Why are we all so obsessed with singing higher and louder?
It is usually the first thing a student will mention on their list of goals and ambitions when coming to me for a consultation or singing lesson. What is the obsession with belting?
It is exciting.
It is impressive.
It taps into our emotions.
When used correctly and with class the belt can bring audiences to their feet with sheer electrical excitement. This classic Broadway sound can tap into and communicate with a part of our being that deeply desires to be seen and heard in our day to day lives. To witness someone at their most emotionally climactic moment release a cry of anguish, pain or ecstasy at such high velocity and with such power is one of the most thrilling and exciting things in live singing. When it is written and performed with taste, class and intelligence it is also one of the most powerful ways to connect with the hearts of our audience.
But how can we do it better?
In the following article I will outline 3 ways in which you can start to belt better. I can not stress the importance of getting a good vocal coach to help you with this, but if you follow my 3 steps correctly you will be well on your way. But first...
WHAT IS BELTING?
Before we start to practice belting, we need to know what it is.
Belting is high intensity, loud singing. Essentially, belting is yelling in a controlled manner, with a few other things thrown in to make sure you are doing it safely and healthily. The belt usually comes (if the composer is sensitive and intelligent) at emotionally climactic moments within a song or a show. These can be moments of pain, anguish, joy, pleasure, ecstasy, or when a character is desperate to be heard, seen or noticed. The lyrics that a belt are used on is usually carefully considered and poignant. Belting is always a loud, thick, exciting sound and is usually characterised by straight tone leading into vibrato at the the most pleasing moment in the harmonic progression to release the built tension.
So how do we do it?
The following may go against things you have been told before, or may confirm what you already know. In either case, consider them carefully and try them out. My job is not to convince you or to change your mind, it is simply to offer what I know to be true for you to explore and experiment with. I recommend practicing belting for 5 minutes at any one time when starting out, perhaps moving on to 10 minutes when you are more proficient.
1. Always Use Less Breath
The most common misconception when preparing to sing a long, loud, powerful note is that you need to take a big breath. This is a misguided notion, but of course understandable. The relationship between breath and the vocal cords is this; the vocal cords allow and stop breath from passing through. When the vocal cords are closed they hold breath back and we slowly allow a small stream of air though them when we sing. The first principle of voice is contact between the two vocal cords, and when we belt we are aiming for thick vocal cord contact (more of the mass of the vocal cords touching). Considering all this, if we give the vocal cords more air to resist before we belt by taking a big breath, the vocal cords are more likely to blow apart causing the dreaded crack, or pushing tuning to the sharp side. The rule of thumb with breath when singing is this:
BREATH = MILEAGE
(NOT POWER or VOLUME)
The only thing we use breath for in singing is for length of phrase, never for power or volume.
Here is a little exercise for you to try. Take a belted phrase in your song and isolate it. Blow some air out shortly and sharply as if blowing out a candle, then sing the phrase without breathing in first. Try it a few times and see if it feels a bit (or a lot) easier! You'll be surprised at how the sound can suddenly just pop out with ease. Watch this video for how to do it.
NOTE: This is just for practice to show how little breath you need to belt. Do not use this technique in actual performance!
2. Use A Small Space
This is a good one, and it usually takes a bit of convincing when I first introduce students to it. We are going to experiment with using a smaller space in the mouth and jaw when singing high and loud. The common misconception is that you need a big, wide open mouth to make a loud and powerful sound.
Pop your finger on your larynx for a second. Now open your mouth wide. What do you feel? Most probably you will feel your larynx move down. If you keep your mouth in this position your jaw and tongue will keep your larynx locked down in that position and it will be considerably more difficult to get it to move up, which is generally where we want it to be for high belting. When we sing, we want a mobile larynx at all times. Opening the mouth too widely will simply keep your larynx locked in one position.
Think about the instruments of the orchestra... which are the higher, piercing and more powerful instruments? Are you thinking about piccolos and trumpets...? This is because they are smaller and the sound waves resonate at a higher speed than the bigger, wider instruments. Same with singing.
Here's something for you to try; put your little finger between your top and bottom teeth at the side of your mouth. Keep the top and bottom teeth resting on your little finger. The idea is not to let the finger go, but not to bite hard. Try singing your belted phrase on an 'aaay' sound using this smaller space. Give it a few tries to get used to the new sensation and watch this video for how to do it.
Note: be careful of allowing tension to creep in. Keep a soft jaw. Remember this is only for practice as a brain exercise "oh I don't need as much breath as I thought I did".
3. Sing On Pitch
This last tip is a nice simple one to implement, but must not be underestimated in how powerful it can be in refining your belt. Hitting your belted note or phrase bang on pitch is so important and will clean things up considerably. Bending up on to the note and falling off the note at the end is very common and is usually just down to habit. I want everything my students do in their singing to be their choice rather just habit. By bending up onto the note, and falling off the note at the end we are just creating a bit of extra and unnecessary work for the muscles to deal with. So to remedy this simply take a short, sharp breath in, which gets the larynx to a nice high position (this is called a high clavicular breath - an advanced breathing technique West End and Broadway pro's will use with extended belted phrases). The trick here is to breathe in imagining the pitch of the note you want to sing out. Essentially, this gets your larynx in the position you want it to be in, creating less work and confusion. Give it a few tries and watch this video for how/not to do it.
So there are my 3 tips for better belting. There is a lot more to belting technique than this, and I wouldn't advise you to practice belting continually on your own. Please contact a vocal coach you trust to assist you as there may be other things going on that you are not aware of. These tips are to give you a starting place to refine what you already can do. Please never try belting above your comfort zone without a coach. Practice in a safe area of your range. Please only practice belting exercises if you can achieve clean, clear tone. If you are breathy, constricted, or in pain then STOP!
I am a Holistic Vocal Coach and I focus on working with you as a whole person physiologically, emotionally, nutritionally and spiritually to bring about deep transformation in your voice and performance...