Today we are going to introduce ourselves in the world of Belting. But, what is this? We have heard it for sure and we would be able to recognize it by far just by hearing it. Belting is a technique deeply rooted and used in Musical Theater and pop nowadays and it is easily spotted for its powerful performances.
Belters you might know are: Lady Gaga, Adele, Bruno Mars, Sam Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Ed Sheeran, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Demi Lovato, Jessie Mueller (The Waitress Musical), Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and many, many, many others. Note that they do not ONLY use belting when singing, but they combine many techniques; however, they are more often known for that particular quality as they have based their “sound” on that technique more than anything else. There are also other singers that use belt in the singing although they are not as known for that. So, just bear in mind that it is a technique and it is useful to know it so you can decide if using it or not, depending on your taste and the song, genre and many other variables.
But, from the point of view of TECHNIQUE, what is belting?
We have previously learnt already the difference of chest voice and head voice, and how there is something called “mix voice”, which is a bridge in between those two registers. We have also seen that when we sing a lower pitch we normally use chest voice and to accommodate that part of our voice, our vocal cords get thicker and we will need more release of air to produce the vibration of the cords, which will vibrate very slowly (big waves of sound). Similar thing, but in reverse will happen when we sing a high pitch note; our vocal cords will get thinner, we will need much less air release and the vibration produced will be fast, creating vey small sound waves.
How is this important? In order to “create” the belting quality in our voices, we need to understand that process so we can adapt it to the new sound we are trying to achieve. Belting is the ability to sing in the higher register using a similar power to the one used when we sing in chest voice. Or, to put it in other words: we sing using a balanced thickness in our vocal cords (not as thin and in the head voice, but not as thick as in the chest voice) with a similar feeling of singing in the chest area. However, and THIS IS A COMMON misunderstanding, we DO NOT NEED MORE VOLUMEN, as in more air to produce the sound. In fact, if we push too much air, our voice will break or crack and, more often than not, we will harm our vocal cords by straining them. Another thing to keep in mind is that -and this is why it’s a tricky technique- we don’t want to only use the chest voice (pulling it up) to try and sing the higher pitches, that would only cause damage to our voices and create some kind of discomfort (hoarseness, itchiness) that if done periodically can and almost surely will lead to develop nodules and even hemorrhages in our vocal cords.
Hitting the note of the higher register with the power of the low register (chest voice) requires a lot of training and even when done correctly, it will extenuate our vocal cords because it implies a lot of effort -as if you did any sport. In a way, belting is similar to yelling, which done “well” won’t harm our voices; but if done in the wrong way, will make us lose the voice for a couple of days or have a soar throat.
HOW DO WE BELT?
Before we move on to the exercises, we should consider some things:
Practice OFTEN, NOT LONG. This technique it is quite advanced and requires from a good understanding of the voice. It is physically tiring, specially if you have never done it, so beware of that and remember that in order to develop this technique you will need to get stronger and work on your endurance to be able to fully support the belting. For that reason, is better to include belting exercises on our regular warm-ups and have 15 minutes dedicated to those but not more than that. There is no point in doing belting warm-ups for 3 hours, as there would be no point in doing 3 hours or running every day on top of the rest of the exercise and stretching you might also do. Your body needs to build strength and stamina in order to be able to support and sustain belting but it also needs to relax. SO, be patient, it might take a little bit longer, but it will happen! Repetition is KEY for any technique in singing.
WARM UP YOUR WHOLE REGISTER: You should be very warmed-up before you start doing any belting exercise. Because it is a very extenuating technique, you won’t get the most of the practice (and could possibly hurt yourself) if you have not already stretched your voice -again, as you would if you practiced any sport.
CAREFUL! Belting CAN be damaging IF YOU DO IT WRONG -and it’s very easy for us to not do it properly when learning it. IF you push too air through or pull up the the chest voice into the head voice, you will harm yourself. If you sound and feel constricted, or if you feel itchiness or any sort of discomfort at any given point, STOP IT IMMEDIATELY.
FIND THE SPACE: Belting is meant to be LOUD, so find the proper place to practice and don’t be afraid of it becoming loud; if you hold back or get tensed (specially in the neck/shoulder area), you will more likely harm yourself, so it’s all about letting go and not fearing the process. When practicing at home, LET IT be loud -don’t hold back or it won’t happen-, BUT DON’T go to your full maximum volumen because you don’t need to extenuate your vocal cords to create the muscle memory or sound needed to acquire the technique.
MOUTH OPEN, TONGUE DOWN, VOICE FORWARD, GOOD BODY POSTURE AND AIR: When belting, it should feel like you are directing your voice to the front when going to the higher pitch (through the nose/eyes, also called “mask”), instead of feeling it going up to the tip of your head (as you would when using solely head voice). Yo need to open the mouth, use little air pressure and maintain the tip of the tongue down so it does pull back and cut the vibration and the power this technique brings. You also need to be standing up to be able to use the full extent of your diaphragm support and to ANCHOR yourself to the ground -we’ll see a couple of ways of doing this, don’t worry if you don’t know what I am talking about right this moment, it will be explained later on.
BEFORE WE START – MAKE SURE:
- Stand Up, Zero Tension on NECK, SHOULDERS, FACE.
- RETRACTED Vocal Folds —> Imagine you are smiling internally or your ears are pulling back.
- Less air pressure (feels almost like holding your breath) & a lot of diaphragm support.
- Drop the jaw, raise the soft palate & slightly high larynx.
- Voice placed FORWARD, in the MASK (nose/eyes area).
- ANCHORING —> The torso in engaged = Imagine you have something between your armpits and you are squishing them down towards your hips. Another way: super hero pose (Superman) making a little bit of muscle effort on the fist extended (this will help retract the vocal folds too). Another way: hands on the hip, chest out. Yet another one: imagine you are trying to pull a resistance band apart.
WARM-UP: FIRST, stretch your WHOLE register.
Belting Exercises: Speaking Voice
Say “Yeah” in your usual voice. Now, imagine you are trying to reach the other side of the room and repeat that in a louder volumen BUT still on your speaking voice.
Wheh —> Baby crying type of sound. Notice where it happens, how it feels and HOW very POWERFUL and LOUD it is.
F-f-f-f-f (fi, fe, fi, fa, fo)—> Engaging the core muscles and diaphragm.
Hey Mario!: Yell it -first, imagine the person is close and adapt your tone to that, then the person you address is moving further, away with each repetition so in the end you are trying to get the attention of someone quite far.
Belting Exercises: Singing voice
- Hmmm —> Ascending in a siren style to as high as you can go without forcing it.
2. Mah (Cow type of sound)
3. Nay nay nay (nasal quality as in “neighbor”) helps us access the belting voice —> Think of an evil witch laughter.
4. Pretend you are a little kid teasing another with a “nae, name nae”:
- Nae, nae, nae (“na”) —> Open “a” (as in apple), which will help us access the chest quality, together with the “n” bratty sound. Start with a comfortable pitch.
- Bae Bae Bae —> Same as before but with “bae”.
It is normal if there is a jump/break or it gets too tense in the higher parts, to avoid that tension we are going to use “Bae” instead of Nay.
5. Gug Gug Gug
6. Yay Yay Yay
7. Yeah Yeah Yeah