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Tackle the Technique: Belting (Part 1)

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

Hello again! I’m excited about this week’s Tackle the Technique topic - well, I’ve been excited about each of them, but I know this one will be of particular interest to my students, besides my musical friends! That’s right, today we’re talking about BELTING! A quick caveat: this topic is HUGE and I want to give it the time it needs, so tonight will be a fairly surface-level introduction to some things, and I will do a follow-up video next week to give more detail and demonstration. So stay with me this time, and then be sure to tune in again next week as well!


Let’s start with a definition of sorts. Here’s what belting is NOT: It’s NOT simply chest voice singing, it’s NOT shouting, and it’s NOT simply the “chest voice” pushed higher.


What belting IS: the two prominent regions of the voice (you may call them the “chest” and “head” voices) are combined in varying degrees of dominance. The voice community typically refer to this as a mix, because we are utilizing qualities from across the vocal range to create the belt sound.


Some say that belt quality is possibly the most natural way of using the voice, as it's what children are doing every day in the school playground - without losing or damaging their voices. In everyday life, we yell or call in situations of heightened emotion - excitement, anger etc. Belt makes full use of this association with high emotional stakes, which is precisely why it's such an exciting sound.


It’s also important to point out that, when produced properly, belting is not a vocal risk. If we attempt belting without certain considerations we could put our voices at risk, but the same could be said for any type of singing, to include Classical singing. It’s all about accurate knowledge and effect implementation.


Now let’s touch on some of the anatomy. There is a TON of anatomy in the larynx, way more than we have time in this short video, so we may delve into some a bit more deeply next week. For now, here the primary pieces of anatomy to know.


First, the jaw. Check out the jaw tension video for tips on how to release your jaw in preparation for singing!


Next, the larynx. 



You can see a whole host of muscles, cartilages, and ligaments here, from the back and from the side. Here also is a superior view, or looking down from above, of the vocal folds. 



The two main muscle groups we’ll talk about are the thyroarytenoid or TA muscles, and the cricothyroid or CT muscles. In EXTREMELY simple terms (believe me, I am leaving out scads of info right now but I will provide more next week!!!), the TA muscles hold primary responsibility for lower pitches, while the CT muscles hold primary responsibility for higher pitches. I believe it’s VERY important to have at least a cursory understanding of this because of how it allows a singer to maneuver the idea of the “mix” within their own voice.


Before we get to exercises, let me just share a list of things to keep in mind as you get ready to sing. This goes for ANY style of music, but obviously I’m adapting it specifically to belting for the purposes of this video. This basic list will have some additional things when I put it on my blog tomorrow, but I will also come back to them next week.

  1. Know your current vocal range

    1. Feel free to contact me if you need help with that!

  2. Prioritize vocal health (rest, hydration, food/drinks)

  3. Treat sore throats immediately (water, humidifier, herbal tea, vitamin C, ginger, salt, etc.)

  4. Use proper technique

    1. Check your physical balance and alignment

    2. Relaxed and flexible larynx (jaw/tongue tension can play into this)

    3. Effective breathing (check the exercises in the Aging Voice video)

      1. In general, you use much less breath to belt than to sing in other Voice Qualities. (This is the reason for the “loudness” of belt)

      2. The ability to monitor airflow in a belt/mix will help to reduce tension and aid in the ability to transition in and out of any sort of mix. 

    4. Articulatory freedom

  5. Set small goals

    1. Don’t set a new goal until you’ve reached your previous one

  6. Warm up gradually

  7. Do regular exercises

  8. Modify vowels and substitute words

  9. Patient and consistent

  10. Don’t overdo it

    1. If it hurts, STOP

    2. Awkward or even mildly uncomfortable is okay - pain is not.

    3. It’s important to note that when belting, there’s a slightly increased amount of subglottic pressure which results in what people refer to as “friendly pressure.” (More on this next week!) If you’re not used to using your voice like that it can feel uncomfortable. Different exercises and small amounts of practice can help to find those sweet spots!


Lastly, just a few examples of some exercises. I’m showing more on the screen than I will demonstrate today, but that leaves some more suspense for next week!

  • First, some CT-focused Exercises 

    • The exercise I’ll demonstrate uses a “guh” as the onset consonant, followed by a flipped “r” and then a descending /i/ vowel.

    • Potential use of twang narrowing the aryepiglottic sphincter which gains acoustic advantage of singer’s formant without lowering larynx

    • Establish neutral jaw/tongue (as in speech) and free articulators

    • Extended Monologue



  • I’ll demonstrate two TA exercises to show the depth that is easier for my particular voice to live in.

    • The first is much more in the “basement,” if you will. The “m” onset allows freer vibratory onset, and the /a/ vowel is in a fairly whiny resonance to really bring the sound into a brighter, more forward place.

    • The second uses a much more nasal placement and begins to climb. That nasal placement encourages the forward resonance and releases the pressure on the larynx that we might otherwise force onto it.

    • Establish the difference - weight versus color

    • Establish neutral larynx vs lowered larynx and free articulators

    • Flow versus resistance

    • Extended monologue



  • Lastly, just one mixed CT/TA exercise.

    • This combines a few different vowels but all still working towards that forward, nasal-ish, brighter resonance.

    • Register blending (freeing the palate)

    • Flexibility to navigate variances of TA or CT dominance depending on emotional impulse, stylistic consideration, or musical gesture in a piece

    • Negotiating the first passaggio

    • Narrowed vowel modifications [ae] and [e]

    • Dexterity of articulators, neutral jaw and freedom of tongue

    • Lowered jaw, head tilt



  • The “shout” exercise: You basically just “shout or speak loudly” (obviously not in an unhealthy manner so demonstration is key). So shouting “hey!” A few times to find how to do that for the singer and then from there a five scale descending scale. Then you can add descending to ascending to descending once that has solidified. It can take 3-6 months just for that to really settle!


So as you can see, there’s a TON of stuff to this conversation. And I will apologize to my friend John for not getting to the actual crux of his question and the concept of expanding one’s belt range … BUT I don’t think I can effectively answer that question without giving this information first! I would encourage singers to try some of these things first - start paying attention to your voice, to what you notice across your range, and how some of these exercises feel in your voice. Next week, as promised, I will dig further into some of these things, demonstrate some more exercises, and perhaps even have a guest host with me! Thanks for watching! 



RESOURCES

1. Robert Edwin, “Belting 101,” Journal of Singing, Sept/Oct 1998, Volume 55, No. 1, pp. 53-55.

2. Keyona Willis-Lynam, “The Crossover Opera Singer: Bridging the Gap Between Opera and Musical Theatre,” D.M.A. Document for The Ohio State University, 2015.

3. MusicNotes.Com, “Expand Your Vocal Range with These 10 Simple Tips,” https://www.musicnotes.com/now/tips/expand-your-vocal-range-with-these-10-simple-tips/

4. VocalSkills.com Article, “What is Belt/Belting?” https://www.vocalskills.co.uk/What-is-Belt-Belting.html.




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