How many times have you heard the phrase, “she was really belting out that song!” (or something similar). I know I hear it all the time. Prevalent mainly in the musical theatre and gospel genres, belting is pretty common, but not well-understood. So, what exactly is belting?
Professor of Voice Science and Pedagogy Robert Edwin describes belting as “aggressive and extended lower register or chest voice dominant singing.” You might be thinking, “huh? What does that mean?” Never fear! In one of my previous postings, I described the different vocal registers, which will be very helpful to understanding belting. Take a look at this post on vocal registers.
Belting is a highly controversial topic, with strong feelings for and against it. However, despite many arguments about whether the technique is safe, pleasant to listen to, etc., I think it is important to understand what it actually entails before coming to any conclusions.
Essentially, belting involves using the power of the chest voice with the brilliance of the head voice. It is utilized most often in the tricky, passaggio range of the female voice. Generally, belting tends to have less continuous vibrato than classical or “legit” style singing, and often limits the amount of vowel modification. This works especially in the musical theatre genre to create a sound driven by the text, with less emphasis on pure beauty of sound. In a previous post, I described the need to adjust vowels to allow space for resonance, particularly in the head voice. This is often changed for belt technique. The result is a less-balanced, more piercing sound to the tone, which differs greatly from the operatic mixed register. Proponents of the belt technique often describe the more “natural,” more easily understood sound produced by belting.
As many contemporary music forms do not require much singing into the natural head voice range (above the staff), the use of more speech-like vowels and less modification and resonance is achievable for the belt. Focus on consonants and forward-placed resonance is most important for belters, who rarely take this technique higher than E or F5.
While many singers have success with belting, it must be said that the use of a purposely smaller vowel space, and less use of natural resonating spaces can be a slippery slope for a non-advanced singer. Belters generally use a wider mouth structure, creating a shorter opening in their throat, which can be dangerous, especially if a singer is not completely in control of their breath.
The most important thing for a beginning voice student to remember is that belting is an advanced technique. If you are interested in learning to belt, you must first gain a solid technical basis and understanding of your voice before attempting to implement this tricky form of singing. Rushing into belting can often result in vocal damage, so it is extremely important to discuss the potential for studying belt with your teacher before attempting it.