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Belting Basics Part 2

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As I stated in my last article (Belting Basics Part 1), the broadest definition of belting may be the best: carrying a speech-like or yell-like sound to the top of one's range. It is usually loud and resonant but not always. The point is that belting can be many things. There are even belting substyles which can be mastered for artistic effect (e.g. heavy belt, nasal belt, ringy belt, brassy belt and speech-like belt). What belting can't be is breathy, heady (meaning female head voice or male falsetto) or produced in the lowest part of one's range.

Before I share with you some techniques for safe and comfortable belting, you may be interested to learn some of the recent findings into the science of belting. The vibrational pattern of singers vocal folds in belting resembles the shape and action of modal or chest register. In this action, the edges of the vocal folds are tall, with a square-shape. If you imagine two walls hitting each other, you'll get an idea of the shape. The folds also approximate (come together) in what's called parallel closure, meaning that the front ends and back ends meet at the same time. This is different from the vibrational pattern of head voice/falsetto, in which the vocal fold edge is thinner and they close from front to back (or in other individuals back to front), which is called zippering. Other differences found in belting is that the folds come together more quickly (higher speed quotient), stay together longer during each cycle (higher closed quotient), and the top and bottom of the folds close simultaneously. The main muscle inside the vocal fold, called the vocalis muscle is more engaged in belting. Belting requires more pressure in the air which vibrates the folds so precise support is crucial. This heightened pressure underneath the folds allows more of the vocal fold tissue to flap. And the more flesh that flaps, the louder the sound which the vocal folds can produce.

But there's more! The two main laryngeal cartiilages interact differently (in terms of tilting, holding still or pulling) though we're still figuring out that stuff. One really interesting and relevant element is the action of the hyoid bone, the little horse-shoe-shaped bone under your tongue. I believe that in belting it pulls forward. I can feel it quite clearly with my finger. As I start to ascend pitch in belting, I can easily feel my hyoid bone pushing forward against my finger. Tha is at least until I get to my high E at which point, my larynx goes into another mode of pitch-raising so I can get to my highest note with this sound. Pretty wild to think that most of what our bodies do, our brains have no knowledge!

OK, enough technical talk. What singers really want to know is: how can I make this sound without killing my voice. In Belting Basics Part 1, I mentioned the calls technique; speaking with a projected sound such phrases as Come ere baby and Come ere daddy with a sensation of breath-holding. Calls are the easiest, first choice way to experience natural, projected voice. Let's review the basics and then I'll talk about three other approaches which can help you belt effortlessly.

Singers always need to manage their alignment and support tasks (chest up, upper belly magic spot OUT, lower belly IN) before embarking on technical exericses or actual singing. One category of techniques is pressure sounds. My favorite one is bee, bee, bee, bee, bee using the note pattern of 54321, all done stacatto. The trick is to take a sippy breath, then without breathing again, do the exercise, feeling like you’re holding your breath the whole time you're singing. Each bee should sound strong and clean with no audible air coming through. Many teachers use gee or gay which are also pressure sound exercises, but I prefer starting each syllable with the b sound which produces less tension in the back of the tongue.

Another category are the nasals which use resonance to alter the laryngeal function. You may know of them as nays or naaas and they can work well or not at all but they are a good tool to have in one's arsenal. They work best for men and least for classically-trained women.

I also use a series I call the lean series, a challenging, advanced set of exercises which help singers feel the action of belter's bite, the hyoid bone pulling forward, and the other sensations I call laryngeal lean.

Never just go for it. If you do, you risk hurting your vocal fold tissue. Belting doesn't mean uncontrolled screaming and yelling. Support, the sensation of breath-holding, beltier's bite, pressure sounds and always singing as though through your face (rather than shouting as though through your neck) as only a few of some of the winning techniques which result in a how does s/he do that?! performance.


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