Marty Heresniak, B.M., M.M

voice teacher

79 Hudson Heights
Ithaca, NY 14850


member National Association of Teachers of Singing

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What About Belting?

"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 free functioning.

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 throat.

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 from limitations.