, the athlete needs to figure out what they did wrong so they can adjust their next shot for a better result.

The result of a good shot is that it lands in the hoop. But the ball landing in the hoop is just that, a result! The specific act of the ball landing in the hoop is not the work of the athlete. The athlete’s actual work happens right before the ball goes through the hoop—it’s when the player is coordinating their wrists, legs, and core to ensure the ball leaves their fingers and goes where they want it.

You can throw the ball and affect whether or not it goes in the basket, but you don’t actually put it (or place it) in the basket! (Unless you’re dunking the ball, but let’s leave that out for the sake of this analogy, since we’re talking about shooting it from a distance.)

Placement is a helpful tool of perception

For us singers, the idea of placement is similar. Talking about placement can be a useful way for singers to remember a feeling or sensation, but it’s even more important to remember the process that led you there.

Chances are, something related to the three systems of singing (breathing, phonation, and resonance) is what’s leading you to feel that a sound is “placed” in a particular spot. This may include certain exercise flows, phrasing choices, vowel shapes, or dynamics that may have resulted in that awesome feeling you experienced on a particular note.

To be clear, it’s the choices you make that affect placement; you don’t just choose placement itself. Placement is an effect of the choices you make within your airflow, phonation (how heavy or light), and vowel shapes.

So the next time you feel like a sound is “placed” somewhere that you really like or that feels awesome, remember what the process was that led you there!

Pinpointing this process is a much more effective way to increase the accuracy of your singing rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that you can place your sound in your mask—or your forehead—or your toes!

Spending and Saving: a Vocalist’s Guide to Thrifty Singing

You’ve arrived at the climax of the song- this is it! Here come the big, exciting notes everyone is waiting for! And…! You completely run out of steam, breath, or vocal stamina and you crack, gasp for air, or pass out (ok, hopefully not that last one).

Here’s a three-step process to give your best performance without blowing out your voice.

You have to learn the concept of saving and spending. This is an idea I teach to my professional (and aspiring professional!) singers, particularly those that are singing an athletic, acrobatic song.

You know, like “Chandelier” by SIA, “Defying Gravity” from WICKED, or anything sung by Brendon Urie, ever.

These kinds of songs require a singer to decide when to spend and when to save. Their voices, I mean.

Imagine that you are singing “Waving Through A Window” from DEAR EVAN HANSEN. You only have $1 of vocal energy to spend on that song, and once you’ve spent it- you’re done! You cannot keep singing!

First off, identify which notes are the “big spender” notes or phrases.

Probably that final “Waving! Waving! Whoa-oah!!” section is a 25 cent phrase, and that’s just the last 10 seconds of the song. What other notes or passages throughout the song require an extra dose of energy, power, stamina, or stylistic effort? Identify those passages right off the bat.

Second, be judicious on where you can save.

What are the penny notes or phrases? Not every word, phrase, or melody is equally important in your storytelling or your technical effort. So, find the places in the song where you can hold back a bit.

Lastly, sing through the whole piece and adjust your budget as necessary.

You may find that once you put the whole song together, your interpretation of the song requires certain phrases to be highlighted with more (or less) volume, power, or effort than you initially planned.

This concept also applies to entire roles you might play in a show, or your band set or concert tour.

If you are playing Evan in DEAR EVAN HANSEN, tell yourself you only have $10 to spend on the entire show! Which songs and scenes get allotted what amount of your total vocal energy?

As singers, there will always be songs, roles, or performances that require a LOT of our energy, and even for us to leave “vocal balance” for a time in order for our interpretation and stylistic choices to come through how we want. That’s ok! By allotting a vocal ‘budget’ to each song you perform, you can save your voice and stay stylistically true to the music.

Q&A: What’s up with these crackly high notes?

Question:

I’ve been practicing the trills and “MUMs” and don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong (hopefully) but sometimes when I get past like an A [5], it gets crackly and I’ve noticed my voice sometimes will ever overshoot to whistle tones (which I don’t even know how that’s possible).

Was just wondering if you had any recommendations for practicing…I really have never had a voice teacher that vocalized me this high consistently so maybe its just uncharted territory and discovering how to sing up there, but thought I’d reach out! Maybe its something I’m eating or doing? I rarely drink or smoke so I know that isn’t the problem. Do you recommend that I get scoped just for safety?

Answer:

First off, I think what you’re experiencing sounds pretty normal, especially because you are new to using this part of your voice on a regular basis. That A5 is your third passage- it’s a very common spot for things to “fall apart” for a time while you work on connecting your chest and middle voice to your true soprano head voice. I’ve worked with many women who break into their Mariah Carey notes before they get it put together. So for now, don’t fear!

There’s a few things I’d recommend trying out over the next few days. First- have you tried vocalizing through a straw? I love this because it really does require very little air flow and keeps your cords together (adducted) as you vocalize. Try blowing through a straw into a cup of water. See here, and here.

I’d also try vocalizing on an NG (like the word SINGGGG), have we done this together?

Give it another week and see how you feel. I’m a huge fan of going to get scoped, so if you have the time and $$ to do it, please do. It’s always a good idea. Here’s who I recommend:

Lucian Sulica, may be difficult to get into see on short notice:
https://voice.weill.cornell.edu/about-us/lucian-sulica-md

Paul Kwak, Laryngologist at NYU:
http://nyulangone.org/doctors/1184937914/paul-e-kwak

Keep me posted, and see you soon!

Q&A: Singing With A Cold

Welcome to my new Q&A series, featuring real questions I receive from students via email

QUESTION

Hi Chelsea!
A couple of the “Annie” cast members and I came down with a nasty chest cold last week, and doing the show has been a struggle. I lost my voice last Friday, due to all the coughing on top of singing, and went on vocal rest for a few days. My voice has since come back, but it still just does not quite feel strong enough to sing Star to Be. I have been flipping into my head voice to sing the song, and mouthing the words to the ensemble songs so that I don’t blow my voice back out. I’m still coughing a lot, which I think is putting a lot of stress on my cords. My voice does feel almost 100% normal, but I still want to take it easy. I was wondering if you have any tips as to how I can ease my way back into singing the song full out without hurting myself.
Best,
Isabella

 

ANSWER

Yuck! I’m so sorry, I hate how those things end up going around an entire cast. Good for you for being careful and cautious, that is so important when trying to recover while still having to perform.

The first thing I’d suggest is to do a vocal check-in every morning and see how the swelling is before warming up. This is a great video that talks about that: https://youtu.be/zit6I7EPMto

Then I’d spent lots of time warming up with semi-occluded sounds like the lip buzz, or even better, vocalizing through a straw into a cup of water: https://youtu.be/0xYDvwvmBIM

I’d then sing the song on some of the exercises we use like NAY or NUH/MUM, substituting those for the words. That will be easier on your voice then just blasting into the actual lyrics and hopefully set you up for good vocal balance once you do end up singing the lyrics.

Hydrate, hydrate, sleep lots, and cool down after your show with the straw again.

Good luck! Keep me posted. If you want to do a little lesson/check in via FaceTime soon, lmk! Otherwise, you got this! I hope you’re through the worst of it 👍🏻

Every Vocalize is a Breathing Exercise

I’ve heard from some folks that I perhaps don’t speak enough about the correct use of breath in voice lessons or on this blog, even. As one of the three systems of singing (respiration, phonation, and resonance) it is certainly necessary! But I’ll say this again- Whatever breathing skills you have employed thus far in life will do you just fine in singing. Most of us speak all day without running out of breath and Yoga instructors and deep sea divers are not necessarily incredible vocalists! When you really get to know the voice, most issues with “breath” are actually issues at the level of the vocal folds- proper phonation resists air to create a clear, strong tone. Improper phonation either presses the folds too much resulting in a squeezed sound or feeling, or keeps the folds too lax, resulting in too much air seeping through the folds and a breathy tone.

But hey, you still want to argue about the need for breathing exercises? How about this then: Every vocalize is a breathing exercise.

Think about it. Every vocalize (arpeggio or scale practiced to balance the voice, i.e. a lip trill or the word MUM on an octave and a half scale) requires that you 1. Inhale and 2. over a long or short period of time, moderately blow that air through your vocal tract while your vocal folds gently vibrate together, resulting in pitched sound. Then you do it again, and again, and again! Each vocalization tests your ability to use your air steadily and over as long a period of time as you choose. That sounds like breathing to me!

Sure, if your posture is poor and your breath shallow, things may not go well. So, in a mirror, check that you are standing up straight, chest lifted, with your chin back so that your neck is aligned with your spine. When you inhale, your abs will gently release as your lungs fill with air (as opposed to your shoulders lifting with tension), and when you sing/exhale, your abs may gently pull in. All of this should feel natural- no holding , gripping, or tension involved. After all, if standing perfectly rigid was mandatory for singing, how do Broadway ensembles sing and dance at the same time? Or how does P!nk fly around in a harness upside down and belt high F’s in her stadium tours?

Ya’ll- take a deep breath, relax, and go vocalize.

The Case for High Notes

Are you trying to get in shape?

Lose a few pounds perhaps? Feel a bit more svelte and slim? I’ve got the perfect workout plan for you!

Squats.

Yep, squats! Just that. No need for any other exercises or cardio, just squats!

Just kidding. You knew I was kidding, right?

While squats are GREAT for you, if you’re looking for a total body makeover and improved health, squats are only going to get you so far. Same thing if you only ever did bicep curls and ignored the triceps on the opposite side of your arm. Likely you’ll look and feel quite unbalanced.

Guess where I’m going with this- it’s the same with your voice.

I’ve met a fair amount of singers who only want, or really ‘need’, to sing in quite a small range, perhaps an octave and a half. For men, this means they could quite possibly stay in chest voice that entire time. And when that’s the case, issues arise.

That’s because our voice is made up of two major muscle groups, chest voice muscles that keep our vocal folds thick and short, and head voice muscles that stretch and thin our folds*. The thinning and stretching process allows our voices to ascend in pitch.

At any given time, both of these muscle groups are working to some degree (otherwise we couldn’t change pitch at all) but sometimes one group is doing a higher majority of the work.

If you get stuck in the mentality that you only sing low notes and therefore only need to exercise low notes, you are doing your voice a total disservice and may even cause unnecessary harm and distress.

Just like the rest of our body, our voices are made up of opposing muscle groups- both need to be worked to have a HEALTHY voice! Without weekly- nay- DAILY working of both low and high registers, you will be left struggling to transition from chest to head voice, with funky bumps in the road all the way up and down. Your vocal tone may even completely cut out or be very breathy in your middle or top registers. And I promise even your low notes will lack the vibrancy and flexibility that you could achieve with daily work in your upper register.

What to do?

Get studying with a voice teacher who encourages you to sing through two+ octaves if you are a male (a high C is a VERY reasonable goal to vocalize to!) and three+ octaves if you are female.

On your own, try semi-occluded vocal exercises like a tongue or lip trill on longer scales throughout your range. Try some headier vowels like EE and OO. You may need to take some time just stretching our your head voice before you can start blending it with your chest. That’s fine, but move towards connecting the registers as quickly as possible. Isolating one register or another is not a good long-term goal.

GET SINGING! And singing HIGH!

*If you want to get science-y, those muscles are called the thyroarytenoid and cricothyroid, respectively.

Technique is about Choices

The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself.
-La Meri-

The best feeling in the world is feeling completely limitless when singing a song- no obstacle in your way, no note out of reach, no melody too tricky to master. The worst is feeling like you’re barely scraping by in the piece, unable to make choices regarding interpretation or style because you are limited by what your voice can physically produce.

Mastering vocal technique gives you options, it gives you choices. It expands the realm of what is possible. Working on technique does not mean you lose that original sound only you are blessed with- it expands what your God-given voice is capable of!

Developing good technique is understanding what variables took you from point A to point Z.

Good technique is the sum of so many small things- the shape of your vowels, the looseness of your jaw, the relaxation or engagement of certain muscles, the balance of air flow and vocal fold resistance. What allowed you to get the full, released sound on the word “Love” on a high F? Can you identify the small choices that got you there? Eventually, it becomes intuitive.

Work to technically improve your voice, like a ballerina or basketball player might improve their body and game. You’ll find a world of possibility open to you!

10 Years of Vocal Education

This weekend I found out that I PASSED my Mentor Level/Level 5 panel test!

Great! So what does that mean . . . ?

I began my vocal instruction education in 2007 with a voice teaching organization called Speech Level Singing. At that point, I already knew I wanted to teach someday — either part-time to support my other artistic dreams, or full-time if the time came that I felt teaching was more my path. My mentor and teacher, Jeffrey Skouson, encouraged me to consider starting my teacher training before I had even started college. So with his blessing and my parent’s support I started what has been a TEN year process of education, conferences, reading and study, private lessons, yearly testing, and so much more.

Ten years later, I’ve achieved the highest level of certification possible with the Institute for Vocal Advancement. This past month, Jeffrey and the other Master Teachers in our organization watched and assessed as I taught a 20 minute lesson in front of them (a ‘panel test’). It was not unlike the other annual tests I’ve been taking for the past ten years, but this time the entire panel of Master Teachers adjudicated. And I passed! With flying colors!

I am thankful to my teachers and peers who push me and our entire teaching organization to become the best voice teachers possible. I am thankful that at 17 years old, Jeffrey saw something in me that he believed would make a great teacher one day. I am thankful that my parents encouraged me to continue, and I’m grateful for the passion I’ve had to pursue this dream. What 17-year-old sets out to reach very specific goal, which will take a decade or more, and actually achieves it? I recognize that I’m extremely fortunate to have had the support and opportunities necessary to accomplish this long-time goal.

My education is far from over, and thankfully my training will continue with IVA. However, having reached this milestone- there are no more tests in my future! Whew!

I can’t speak highly enough of the community of teachers I am a part of. If teaching voice has ever been something you’ve considered, I encourage you to think about investing in that education and skill set. I’d love to talk to you about how to make that happen for yourself.

All worthwhile endeavors take time and practice! For me, it’s been ten years of time and practice and practice and practice, and I am thrilled to have reached this milestone.

 


A bit about the Institute for Vocal Advancement:

At IVA, we strive to continually develop our program with the latest research in vocal science to address these and other questions. We educate and produce the finest voice instructors in the world who develop, promote, and maintain the highest standards for the teaching of singing.

As a Certified Instructor, you have access to our yearly teacher conference, IVACON, teacher-trainings, master classes and workshops right in your area, as well as online training in the form of webinars. Our education will help you to understand how the voice works and how you can continually improve your teaching in order to quickly diagnose and fix problems in any voice, and also how to develop voices of a professional calibre that can meet the demands of modern careers in singing.