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Extreme Singing II – Belting

Whether it’s twanging, belting or distortion, your voice needs to work smarter, not harder -says Dane Chalfin

One of the principles that I hope emerges throughout this series has to do with redefining the term “work” in the phrase “vocal work”.

It seems that many vocalists think that if they have pain when they sing, that they are working hard.

It is so important to realize that although there can be much muscular work in your body involved in your signature sounds, each of these sounds must be produced in ways that have no adverse effects on your vocal folds – this includes belting.

Are You a Belter?

Singers who favor belting include Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Bono and even Pavarotti.

Belting is a term that gets thrown around liberally and means different things to different people.

According to various research, including my own, we can see that belting is very similar to, if not the same as yelling or calling out.

Simply put, Belting is yelling set to music.

The easiest ways to produce the belting sound are to:

* Call across the road to a friend you haven’t seen in ages: “Hey!” or “Oi!”
* Give a loud cheer for your home team: “YAY!”

Belting with your Back

These sounds require a considerable amount of physical effort, particularly in your back muscles and the muscles of core stability.

But please take note that the research is clear where breathing and belting are concerned: belting takes very little air flow.

Most singers find that the closer it feels to holding one’s breath, the better the belt that is produced.

The trouble with belting is that we aren’t conditioned to make that sound for extended periods of time; when we yell in real life, it tends to be in short, sharp bursts.

Belting is physically tiring but should not feel tiring or traumatic to the voice when produced correctly.

The major problem with singers who habitually belt has to do with neglecting to maintain the physical effort needed to keep this sound safe.

Here’s How to Make Belting Safe:

Call out ‘eh!’ on a bright happy sound

Notice how much effort is required from your postural stabilizers and back muscles; belting requires a lot of this. The body should feel a greatly increased sense of ‘readiness’ and energy. Try to keep the effort in the larynx as low as possible!

Hold that level of body effort right to the end of the belt— and then for a second longer. If you relax simultaneously with the end of the sound it will probably crack or strain.

Another way to approach your postural stabilizers is to stand as tall as you can and then imagine you have a couple of oranges in your arm pit; pull your shoulders down and your arms in as if you are going to juice them! Notice the sense of effort across your back.

The higher you belt, the more effort is required to stabilize the sound everywhere except the larynx.

A final warning for you belters: belting will sound sharp and strident, piercing and yell-like; there is no way to sweeten or darken it. If you try to sweeten your belt, this will take the larynx out of its optimal position and increase the risk of vocal injury.

Next week we will examine one of the most extreme and popular effects of all: distortion.

Dane Chalfin is an industry vocal coach and the only officially contracted voice rehabilitation specialist working for the National Health Service in the UK. His clients include well-known artists and actors and his teacher training courses attract professional vocal coaches and singing teachers from around the world. He is a director of the British Voice Association and Principal Lecturer in Voice at Leeds College of Music, Europe’s leading contemporary conservatoire.

To find out when Dane’s next article in this series is released, sign up here for our free content emails (aka. Monday Morning Vocalist Motivators).

Useful Links

Extreme Singing Part I

Your Voice’s Early Warning System

Dane Chalfin & Associates

The 21st Century Singer

The British Voice Association

  • Nice article, Dane. But I am not sure if I understand it correctly. Should I let my larinx go up when belting? I have read (and practice!!!) trying to keep it down. What you describe hear is exactly how I feel when singing, but I thought I was doing it wrong after reading other coaches. I am confused…

  • Dane

    The larynx has to rise for higher pitches. The old-school notion of keeping it low is a misunderstanding of the physiology. There are muscles that raise and tilt the larynx forward as you ascend in pitch. There are muscles below the larynx that can pull down against this need to rise to colour the sound darker. It’s purely an aesthetic choice. If the larynx depressors work too hard and prevent the larynx from rising to reach the higher pitches it can cause problems like strain, singing flat, etc.

  • Jhon Ackerman

    I love this information but I feel like I need to learn more about the nomenclature before I can truly benefit from the expertise’ at hand.  I’ve been “not singing” for awhile and for many reasons, it keeps not letting me ‘escape’ so I would like to improve and learn to take better care of my voice.

  • Poppa Madison

    Advocating “belting” as such, is I feel in some ways unwise. It may give some to think that, “without it” they are not “with it” which is definitely not the case. A strident tone and vocal drive at the right time and in the right kind of song can add both meaning and character to it. However it does not suit most songs and I believe that there are few who can deliver it, while being fully confident that they won’t suffer as a result with a sore throat or some other vocal ailment. As with all things vocal I prefer temperance and stability so as to be able to stay the course for those longer performances. Those that have “belting ability” find out quickly and can capitalize on it at the right moment in a song
    For those to whom it will only come with very forceful effort, my advice is, caution.

    May dulcet tones always be yours!


    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM

    Poppa Madison Music ♫ – Woodridge – Queensland – Australia

    Composing Music and Song for Everyone to
    Enjoy – Worldwide !


  • johnonthespot

    Nonsense. Belting is not “yelling set to music”. It is a intense phonation usually occurring in the beginning areas of upper mix between mouth and sinus resonances. A yell is an uncontrolled phonation devoid of proper resonance, formant tuning and exhalation control. A “belt” is a properly resonated and supported mix note. The two could not be more different.

    It is only tiring if you don’t train it often. Singing is a physical activity and certain aspects of it require stamina. Stamina requires training and relaxation of unneeded movements.

  • johnonthespot

    well no it doesn’t “have to rise” but it’s not a sing to let it happen either. The laryngeal tilt is not the same as a lifted larynx pulled by the degastric muscles.

  • I’m not sure the general term ‘has to rise for higher pitches’ is correct either. In fact, many ‘catch alls’ in singing are to be wary of. It can raise, but if it goes too far too early (and is uncontrollable) then the tone thins and the system comes apart. Hence why keeping it low was adopted, but was obviously taken too far by many. The optimal position of the larynx is very dependant on pitch, style, and physiological aspects like vocal tract length and positioning. In true belt however, the larynx must be higher than usual to strengthen the right harmonics and to give it a belt quality.
    On saying that, someone like Pavarotti can achieve a similar belt-like sound high up, but with a lowered larynx. His all over formant tuning is so good that he could generate ultimate power in the sound wave. But for most contemporary singers, belting by raising the larynx is where the quick, cutting power lies. Jessie J is a fine example of this.