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.
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