Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Often times one of the initial goals a student brings to me is centered around the idea of "mix". "I really want to work on my mix." "Mix is something I just don't feel like I've ever found in my voice." "How do I develop my mix?" This is a wonderful goal. The confusion a student can feel in aiming to achieve said goal is understandable considering that industry terminology can be inconsistent from teacher to teacher, performer to performer, director to director, etc. Let's take a minute to clear things up.
What is "Mix"?
"Mix" is an industry term often used to describe a speechlike, middle-to-mid/high-range voice quality often used in Musical Theatre and Contemporary/Commercial Styles of singing. Performers also hear terms like "mix-belt", "head-mix", "speechy-mix", and numerous others. These are not one-size-fits-all terms. Why? Registration (head-voice, chest-voice, or anything in between) is part science and part personal experience. The way I experience my registers (head, head-mix, chest, and chest-mix) differs from the experience of my students, some of whom don't notice registrational shifts at all. This has been a challenge of terminology and pedagogy in my studio, so I've had to get creative. Recently, I've been working on guiding students through registration utilizing an X/Y graph based on the muscular actions at the vocal fold level (who knew I'd ever use that math again?). Two spectrums: pressy-to-beathy and thin vf (vocal folds)-to-thick vf.
There are four major muscle groups that control registration at the vocal fold level; the cricothyroid (stretches the vf to make them thin), the thyro-arytenoid (contracts the vf to make them thick), the inner arytenoids and lateral cricoarytenoids (bring the vocal folds together [pressy]), and the posterior cricoarytenoids (pull the vocal folds apart [breathy]). While this is a fairly simplified understanding, what's important to understand is that none of these actions can be fully isolated from the others. The secret: You are always mixing something. This x/y graph should help to illustrate.The letters A, B, C, and D represent qualities that are as close as we get to the "isolation" of registration.
Point A would offer a thick vf with firm glottal closure. Many singers would call this "full chest", and if taken to the extreme, could sound something like a grunt or even vocal fry.
Point B has the same thickness of vocal folds, but with less firm glottal closure, so more air is allowed to flow through.
Point C, with loose glottal closure and vocal folds stretched thin, would be considered something of a fluffy falsetto or head voice.
Point D (firm glottal closure and thin VF) might sound something more like what many call a head-mix or "reinforced falsetto".
Considering these four actions made at the vocal fold level, there could be an infinite number of "mix" qualities available to us. I understand that many performers may find this information enlightening, but not entirely helpful on finding the "mix" to which our industry refers. One of the most important things you can do in developing such a qualities to coordinate all four of these quadrants. If you find you are consistently living on the left side of the spectrum (pressy) and don't know how to access a more breathy, or flowy quality to your voice, or that you have a really powerful, firm chest-voice, but cant access higher pitches easily, it's time to balance that stretch weakness. Find an evidence based voice teacher and go build the under-developed quadrants of your voice. Give it six to eight weeks and see if you notice the difference. I takes work. Daily, intentional work. But was anything worth having ever easy?