Head Down, Chest Up, Mix

How do you mix if you don’t “just mix”?

What do you think of to get a mix? Is it lighter or brighter or both? What is lighter? What is brighter? How do you know when you have either sound? How much lighter is the right amount? How light is too light? Is that possible?

What’s the difference between full and heavy? Is full good and heavy not so good? How do explain a voice like Rene Pape’s (present moment operatic dramatic bass or “basso profundo”) which is big, full, loud, heavy and expressive? Should he get lighter? Isn’t light better?

If it is better to mix, shouldn’t there be a specific way to know how and what mix is? What about the people who say, “The voice is one unified thing.”, “There are no registers.”, “Every vowel has it’s own ‘place’ on the roof of the mouth.”, and “There are different registers on every note.” What would they make of “mix”? Are you mixing resonators?

Let’s see: 50% sinuses with 35% hard palate, with 15% pharynx. How’s that? How about: 75% eyebrow vibration, 10% cheekbones, 10% sinuses and 5% soft palate lift. Maybe it’s not the resonators, maybe it is the larynx and the breathing: 65% low larynx, 30% lower abdominal pushing out, 5% thinking of “across the street”.


If you do not understand register function, separate from vowel sound shape, you will have no means by which to mix anything. It is not “just resonance”.

Actually, crossing head register down and chest register up requires that you have a relatively separated or isolated chest register and head register to begin with and that’s not something that you find in most voices, so you have to cultivate it. Then, you have to strengthen it, with each register in it’s home base (chest/low and head/high), so that it is strong, steady and itself. Then, you must bring head down and chest up.

Head register down (sung on lower pitches) is odd because we would be in the “normal mode” on low pitches (modal) or chest register, if we have a normal, functional voice. It takes skill to take head down. Making it louder on the low pitches takes time. Taking chest up, once it is firmly established, isn’t too hard if it is freely produced and easily loud, but it always has a place where it “gets harder” and either doesn’t want to go further or flips into head. If fixing this was easy, singing teachers could make everyone sound great in three lessons, but it’s not easy, it is quite difficult, for many reasons. Just because someone can do one way doesn’t mean they can do the other, and some people can’t do either.

The training process, done properly, strengthens the middle voice (which varies depending on whether you are dealing with males or females) but functions the same way for both. It is in the middle where you have to negotiate mechanics, and if you do not know what that means, and you do not have conscious choices that you have worked to develop, you will never really be able to do anything beyond what your throat wants to do naturally. In other words, the training won’t teach you to do anything new, it will just teach you to do the same thing with a different approach. If you don’t learn to do something you couldn’t possibly have done without training, you are not being trained, you are wasting time. The most basic thing to learn is how to take head down and chest up. You must learn what that means in terms of sound quality and physiologic behavior, which is very important. It is only when you can cross head down and chest up with equal strength and ease that mix will emerge, whether you expect it to or not. When it does emerge, you could think of reading the phone book and it would still be there, as it has almost nothing to do with memory or thinking or imagining. It has to do with a strong, cultivated responses from both the vocal mechanism and the body that are a result of pitch, vowel quality, and volume. You could not never know you were in mix and be there easily and well. Many people who sing well do just that, without lessons, but with “self-training” over time.

Keep your head down and your chin up? Keep your chin down and your head up? It depends. In a pop belter you will see the head forward and up (hopefully only a little) and in a classical singer you will see the reverse (but hopefully with some freedom to move any which way). If you are singing well in head register, the larynx will drop and rest loosely low all by itself. If you are singing well in chest register the larynx will probably go up a bit, unless you force it down, but only a little. The PERCEPTION of the sound, however, will be the reverse. Head will seem like the sound vibration goes “up” and chest will seem like it goes “down”. That’s why you can’t teach by subjection impression alone. It is frequently counter-intuitive and backwards.

Mix is whether all factors converge or, said another way, no one factor is predominant. You could call it coordinated (Cornelius Reid) or blended, or balanced, or middle or homogenized or even “chiaroscuro” but the determining factor would be whether the middle pitches were chest dominant or head dominant. You wouldn’t really be able to tell in a well-balanced voice at moderate volume in middle pitches. And that is the point.

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4 thoughts on “Head Down, Chest Up, Mix”

  1. Question. Once a mix is established, will practicing in “mix” make the middle voice stronger, or should one continue working the weaker register (in my case, head) by itself, in order to strengthen the middle/mix?

  2. Jeanie,
    The reinforcement you provide with these posts is invaluable. I am feeling confident in following your reasoning. I rarely get lost in the process now (I gave up understanding the Socratic dialogues long ago.) Now those brain cells are available for more important work: singing and teaching singing!

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