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How to Belt: Some How-To and Science

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If we define belting in the most general terms possible, let's entertain the notion that it's a vocal sound that derives from talking or yelling. Belting is most often linked to musical theater singing, but has been used to describe loud singing in commercial styles such as rock and gospel. Following is a brief description of the essentials of the mechanism of belting voice production, particularly as compared to classical singing.

  • Head: aligned with body but with jaw parallel to ground (head tilted down in classical)
  • Jaw: firmer masseter (chewing) muscle which protrudes jaw slightly forward
  • Hyoid bone: pulls forward
  • Thyroid Cartilage: slides forward (tilts down in front for classical)
  • Larynx Height: higher position (approx. 1 1/2 cervical vertebrae higher)
  • Vocal Fold Vibration Pattern: clapping, square-edge, no zippering, particularly at higher volumes
  • Vocal Fold closure speed, speed quotient: faster
  • Vocal Fold closure ratio, closed quotient: longer, closed minimum of 50% of time Increased sub-glottal pressure - upper belly must firm OUT, lower belly IN, to correctly pressurize vocal folds
  • T-A muscle (vocalis): more contracted
  • Frequencies: even range of frequencies up to 15k

Subjective sensations:

  • Extreme breath holding prior and during
  • Singing smacky and sticky
  • The feeling of folds high speed of closure and long closed phase
  • Intense support (5 rules: chest stays up, side/back ribs stay out, upper belly magic spot firms out, lower belly gradually goes in, waist goes out)
  • Sound shooting through mouth or chin or upper neck or lower neck or nose

Modern belting ideas:

  • Timbre (nasal and/or ringy) and volume should be character-based choices
  • Can be loud, medium or soft (rarely), but cannot be breathy
  • Musical Theater belting can be delineated into at least five belting sub-styles:

Heavy Belt, Nasal Belt, Brassy Belt (nasal/ringy, mostly nasal, i.e.  Ethel Merman) Ringy Belt (nasal/ringy, mostly ringy i.e.  Kristin Chenoweth) Speech-Like Belt (broad spectrum of resonance i.e. Idina Menzel)

Teaching Approaches:

  • Calls (Come ere Daddy!)
  • Nasals (e.g. nyaa)
  • Lean Exercises
  • Pressure Sounds (bee staccato)

This essay first published November 30, 2008 on The Modern Vocalist.com the Internet's #1 community for vocal professionals, voice health practitioners and pro-audio companies worldwide since November 2008.


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