Commercial singers outside of the musical theater world may wonder what belting is and isn't. To be completely truthful, that same conversation is very common even IN the musical theater world! Traditionally, belting was the term used to describe a loud, resonant yelling vocal sound used in a live stage setting without amplication. The contrary style was (and is) called legit, a term with a built-in negative bias. The connotation was that a legit singer has legitimate training (aka classical voice training) and that belters were not trained; they simply got on stage and blasted away.
As in all human endeavours, the barre has raised over time. Skiers jump farther, planes fly faster and singers are often expected to sing in multiple styles. So how does belting relate to the commercial singer? The simplest way to describe belting is that in musical theater, it's a style and in pop, rock, R&B or any combination thereof, belting is a technique. Belting is the ability to take a talky or yelly sound to the top of the range. Pure and simple. The trick is how to do that without hurting yourself.
Remember, the only thing a singer can injure are the vocal cords. Period. You cannot hurt your tongue, your neck or your mouth. (That is unless you're perfoming some crazy stunt involving hanging from ropes upside down, by your neck!) No matter what kind of singing you do, protecting the cords is paramount.
When you begin on the road to healthy belting, the two most important things to remember are 1) don't press/squeeze your vocal cords and 2) make sure you support properly. Perfect support (not too little, not too much) helps you do whatever you want with your voice with complete control. Too many wanna-be belters just bear down and blow. No bursting of blood vessels. Not on my watch.
For any singing: keep your chest up, gently firm your upper belly OUT, gradually clutch your lower belly IN. Make sure to relax your bellies for breathing. Do NOT keep your bellies tight and working if you want to have a healthy voice. Work them (in the correct direction) for singing, then relax them for breathing. Next, try belter's bite: take your pinky fingers and stick them between your back molars in your mouth. Bite down gently on your fingers and feel how your chewing muscle (masseter muscle for you technical types) is engaged. Remove your fingers from your mouth, relax your tongue, and flex your lower jaw up and down rapidly just to make sure it's flexible. You may notice that your jaw protrudes slightly- that's fine; just make sure your lower jaw is firm but flexible.
Now that you've got your support muscles ready to go, you've got your belter's bite on, it's time to make sound! Take a breath, hold your breath and call out Comesere Baby as though it's coming through your face, not through your throat. Try it again, really feeling like you're holding your breath as you call out. If you do this correctly, you should hear your voice fly across the room as though you're a ventriloquist. Call the phrase or any other phrase which comes to mind on even higher pitches. Don't try to be loud...when done correctly you will be loud. That's what good belting feels like.
In the next issue, I'll be sharing with you the latest scientific research and other tips on easy, impressive and safe belting to top of your range. Belt on!