Strengthening Your Vocal Mix
Something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible when beginning serious vocal training is the concept of vocal power. The majority of new students who come to me who have been singing in more aggressive styles of music will often seek training in order to mitigate the feelings of vocal strain and fatigue as well as ward off potential vocal damage.
Most of these singers have been singing with an excess of certain vocal muscles and breath pressure (often known as singing with too much weight, pulling the chest voice, or yelling). The first order of business is to get these singers to learn to mix – gradually transferring the work load from the chest voice to the head voice as the pitches ascend. In the process of learning to mix, the singer invariably comes to learn that there are muscles within the larynx that have never been used before.
In finding these new concepts of vocal coordination, the volume must be reduced and the all-over weight of the sound attenuated in order to establish, build and maintain a healthy vocal balance. This process can take quite some time, as the singer has to unlearn old singing habits, learn new habits and build strength and balance within the new habits. The common complaint that is voiced by singers during this stage of development is “Why is my mix so weak?”
There are several erroneous assumptions that singers make. Some believe that the point of training is somehow to allow them to go back to their old habits of yelling the high notes and all will be well. Other singers believe that this quieter sound, being antithetical to their style of music, is somehow the end result and that they are going to have to change their style completely. Neither assumption is true however. A singer can sing at incredible levels of power at higher pitches without unhealthy strain to the voice. This is the beauty of learning to mix, but building the voice takes time.
Let’s use an analogy: Imagine a person going to the gym is not getting the results they want in their body on their own, so they decide to hire a trainer. The trainer asks them if they have ever done a bent-over row with free weights. The client proudly says “Oh yes, I can do that exercise with very heavy weights!” So the trainer asks to see. The client commences to use an amazing amount of momentum and also a lot of torque on their lower back. The trainer shows the proper form to keep their lower body stable and isolate the movement without any momentum. When the client tries the exercise this way however, they can barely even pick up the weight at all, let alone complete a single repetition of the exercise. The trainer therefore lowers the weight significantly in order for the client to accommodate the proper form so that the correct muscles can be targeted, and also the risk of injury reduced. Over time the client is able to lift the weight they were using previously, yet with the proper form, the muscles being targeted have been thus strengthened appropriately to accommodate the weight, rather than relying on momentum and torque.
This is very similar situation when strengthening your vocal mix. Many of the muscles required to give a well-balanced and powerful tone in pitches higher than the chest voice are muscles that have never even been used before by many singers, so they are not strong enough to maintain balance at high dynamics. Thus untrained singers rely on a type of momentum in the form of breath pressure to force the voice into higher pitches at a loud volume. Yet using the voice in this manner is no healthier than the example of the would-be weight lifter using momentum to lift weights that were too heavy for them. Both are examples of injuries in the making.
There is a good mantra I use for singers who are relatively new to singing in a mix. That mantra is “loud comes later.” We want you to have a big, powerful voice that is capable of accommodating your style of music. Yet we want you to do it in a way that ensures that your singing career is long and healthy. The only way to do this, is to build the voice wisely.
If you are training your voice properly with a teacher who knows what they are doing, then the answer to the question “Why is mix so weak?” is “It’s getting stronger every day!”