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I Want a Big Belt

Dear Leontine,

Why is my belt not as ‘big’ as other singers? I’m a classically trained soprano who sings jazz and musical theatre gigs a couple times per month. When I practice belting, I use a ‘hey’ sound and try to sing in the head voice register but with a ‘speaking’ quality by opening and relaxing my throat. It feels and sounds cool, but not as big as I would like.

-Small Belt in the Big Apple

Hi Small-belt!

It would really be best if you were standing in front of me and I could demonstrate; for, it sounds to me as if you are probably not belting.

I may be wrong, as I am relying on what you have written. If you could send in a sound clip of you ‘belting’ then I would know exactly what is happening.

Let’s talk a little about belt and how it is different from your head voice.

As a classically trained soprano you would be used to singing in head voice or ’tilt’.

‘Tilt’ refers to the fact that your thyroid cartilage or Adam’s apple tilts in order to stretch the vocal folds out, which attach into it.

Belt is a very different way of using the vocal folds and in a female starts on about an A above middle C.

Belt is always loud, requires a very high larynx and therefore a high tongue position.

There is lots of ‘twang’.

As the vocal folds are closed for around 60-70% of the cycle, very little air is required in belt.

Too much air will blow the vocal folds apart.

Thus, supporting belt is very different to supporting the head voice, as you are almost coming off your airflow altogether.

Support for belt is very high, the muscles in your back and under your armpits widen and there is maximum engagement of the muscles in the torso.

It is very useful to slightly lift the chin whilst maintaining a long neck.

This helps prevent the vocal folds from tilting and lengthening, thus maintaining the thicker vocal fold mass that is essential for Belt.

When you first learn how to belt, only practice it for 5-10 minutes daily.

You need to gradually increase your stamina, and if you practice longer than this at the beginning, you will ache afterwards and can damage your voice.

Belt practice at the beginning is hard work and not particularly pleasant.

The sound is not attractive and sounds and feels ‘pushed’.

Singers have to get used to the sensation of lifting their voices into a high ‘twangy’ place and the feeling of ‘singing through the back of the head’.

The higher the belt is, the smaller the inner space becomes.

Belt should never be pushed. When belt is correctly placed it feels as if you are lifting the voice, retracting the false folds (a feeling like silent laughter, or a happy surprise) and then throwing the sound behind you.

I always teach my singers how to belt on a ‘Yey!’ as it keeps the tongue forward.

A ‘Hey’ is not advisable, as you are beginning the tone on an aspirate.

As belt has hardly any air passing through the folds, this sets you up in exactly the wrong position.

Back vowels are also very hard to belt and it is important to keep the tongue and the jaw forward.

Changing pitches in belt is like ‘rowing in mud as opposed to water’. It is much harder work.

With short practices over a few weeks, you will find that belt starts ‘slotting in’.

It becomes progressively easier and sounds better the more you do it.

Through measured, correct practice over time, belt organically changes from an unpleasant, harsh sound, to an exciting quality that seems to sit in a place where you get a lot of sound for little effort at the vocal fold level, yet maximum athletic effort in the body.

Belt is exciting rather than beautiful; it should be used with discretion.

A lot of singers are not aware of the difference between a ‘pushed up’ speech quality and real belt.

The two are very different ways of using the mechanism.

Belt is actually much easier than pushing up your speech quality and it may help to find it by imitating an Italian market trader or a high-pitched Disney character.

It is very important to go to an experienced vocal coach who works with contemporary singers if you want to learn how to belt. Good luck!

-Leontine Hass