Mixed Voice: 5 Easy Exercises to Find It and Grow It
If you’re a singer, you’ve probably heard of a strange and mythical beast called the mixed voice.
Mixed voice is a powerful yet often misunderstood tool in the singer’s toolbox.
Today, we’ll go over the basics of mix voice, look at some common misconceptions surrounding it, and discuss how you can achieve it in your singing.
Then we’ll work through five fantastic exercises to help you develop your own mixed voice.
Once you understand and master mixed voice, you’ll unlock a whole new world of untapped singing potential.
By the way if you want a great video that walks you through mixed voice, check this out:
What is Mixed Voice?
Before we jump in, let’s discuss what mixed voice actually is…
But don’t worry…
No matter where you are right now, you can smoothly sing through your whole vocal range.
That means no vocal break or strains when you sing.
And to listeners, mixed voice sounds like one single voice.
What’s So Great About Mixed Voice?
Mixed voice is the richest, strongest, and most controlled sound the human voice can produce.
When done right, it generates a beautiful and even vocal tone across your entire vocal range.
Mixed voice is used to bridge the gap between high and low registers known as chest voice and head voice.
If a song requires that you hit high notes with power, mixed voice is the way to go.
To understand mixed voice, let’s look at its two main ingredients: chest voice and head voice.
Chest and Head Voice: Pros and Cons
First off, the term “head voice” is a bit misleading.
No matter how you sing, all sounds come from your vocal cords in your throat, not your head.
However, when you hit those really high notes, it sure does feel like the sound is ringing straight out of your own head!
Head voice is soft and tender, yet full and strong.
Imagine a strong, silent-type hero or heroine from a movie: quiet and reserved, but with unmistakable inner strength.
Head voice is ideal for R&B, soul, and indie rock where you want to hit those high notes while maintaining a full and rich tone.
Head voice is absolutely required to expand your vocal range since all your high notes come from head voice.
However, head voice is not the same thing as falsetto.
Falsetto, sounds breathy, airy, and somewhat hollow, while head voice retains much more tonal depth.
Chest voice is the vocal register we normally use when speaking.
It uses your larger, thicker vocal cords.
To sing in your chest voice, put your hand on your chest, and you’ll feel a vibration in your upper torso.
Chest voice is low, thick, strong, and warm.
Chest voice is responsible for singing with power.
It’s also great for belting out a blues romp or a powering through a grungy rock song.
However, the vocal range of chest voice is pretty limited.
If you try to ‘push up’ your chest voice to higher notes, they will sound flat and strained.
A similar straining occurs when fret high notes on the lower strings of a guitar.
You can play high notes on the 15th fret of the low E string if you want, but they will sound flat, and lose a lot of tone.
Mixed Voice: The Best of Both Worlds!
Mixed voice combines the beautiful highs of head voice with the deep and strong lows of chest voice.
It lets you access your entire vocal range at its full power, tone, and richness.
Learn to sing consistently in mixed voice, and you’ll have the freedom to switch to other voices whenever you see fit.
With mixed voice, you can be a vocal chef!
Sprinkle in some chest voice here, a pinch of falsetto there, and stay in total control of your singing at all times.
Mixed voice is, in short, the ultimate way of learning how to sing flawlessly.
What is Mixed Voice, Really?
Some Common Misconceptions
Most teachers present mixed voice as just that: mixing head and chest voices into a single sound.
For most practical intents and purposes, that’s a fine definition.
However, this is a bit of an oversimplification.
Chest and head voice both use different vibration patterns in the vocal cords.
That’s why you can’t sing with both low and high cords at the same time.
So in order to truly understand mixed voice, we have to talk about the vocal cords…
A Word on the Vocal Cords
Vocal cords, also called vocal folds, work by opening and closing in quick succession.
By letting puffs of air through your throat at certain rates, they generate different pitches of sound.
Humans have two ‘true’ vocal cords.
These are the vocal cords that are responsible for most singing.
In case you’re curious, we also have two ‘false’ vocal cords.
These are technically vestibular folds located just above the true cords.
You might think that false cords would be used in falsetto singing, but this is not the case.
Actually, false cords make a deep, sonorous, and guttural tone that you hear in vocal fry.
They’re best used in screaming vocal styles like death metal, or in movies when actors are portraying an evil villain or gritty anti-hero.
But here’s what you need to know about the “true” vocal cords:
When the vocal cords are thick, they vibrate slower, producing chest voice.
Here’s what that looks like:
When the vocal cords are thinner, they vibrate faster, producing head voice.
And here’s what the thin vocal cords look like:
Can Vocal Cords Be Mixed?
Almost all singing is done with just the two true vocal cords.
Here’s the thing though.
Most scientific studies have concluded that, at a certain point, everybody switches between thick cords and the thin cords.
There is no middle ground where both thick and thin cords are opening and closing at once.
Although you can can have a moderate amount of cord thickness from the bottom to top.
That’s mixed voice!
But the idea that you can actually mix chest and head voice together in the way that painters might mix pigments to form a new color ain’t true.
Smoothing Out Vocal Breaks
Instead, mixed voice is all about a seamless transition from thick to thin vocal cord, from chest to head voice.
There should be no audible break between them.
So what’s the secret?
Well, if you keep your vocal cords opening and closing evenly from the bottom to the top of your voice you’ll achieve a full, rich, and continuous tone across your entire range.
You may still notice a slight break when you make the switch from your chest to your head voice.
But listeners will perceive your singing as continuous and seamless, as if your head and chest voices were literally ‘mixed’ together.
The key is to switch between head and chest voices such that only you know where the break is.
After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it really break between its head and chest voices?
Like Driving a Car
Think of singing in mixed voice like driving a stick-shift car.
Whenever you shift gears, you might feel a slight jolt or clunk as the new gear slides into place.
But people standing on the sidewalk just see a car gradually speeding up or slowing down.
If you’re really good a driving stick, even the passengers may not notice the transition.
The same principle applies to the singing voice. You may always feel the shift between chest and head, but if no one hears it, it sounds like one voice.
Five Fantastic Mix Voice Exercises
Now that we understand what mixed voice really is, we can start practicing and perfecting it.
These exercises are designed to help your vocal cords stay together and reduce the break between chest voice and head voice.
The goal is to make mixed voice a strong and reliable part of your singing repertoire.
But First: The 1.5-Octave Scale
The 1.5-octave scale covers an octave and a half of range in ¾ time.
You sing four triplet arpeggios: the first two going up; the next two going down and ending on the tonic.
Tri-pl-et, tri-pl-et, tri-pl-et, tri-pl-et, done…
The 1.5-octave scale in C would be:
In the video, I start by demonstrating a 1.5-octave scale in B flat.
The point of the 1.5-octave scale is to access all the highs and lows of your singing voice.
Remember, we’re looking for a smooth transition from chest to head voice.
Don’t push your chest voice up to the top notes, and don’t do a ‘flip’ where you completely disconnect from the top part of your voice.
Keep it even.
Switch but don’t flip.
We’ll try singing the 1.5-octave scale with a variety of vowels and consonant sounds to practice smooth vocal transition in different ways.
Now, let’s get into the exercises!
1. The Lip Trill
In this exercise, take two fingers on each hand, press them against the middle of your cheeks, and flop your lips together as you sing.
The resulting sound will remind you of a motorboat chugging down a stream.
Now sing the 1.5-octave scale while doing a lip trill!
As always, keep all your notes even and strong.
Here’s a video where I walk you through the lip trill exercise:
2. The “Gee”
That’s “gee” as in “geese” without the “s.”
This one is great for establishing a smooth and even closure of vocal cords across your entire range.
The “e” vowel allows you to reach your head voice while the “g” consonant keeps your vocal cords opening and closing with every note of the scale.
The “gee” is a way to reach high notes without straining while allowing for smooth closure of all your vocal cords.
Remember, don’t push and don’t flip.
Don’t push your chest voice too high, and don’t suddenly flip from chest to head or from head to falsetto.
Here’s a great video to show you how to do the “Gee”:
3. The Bratty “Nay”
If you’ve made it this far, awesome job!
The next exercise will build even more vocal cord closure.
To do the “nay”, pretend that you’re a bratty little kid who is sure that no one can catch him at tag.
You might also imagine a cackling, crooked-nosed witch about to cast a hex on an unsuspecting victim.
Like the “gee”, the “nay” helps connect low and high notes while forcing the vocal cords to close consistently.
As always, here’s a great video to walk you through this exercise:
4. The “Nae”
If you’re having trouble smoothing all the breaks and flips out of your singing, this exercise is for you.
The “nae” is like a very bratty and sassy way of saying “nasty.”
This exercise uses an open vowel and will help you belt better.
It builds in a bit more power and solidity into your top notes.
The “nae” also reduces the break when you switch from thin to thick vocal cords.
5. The “Gug”
This last exercise uses another sound to help your vocal cords stay together.
The “gug” is just the word “gut” but with a “g” at the end.
Whereas the “gee” from exercise 2 carries you into your head voice and reduces the risk of straining, the “gug” is more of chest-based sound.
The “gug” is great for perfecting your shift from chest to head voice.
It allows for a natural and balanced tone.
With this exercise, you can control your chest voice and allow your head voice to come in quickly and effortlessly.
Check out the “Gug” exercise here:
If you’ve been following these exercises, you’re already well on your way to mastering mixed voice.
But if you are still experiencing some breaks or strain, don’t worry!
Everyone feels a switch when transitioning from their chest to their head voice.
The trick is to make sure no one else hears it.
Recording and listening to yourself is a great way to iron out the last few kinks in your mixed voice technique.
It lets you step outside of your own head and hear your voice from the audience’s perspective.
Try recording yourself singing these exercises and make a note about where you thought you switched between chest and head voice.
Then play back the recording and check for two things.
First: did you hear any break?
Second: if you did, do you think you would have noticed it if you weren’t looking for it?
If you heard no break at all, fantastic!
If you heard a very small break, that’s still an impressive achievement.
The Road Ahead
Like most good things, mixed voice will not come to you overnight.
It can be challenging at times and requires regular daily practice to master.
But before long, you’ll be singing in a beautiful and strong mixed voice without any breaks, flips, pushing, or strain.
If you put in the effort to learning mixed voice, it will serve you well throughout your singing career.
By the way, if you want to learn to sing in a beautiful mixed voice, check out my complete singing course Master Your Voice.