Mix is an often misunderstood term (as are most in singing).

Singers often refer to mix as “something less than belt,” but in this episode, John discusses how to take your mix into the world of intense belting without the usual vocal fatigue and danger.

The acoustics of mix are incredibly fascinating and open up an understanding of a wide range of contemporary vocal possibilities.

Episode Links:

Ken Bozeman “Practical Vocal Acoustics.”

Dr. Ian Howell “Parsing the Spectral Envelope.” 

Episode Transcription

Episode 44 – The Acoustics of Mix

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist. I’m also doing a Facebook Live as I record this, so hello to everybody watching!

Today, I want to talk about Mix. I know I’ve covered it in a previous episode, but Mix is one of those things I tell voice teachers: Mix is money. Mix will keep you on business. If you can teach people to mix and to mix properly, you’re going to go a long way to being successful as a contemporary voice teacher. It’s so vitally important in contemporary styles, especially for the females. It really is a different acoustic tuning than for classical singing. Again, to disclaimer, I love classical singing. I love opera. But I primarily teach contemporary, so I talk about contemporary.

Now, mix has two components to it. There’s the physical component of what’s happening at the vocal fold. But I want to go today more into what’s happening acoustically, what’s happening basically with your resonators as they interact with the sound waves. I find that even the term mix is somewhat misunderstood, and it’s kind of becoming pigeon hold as this sound that is less than belt. People, especially musical theatre, are starting to use mix as – you have your “legit sound” which is more classical female sound. Then you have your “belt sound” which is your very intense sound. And then, you have your mix which is this lesser, nicer, polite belt. I don’t think mix has to be that. I have a pretty wide definition of mix. And my definition of mix sits between the two extremes.

Ken Bozeman – who’s a great voice teacher, has a couple of books (I’ll put a link at the site, if you go to JohnHenny.com/44 I will have the episode there, 44, and I’ll have some show notes and link to Ken’s books if you really want to go deep into this). But basically, he talked about  “whoop” timbre and “hey” timbre. And at the extremes, “hey” is kind of a real shout and a real pull. And “whoop” is devoid of, or not devoid but has very little high frequency energy, so it doesn’t have that belt you like conditioned. And if you play with the vowel, you can sensually play with the degrees between “whoop” and “hey”.

People talk about extreme “hey” as a shout, some people will say pulled chest. I would even say pulled chest, although I know some voice teachers don’t like it. But it’s basically, what you’ve done is, in your throat resonator, to oversimplify, the throat resonator is hanging on to parts of the sound waves that can no longer effectively resonate well. So your larynx has to come up, and you have to spread your mouth, then everything you can do in order to keep this acoustic coupling. At the same time, your vocal folds, it will tell your nervous system that you’re going into a shout. Your vocal folds will tend to muscle up, and then you start to get into that treble, at the extreme – the extreme “hey”, the shout “hey”.

What we want to do is we want to take this throat resonator, and we basically want to move it down so that it is not over-engaged with the higher parts of the sound wave. But, we don’t want to move it so far that it falls to the lowest part of the sound wave which has the lower energy, because that is going to take us into the “whoop” – at the extreme “whoop”. And that is obviously not contemporary singing, unless you’re trying to do a falsetto effect or a flip effect.

So what you want to do is we want to control these vowels so that that throat resonator and that resonance is riding between that shout and that falsetto, if you will – that extreme “hey” and the extreme “whoop”. And between those, we can get different levels of intensity. So basically, the way you’re going to control this is, as the vowel is more open, you’re going to raise the value of that resonator. And you could even feel it. If you place your finger on your larynx there, and you say Aaah, and then you say Oooh, you’ll feel it changed position. And the Aaah’s going to sit a little higher because it is energizing a higher part of the sound wave. Now we need that in the lower pitches. We need that higher energy. But as you begin to ascend, as you begin to go up, if you keep on hanging on to that high energy, that shout, that extreme is going to kick in. Some people call that belt, and you can belt in that shout condition. And you can ultimately do it somewhat safely if you don’t allow the cords to over-tense. But that’s pretty tricky. And I personally find the sound a little strident and a little harsh. And I believe that there’s actually a better belt that is a little bit richer, and a little warmer, and doesn’t lose any intensity, and it’s actually easier on the singer. And if we modify that vowel just to know, what we’re going to do is we’re going to take that lower resonance that’s associated primarily with the throat. And we’re going to move it down the sound wave, just enough that it lets go of the yell. You will feel the vocal folds relax. You’ll actually get this really cool burst of energy that, not only burst forward towards the listener, but also shoot backwards towards your vocal folds and helps them resist the air. It’s wonderful wonderful spot. That would be your real belts mixed. And you can ride that edge pretty hard. Depending on how good you get with this, you can be pretty open-ish, and pretty intense without crossing over into that extreme.

Now, the more that we move this throat resonator down the sound wave – in other words, and you can hear as I do this, if I just do a little pulls,(sound). I’m not going to change what’s happening at my vocal cords. But you will hear that the frequencies and the filters are going to change as I round (sound). And it actually sounds like I’m dropping a pitch but I’m not. Vocal folds aren’t changing, they’re just doing a pulls. It’s just that the filter is filtering up the higher frequencies, so you hear less and less of them. So it sounds as if the pitch is dropping. But what we’re doing is we’re moving the resonator, filtering the resonator down from the higher frequencies to the lower. And that reduces the energy, and that reduces the intensity. So you can start to have choices in terms of the color and intensity you want in this mix. And as you begin to round and decrease that upper energy, you’re going to get a warmer, little polite mix. Maybe a little more kind of medium pop type of mix, rather than a hardcore belt, intense gospel mix. And then you can keep reducing that energy you get towards, maybe, a “Julie Andrews” kind of almost legit sound. And if you keep doing it, then you will take it; you will move that resonator and that resonator value all the way down to the bottom part of the sound wave. Which, in time, you will go in to that pure “whoop” timbre. Which is great for vocal effect, which is necessary for female classical singing, and which is necessary at the upper extremes of the voice.  

But where contemporary music sits, that’s just going to be too weak of a sound. And so, we usually need to ride mix somewhere in between there. It just depends on the intensity that you want. And a very very interesting thing happens as you dial in or dial out upper frequencies or the more energetic part of the sound wave. It actually will inform your vocal folds to come together less intensely. As you increase the energy of the sound wave, it also tends to increase the energy of the vocal folds. It’s rather mind-blowing, the way those work in tandem.

So in order to master this mix or this transition area, you really have to start mastering vocal acoustics. And really mastering the vowels, and how the vowels bring in the different colors and the different levels of intensity. There are certain vowels that are going to work better in that mix area, and ones that aren’t. Then you need you learn the craft or the skill of being able to take vowels that don’t work very well, and tweaking them to where they begin to take on the acoustic qualities of the vowels that do. But you don’t lose the perception of the vowel you need. You will notice that “Uuu” as in “You”, “Eee” as in “Me”, those vowels are very hard to belt. They don’t acoustically sit in an optimal place for belt. What happens is, they move that lower resonance, “Uuu” and “Eee”, quite low to where it begins to sit at the bottom part of that sound wave, and closer and closer to “whoop” timbre. And as you get closer and closer there, you start to lose the “hey” timbre or the belt.

Again, belt, to me, sits in between the extremes of yelling and flipping, or falsetto. Everything in between there we can classify as a belt.

So as you begin to work some of those vowels that are more problematic, “Uuu”, “Eee”, and even “Aaa” will tend to go the other way and go too quickly towards “yell” timbre. They all have to be modified and adjusted. That’s why, I think at one of my very first podcasts, I called it The Secret of Singing. And the secret of singing is “Uh”. “Uh” tends to acoustically sit in the right place. It’s a great “belty” vowel. And if you can maintain the kind of “Uh” acoustic condition, then we can tweak the vowels just enough so we get the perception of what the vowel is. Vowel perception is something I go into a lot. Again, Ian Howell has done a lot of brilliant research on this; I’ll link them in the show notes as well.

But as you begin to tweak these vowels, all you need to do is put enough energy of the vowel into the vowel perception area, and we will hear that vowel. I know I’m just way over simplifying this and just touching on it, but just know that vowels have a wide range. And trying to do the vowels that we speak up into the mix, depending on the color that we mix, we can’t do the purely spoken vowels. We actually need to tweak them acoustically. But the good news is, the vowel perception is quite wide ranging as well. We have a range of where we will hear “Ow” “Ah” “Eh”. And so we can tweak the vowels to acoustically satisfy what we need musically, as well as give the listener the correct perception for the language that we need to do.

So, the acoustics of mix are very much tied in to the value of this first resonator. It’s primarily associated with the throat, that’s not entirely true, but it’s true enough for our purposes. And you can actually feel it. Again, put your finger on there, you’ll feel it move up and down. The more it goes towards the higher condition and the wider vowel , the more we go towards the “hey” intense timbre. The more we go to the lower position and the “Uuu”, the more we go towards the less intense and the ultimately the “whoop” timbre. And mixes everything in between. And you need to master at least different levels of color and intensity for good contemporary singing.

Just to let you know, this is some of the stuff I’m going to be covering really in depth in my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy, which I’m just opening up. It will be this week, to another small group of people who are testing. If you’re on my email list, great! You should get notice of that. If not, you can go to JohnHenny.com and just put your name in there, in the email list, and you will be notified.

But hey, I thank you so much for listening and my little ramblings here. Today, I know we got pretty technical. Although, for people who are really into voice probably are not technical enough, but just understanding how deeply the mix is tied to acoustics is rather important. Again, I’ll have those show notes if you really want to start taking a deep dive into this.

So, until next time. To better singing. This is John Henny. Bye.