"I can't tell you how many times over the years I
have had your flyer on belting in my hand. A few
times I'd attempted to read it, but sadly, a stubborn
denial kept me from benefitting from all that you
have had to offer during this half year of study with
you. I simply did not want to know that I was
singing improperly. Today I started to sing some
standards in my soprano range and had more
power and beauty surface than I have ever
managed to have with a belt.
"I began to realize that the path that I took has
meaning and value. I don't even want to imagine
where I would be now if things had not unfolded in
such a way that I chose to leave my former way of
singing. The pain from having to leave all that
'glory' was worth it. I understand it now."
Shauna Guidici - Jazz Artist
In conversations with performers the voice teacher
will almost inevitably hear references to "belting".
Some swear by it. Some swear never to do it again.
Some want to know the teacher's opinion. Some
are curious as to what it is, how it is done, and
what it does for and to the voice.
Simply put, belting is similar to a child's playground voice.
The technique imposes a modification on natural, open voice
production by tensing the muscles of the throat, tongue, and jaw.
By a narrow reasoning, this does make some sense. Vocal
sound can be increased by increasing air pressure below the
larynx and by increasing vocal resonance. The tensions used in
belting close the larynx more than is really needed to make
voice, allowing air pressure to build up below the larynx, thus
supplying the extra push needed for increasing pitch and volume.
The actions of belting also increase the size of the resonating
cavities in the mouth and upper throat. Thus belting will increase
volume and resonance, but only within certain limits.
Two principles underlie a balanced, natural vocal technique.
First, voice is a natural function of the body, with the goal of
technique to allow free functioning at any intensity. Conscious
actions in singing should not interfere with natural functions.
Second, singing study should train the individual aspects of the
art so as to avoid one interfering with another. Belting subverts
both these principles, introducing unnatural tensions that impede
Singing in the bel canto tradition is not so easy. Don't let the
Italian term scare you. It means beautiful singing and refers to
the techniques of 18th and 19th century Italian singers and
singing teachers, as well as to the repertory written for them
during that period. Bel canto is known for long, spinning phrases
and an ease of production which allows rather intricate vocal
pyrotechnics. This coördinated, bio-mechanically efficient
technique can't happen overnight. Using the muscles of the
entire body in good coördination, breathing completely, and
producing voice without interfering with the formation of words
takes many hours of preparation.
Unfortunately, however, the theatrical or non-classical
student often is concerned less with learning how to sing
correctly and more with producing adequate sound, learning new
songs, and getting parts. Belting can help beginners achieve
these short-term goals. Belting is relatively easy. The muscles of
the jaw, throat, and mouth can be constrained with little practice.
Belting tends, however, to circumvent the body's natural
resonance. A belter will usually lean forward slightly, jutting the
chin toward the audience and curving the neck. While oral
resonance is increased, the larynx moves out of its natural
position, breaking the line of flow to the lungs and undermining
the concept of breathing with a full body to make use of the
natural resonance in the chest.
The most dangerous part of the belting technique is tension
in and around the larynx, often including a push that drives the
larynx out of position. The louder or higher the note, the more
severe the push. Forcing an organ of the body to do its work
when already strained by misalignment cannot do good. Many
examples of singers with hoarseness, thickened vocal folds, and
eventual nodules -- like callouses in the throat -- are testament
to the harms of throat-tense belting.
Usually we have to suffer our first low-back muscle pull
before learning that it is better to spread the effort of lifting
through the large muscles of the legs in lieu of the smaller
muscles of the back. Likewise, a singer will often seek help only
after finding that the voice does not last a full night's performance
or that long-term belting has led to pain and damage. It is more
efficient and less stressful to increase vocal power through
balanced use of the larger muscles of the torso than through
constriction of the small muscles of the face, tongue, jaw, and
Good vocal technique involves achieving a balance. It is
learning and maintaining natural position. It is maintaining an
expanded torso during singing. It is using the voice-producing
and word-forming mechanisms without coercion. It is training the
various parts without one interfering with another.
While providing an immediate source of vocal power, belting
is, in a broader sense, limiting, counter-productive, and, over
time, harmful. Belting restricts pitch range and rarely allows any
quietness or softness. The tight jaw and tongue limit articulation.
There are far better ways of increasing sub-glottal (i.e.: below-the-larynx)
pressure and natural resonance.
If you learn how to belt, all you can do is belt. How much
more beneficial that the beginner seek to become a better singer.
If you learn bio-mechanically efficient vocal technique, you can
have many vocal styles and colors at your disposal. Once this
technique is secure, a belt-like sound can be introduced as one
of the available colors, just as a jazz growl or a comic nasality
can sometimes be appropriate to the performance at hand.
I do not teach belting. I help students unlearn their exclusive
dependence on the belt. Belt technique is limited, with
constraints on pitch, dynamics, and the type of role the student
can attempt. Reasonable persons do not knowingly choose to
limit themselves. Everything achieved with the belt can be
achieved even more effectively with a well-produced voice freed