Healthy belting is an extension of speech, so as voice students, if you do not have a strong, clear sound when you are speaking, particularly in your lower notes, you may not have a natural capacity to belt.
By Jeannette LoVetri
Healthy belting is also produced with a kind of trumpet-like intensity that makes the sound seem to be very powerful without causing vocal fatigue or stress. It takes a good amount of breath support generated by a strong, deliberate use of the abdominal muscles while singing, but it does not use air in the same way that a good classical sound does.
Belting may or may not have a vibrato (a steady fluctuation of the pitch being sung), and it may or may not extend to the very highest pitches in a singer’s range. Some singers belt only up to a specific pitch or pitch range, particularly if they also sing in other styles that are not belted. Those vocalists who also sing classically have to learn to “shift vocal gears” if they are to sing easily in both belting and classical sound, and that takes time (from months to years) to do well.
It is rare, but not impossible, to find teachers of belting who are not, themselves, belters at a high level, who also sing classical and other styles of repertoire, and who are experienced and effective singing teachers. Many who claim to teach belting are neither trained belters nor have any professional-level experience as belters. Students who want to learn to belt should be especially wary of such teachers.
Note that it is possible to learn to make the belt sound without training, through trial and error and through imitation.
What You Need to Know about Belting
- Many classically trained singers who now teach were taught that belting was automatically injurious to the vocal folds (cords). This is an old wives’ tale, based on a lack of accurate understanding and experience. Sadly, many vocal programs do not allow students to do any belting throughout their entire four years of undergraduate training, and will not accept any belted material from a student during an entrance audition.
- Any kind of squeezing, pushing, forcing, yelling, and extreme nasality in belting can lead to both musical and vocal health problems over time. The sound should be free, easy and comfortable, and the vocalist should also be able to sing softly in most pitches without undue effort.
- The face, neck, head and body should be in harmony and look comfortable in a belt sound, although the louder, higher sounds will require more activity on the part of the vocalist in order to be done correctly.
- General advice: if it feels good, and sounds good, and does the job over and over, it probably is good. If it feels bad and sounds good, be suspicious. If it feels good but sounds bad, something is not working correctly, and if it feels bad and sounds bad, it is bad and should be stopped. This is true in any style of music.
- If you study with a teacher who is not familiar with the belt sound, with repertoire that uses the sound, and who can’t answer your questions about how the sound is made, find another teacher! Knowledgeable teachers understand all these things and will happily explain them in a simple, clear manner.
- If your voice ever feels “bad” or “sounds funny” and doesn’t get better, find a good otolaryngologist (ENT or Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) and have your vocal folds examined. Serious vocal damage can sometimes be permanent and prevent you from singing professionally for the rest of your life.