portrait of pop female singer belting

BELT VS MIX

portrait of pop female singer belting

portrait of pop female singer belting

Whether you sing musical theater, rock, pop, jazz or country, you may have experienced a sensation in your voice where you felt you had to push your “chest” voice (the voice you use to speak) to it’s limits in order to reach higher pitches.  In many musical genres this ability is highly valued and a singer is given much praise for their capacity to do this.  They work for years with teachers who train them with techniques to take this type of vocal production to it’s furthest possible extreme.

And then there are those voices you hear who seem to be able to effortlessly take this powerful vocal quality up into the stratosphere without breaking a sweat – for example, Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Patty LaBelle, Beyonce, Pavorotti (OK so he was a little sweaty at times).

Most people believe that either you have this ability or you don’t.  Somehow these effortless voices have a God-given miraculous power to sing in a gifted way you’ll never possess.   In fact this ability is available to everyone if they have the right instruction.

DEFINITION:

There are varying definitions and disagreements among vocal instructors for the terms “Belt” and “Mix” but for simplicity’s sake I’ll make clear my own personal definition for this article:  

Those singers pushing their chest voices to it’s limit and experiencing a lot of strain and effort I put in the “Belt” category.

Those singers who can take a strong, connected sound up into higher pitches effortlessly I would put in the “Mix” category.

Let’s break it down some more.

BELT

When a voice is coordinating in a true “belt” the vocal cords are attempting to take the chest voice coordination up as high as it can go without allowing it to switch to a thinner cord (or thinner vibrating mass).  (see my “Chest Voice and Head Voice” blog for further explanation).  And when a singer takes it to that limit they will often find that, when they do make the switch, it flips into a falsetto or “heady” sound that is very different from the power of the chest voice.  If you’re a guitarist, imagine trying to play your higher notes all on the lowest string – it would only be possible to take the pitch up so high before you’d have to shift up to the next string….but now the shift to the next higher note will be more abrupt because you have to travel so far back down the neck of the instrument.  It makes much more sense to make the shift earlier when it’s easier and less abrupt.  Also, in order for the vocal folds to create higher pitches in chest voice coordination, the surrounding muscles must become involved to pull and stretch the vocal folds to make them thin enough to make higher pitched sounds.  This is about the time when I start taking bets on when a singer’s neck will explode as you can often visibly see the effort it is taking to hit those high notes!

MIX

When a voice is coordinating in “Mix”, the vocal folds are making this transition to a thinner cord (reduction in the vibrating mass) around those shifts known as “bridges” or “passagi” – like where your chest voice and head voice naturally separate – and it begins in your head voice range. In an ideal mix there will be no strain present as the singer vocalizes throughout their range: only the action of the vocal membranes vibrating together and resisting the air.  The larynx (the cartiledge that houses the vocal folds, also known as “adam’s apple” and “voice box”) should stay in “speech level” position, meaning that it should stay comfortably in the middle while vocalizing – not moving up or down with the pitch.  (Take a moment to find your larynx with your fingers – if you swallow you’ll feel it moving up, if you yawn you’ll feel it move down.  Now say the sound “ah” from a low pitch to a high pitch and back down again.  Does your larynx move up and down with the pitches?)  The transition from chest to mix means that the resonance, while starting in the mouth will begin to move behind the soft palate (where your uvula hangs) causing you to experience a phenomenon known as “split resonance” – where the resonance sensation is felt both in chest and head voices at the same time.

Additionally, a Mix Voice should sound like a belted Chest Voice, though it will always feel different than Chest Voice.

*You will need to find this sensation with a vocal instructor who has the skills to take your own unique voice to this coordination.  Please note: a singer needs to experience this sensation before they can reach that “aha!” moment and describe it that way. Don’t put the cart before the horse: experience the sensation first, then describe it.  Never try and make your voice fit a description. (more about this here)

I will describe some of the steps to finding mix in an upcoming blog but can’t recommend enough that you find an instructor who has the tools to get you there in balance.  Everyone comes with their own set of vocal issues and there may be some work to do before your voice is ready for this step.

9 replies
  1. bhjattaboy_
    bhjattaboy_ says:

    THanks for the great article. I totally understand what you are saying but i have a question. Would you say that using your mixed voice above your bridge can have the same power as a belted chest voice? for example: Dont look back in anger by oasis. THe chorus has a G4 which is a pure chest voice and aboe the bridge for almost any guy. If i try sing this note in a mixed voice it loses its bottom end and sounds weak compared to how it is sung in this song. Is this just because my mixed voice is not strong enough or perhaps just that the mixed voice on this note is never going to sound as full as a “belted chest”?

  2. Olamide Tedimola
    Olamide Tedimola says:

    i believe it’s possible to belt in your mixed voice… not so sure though i i believe i’ve had reason to do so in many occassions.. just a little extra push is all

  3. Dacesita
    Dacesita says:

    excellent article. I absolutely despise the belted sound and most successful singers do use mix, not belt. And to the above comment – yes, you can develop a powerful mix voice in upper registers and feel awesome while doing it. And then proceed adding rasp if you sing rock etc. I started to work my mix about 9 months ago and my mix is getting louder and more powerful by day. Have about 2 octaves I can kill in mix.

  4. shell
    shell says:

    I sing Bel Canto, but i have lost many gigs espesially b’way because they say my voiceis not strong enough. even when i auditioned for a Sinatra gig they saig they wanted less traditional bway belt suond beleive me i sing like sinatra tony bennet bobby Darin i have studyed bel canto for years i am a working singer. recently i auditioned for a big band i sang as a cruner ,the video clip they sent me was of a singer big band with a belt or belt to mix (they ssaid i didnt get it because they wanted a croner go figer. can someone set me straight or explain your thoughts on this thanks shell

  5. Noreen Smith
    Noreen Smith says:

    Without hearing your voice I can only guess – but I will narrow it down to two things:
    1. Even in a balanced voice there are several levels of what I call “cord closure” (the level of clarity in the vocal tone) that can be achieved to suit different genres. There are ways to keep a voice balanced while building up the vocal cord’s ability to withstand air pressure, resulting in a more “belt-like” mix that can be used when a genre requires it.
    2. These folks are used to hearing people belt chest voice and are accustomed to that sound. I would recommend that an artist doesn’t force their voice to belt just because it may award them those few gigs that require it. You only get one set of vocal cords and it’s simply not worth the risk.

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  7. Corey G.
    Corey G. says:

    To Dacesita,

    For female singers, belt isn’t particularly useful, because the difference between chest and head is minimal. Male singers have a much more obvious jump between, so belt comes in more handy.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Classical and choral singers tend to sing mostly in their Head Voice. Rock/pop and Musical Theater singers tend to sing in their chest voice without transitioning to a thinner cord, though some can sing in “Mix”, sounding like they are effortlessly taking their chest voice higher in their range. When a singer connects seamlessly between chest voice and head voice, maintaining a consistent tonal quality throughout this transition, this is referred to as “Mix” – which is just that: a comfortable mix of the elements of chest voice and head voice. To learn more about Mix Voice, check my blog entitled, “BELT vs MIX”. […]

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