How Singers Can Safely Belt

based on a chapter from Singing Secrets




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Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation out there about a type of singing called "belting." Much of what you've heard is likely myth. I hope this article will dispel some of that myth and give you a better understanding of this type of singing.

First, let's define what belting is. Strictly speaking, belting is when a woman takes her chest voice up into her head voice range; belting is a term that comes directly from musical theatre, and was used to describe such singers as Mary Martin and Eileen Rodgers. Later, the term "belter" was also applied to men and indicated that they took their chest voice up higher than one might normally expect. Belters today include Barbra Streisand, Linda Eder, and Celine Dion. (This is not to say that these singers, or any other belters, don't sing in their head voice, too.)

Belting does
not mean pushing or forcing a sound. Belting is not quiet, but it should never be forced. Belting also doesn't mean singing loud in the head voice.

Although some people believe belting is harmful to the voice, many singers have spent their whole careers belting (think Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand); I've personally been belting all my life and have never had any vocal problems.

If belting doesn't come naturally, you'll need to learn to belt gradually. You really
do need to build up endurance; otherwise, you're likely to grow physically tired (and once you're tired, you'll probably stop supporting properly).

Perhaps the number one thing that prevents more singers from developing a belting voice is fear. They hold back when they're trying to belt, which causes strain, a thin, ugly sound, and cracking. Releasing that fear and tension is one of the main keys to successful belting.

Correct placement is also vital. Your voice will likely crack if your placement isn't forward and your soft palate isn't raised.

Belting (as with any other sort of singing) should
never hurt or cause a sore throat. If it does, you're doing something wrong and should stop instantly. When we hear stories about belters developing nodes, it's important to remember that all kinds of singers can and do develop nodules. The nodes don't come from belting, but from poor technique, and singing repeatedly with poor technique. So when it hurts, stop right away. Then seek a qualified teacher who can help you.

If correct singing technique is used, there's no reason a belter can't maintain their voice and belt for most of their life. Although it's possible to point to famous belters and show a decline in their voices, you'll find that most of these singers have little or no training (the root cause of their problem), or have abused their bodies. There are equally as many belters who have healthy voices, even after a long career of belting.

Not all singers are naturally equipped to belt well. However, for those who wish to give this style of singing a go, here are a few tips to get you going in the right direction:

1. You must be able to practice in an environment where you're not afraid to be loud or make mistakes. If you're worried about being "too noisy" or making squawks, you'll usually tense up...and therefore fail.

2. You must feel entirely free of tension in the face, neck, shoulders, etc.  Contrary to what some believe, a good belter does not sing with undue tension. Quite the opposite, in fact.

3. You must develop stamina. Like singing large opera roles, belting is an athletic experience.

4. Belting requires less breath pressure (just as high notes require less breath pressure).

5. You've gotta drop that jaw (think 3 to 4 fingers) and raise your soft palate.

6. Like a soprano hitting her highest notes, the belter has to trust her high chest notes to be there. She can't "push" them at all. Imagining the notes flying or floating out of the top of the head may help.

7. The voice must be placed forward, in the mask.

Not everyone is Barbra Streisand or Linda Eder--but there's no reason that singers who
do belt need destroy their voices, either. By following the basic "rules" of good singing, and by using the tips above, singers can belt in a healthy fashion.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Kristina Seleshanko.