So, you’ve learned how to belt and you’re loving this newfound power. But now, you’re hearing singers talking about “mix” and you want to know what all the fuss is about.
Are you doing it? Do you need to? Is it hard? Plus, you’ve also been wondering what to do when you are in the softer places of a song where belt seems way too harsh.
We’re going to answer all of these queries and more. Mix to the rescue! Mix may not be what you think it is, but I’m here to help.
Mix is the other sound I teach singers and it’s SO versatile I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I mean, you’ve probably already heard of it because singers throw this term around all the time.
Surprise surprise, there’s a lot of different information out there, so I’m going to clarify for you what mix is when I talk about it, as well as what else it can be when others talk about it and then we’ll dig in to learning how to do it.
In legit singing (that’s the classical stuff), there’s a place in your voice where you have to choose where to place a note: either down here in your chest register or up here in your head register.
This is because the head-voice can be brought down as low as an Ab below middle C, like this:
And the chest voice can safely go as high as the A above middle C, like this:
This part of the legit voice where the overlapping occurs is sometimes referred to as “the mixed voice” or “the mixed register” but this is NOT the mix I’m talking about (mine is way cooler).
Belt & Mix
In contemporary singing, there are two separate sounds that are used in a variety of ways: belt and mix.
These are both specific vocal techniques that, when mastered, have endless variations and adjustments that can be used to create any style you want. Sounds pretty magical.
In the legit version, the soft palate is raised the entire time which causes the voice to “break” when it switches from the chest register into the head register — sort of like when a bicycle shifts gears and the chains sound like they’re going through some sort of major grindy, clicky trauma.
Some classical instructors teach some sort of mystical thing where you are supposed to somehow combine the chest register with the head register to create a “mixed” register. But in legit singing, anatomically, you’re either in one or the other. Period. Just like a bicycle can’t be in two gears at the same time. So to remain in a classical voice, you have to make a choice between head and chest registers and be able to negotiate the breaks in between.
However, once you begin to lower the soft palate, you’re in contemporary territory where the breaks go away completely and your voice can have as much or as little power as you give it. Much like a teenager, but with far less door slamming.
It is possible in legit singing to exercise your way to a smoother break between registers, and it’s something I suggest even to contemporary singers because it makes your belt and mix even that much stronger.
See, the mix technique, which I’m about to show you, is entirely based on the strength of your legit. Your mix won’t have any breaks, but where your legit breaks are is where you will feel a little weaker in your mix. That is, until you strengthen those breaks in your legit.
So what IS mix?
My technical answer is that it is taking your legit voice and putting it in belt placement. It’s not a certain range of your voice, nor is it some kind of mystical combining of registers.
Let’s break down some of these terms so we’re on the same page.
Registers are regions of your voice, like the chest register or the head register. They get these names because of where they resonate, or make vibrations, in your body. If you put your hand on your chest (skin on skin is better than over a shirt) and create a big yawn-like space in your mouth, then make a deep sound like you’re impersonating a man yawning, your hand will feel the vibrations in your chest. That’s your chest register.
In your head register, the vibrations bounce all over your skull in your sinus cavities. The only place you can feel this on the outside is your teeth. But if you make a really high sound like you are cheering for your favorite sports team (woo-hoo!) you can also sometimes just feel a bit of lightheadedness from the resonance in your head. Or you can put your thumb under your front teeth and sustain a really high sound with a yawn-like space in the back of your mouth and feel the vibration in your teeth.
The best part is that I know all of you just put your thumb in your mouth. Just like you, I am more powerful than I thought.
In singing, the soft palate is your friend. You want to think of it as a switch in your body. If it is switched up, you will have a legit sound. If it is switched down, you will have either a belt or a mix sound. Or you’ll be talking. The soft palate is the squishy part of the roof of your mouth where the uvula (or “hangy-downy thingamabob” if we want to use technical terms) is.
When you yawn, that squishy part stretches up in your mouth to block off the passageway into your nose. This is what is responsible for creating that open, classical sound. In its relaxed, neutral position, your soft palate is lowered which leaves the passageway into your nose open and available, which is what makes belt and mix sound so much more familiar and approachable, like your speaking voice, which naturally has a little bit of nasality to it.
So, switching this palate to the up or down position drastically changes the way your voice sounds because of where the sound will resonate, depending on whether or not it has access to the nasal passage.
I bet you had no idea your nose had that much responsibility. I told you; I’m all about teaching new things.
Placement is the more common term used to describe where the sound is resonating or in which position the soft palate is, up or down. You might say you are placing the sound in your chest voice, which means your soft palate is up and the sound is resonating in your chest. You might be placing your sound “forward”, which can mean either belt or mix, but is an indication that you are singing contemporary with a lowered soft palate.
So, if your mix is taking your legit voice and moving it to your belt placement, that means it is taking a classical voice that is created with a raised soft palate like a yawn, and making the same type of sound only with a lowered soft palate like when you talk.
Let’s do a fun exercise to show you what I mean. I call this exercise “Back To Front” and it is the fastest way I’ve found to explain, demonstrate, and describe mix.
It’s also the way we were taught never to wipe. (Too much?) Probably, but you won’t forget it now, will you? You’re welcome.
We’re going to start out singing a fairly high legit note with a very raised soft palate. We’re going to sustain this note and listen to how the sound changes as we lower the soft palate — which feels like the relax inside your mouth just milliseconds after a yawn.
In fact, first let’s do some yawning. Slowly feel your mouth open up inside, even still with closed lips. Feel it stretch in the back and maybe even your ears will pop a little. Once you inhale, pay really close attention to your exhale. At the very end of it, you will feel that big raised stretch in the back. Relax.
We’re going to start out by singing a fairly high legit note with a raised soft palate, and sustain it with that same yawn space we just created, like this:
Sounds totally different than your speaking voice, right?
Now we are going to gradually start relaxing the soft palate back to its neutral position while still singing the same high pitch, like this:
Do you hear how that sound completely transformed just from lowering your soft palate?
Where we landed while still on this pitch — if not, that’s a different issue — THAT is your mix. Technically, the first moment your soft palate STARTED lowering was when your mix started, and then we just gradually kept moving the sound more forward.
This shows you the huge spectrum of sounds your mix can have.
Try it again and see if you can hear all those different sounds as your soft palate lowers down to neutral.
Congratulations. You just opened up a whole new world of sound!
Now let’s try another exercise to practice singing mix.
You’re going to say “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah”, and I want you to imagine that you are like a kid bragging to another kid.
We’re going to start high and move our way down while staying in this really forward mix place, like this:
Congrats! You’re singing in a mix!
Know that mix for many women is their go-to voice, and belt is what they pull out when they need power. For other women, belt is more of their go-to voice and they use mix for softer, more tender moments in songs.
Most of the time, you will use some combination of both techniques in your singing. There is no one absolute way to use it, but there are ways to make it work for you.
As always, I believe that the safest and best way to make sure you are singing correctly is to check with a pro.
If this post left you with a burning question about mix, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com, on my Sing Without Limits Facebook page and/or join my Facebook group Singers Without Limits where you can receive a little training, ask questions, and be involved in a community of singers committed to honing your craft and staying at the top of your game.