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Learn To Belt By Understanding Vocal Registers

Learn To Belt By Understanding Vocal Registers
Belting is the ascending drag of a particular register beyond where it would natively exist in the voice -says Justin Stoney.

Has your voice has ever cracked or suddenly gone weak? If so, then you know that the registers of your voice can sometimes feel like a barrier to your singing.

Just like in a car engine, your vocal “gears” must be skillfully navigated to maintain a smooth, strong sound as the voice “drives” through the hills, turns and changing terrain of a melody.

When it comes to achieving the powerful coveted sound we call Belting*, an understanding of vocal registers is a must.

Justin Stoney of New York Vocal Coaching is a voice expert who has helped countless singers learn how to Belt. VoiceCouncil caught up with Justin to chat about what belting really is, and how he teaches it to his students:


The vocal world does not have a universal language for vocal registers

I define “Belting” as the ascending drag of a particular register beyond where it would natively exist.

This means that learning how to Belt requires a common understanding of vocal registers.

Now, before we talk about vocal registers, there is a caveat. The vocal world does not have a universal language for vocal registers.

One person says “falsetto” another says “head voice” and suddenly everyone starts accusing each other of not knowing what they are talking about!

Keep an Open Mind with Terminology

In reality, vocal terminology can mean different things within different methodologies.

For this reason, we must keep an open mind, and understand that words can be adaptable.

The actual science of the voice is not adaptable – just the words that explain that science.

If you are not sure what “Register” means, read VoiceCouncil article ‘What Is A Vocal Register?’.

Female Registers of the Voice

When learning to Belt, a singer must first know where their vocal registers exist in their range.

When learning to Belt, a singer must first know where their vocal registers exist in their range

One helpful way to start is to either know your lowest note or your transitions.

The vocal folds work mathematically, so if I know what your lowest note is, or where your breaks are, the voice can be mapped out from there.

Let’s say you are female, and your lowest note is a D3 (the D below middle C).

Let’s also say you have a healthy voice and you aren’t making any adjustments throughout your range for stylistic purposes.

In other words, you are going to let your vocal gears occur in their most natural range.

Here is very general, simple, and memorable way to roughly map out your vocal registers.

Sample Female Registers

The diagram below represents a specific singer.

A different singer may start their vocal “gears” in a slightly different place, for example from E♭3 or F3, but from that starting point, the registers will occupy roughly one octave each.

Note: Some singers will have a lower extension which can sometimes get confusing, but the majority of singers will follow this rough formula.

760x250-belting

What I call Chest Voice will live in this singer’s bottom octave. Starting at D4, the next octave will be where her Mix lives. Then the next octave, starting at D5 will be Head Voice, followed by Flageolet (FLAH – joh – lay, also called Flute Register) and finally Whistle.

There is simply not very much music that is written using the Flageolet and Whistle registers, but most women can learn to use those registers too with the help of an experienced teacher.

Vocal Fry is the register that occurs below Chest register. You probably use it at least once per day in speech (it is that croaky sound you sometimes make before the word “uh” when you are about to say something).

Male and female singing into the same microphone.

Males and females can sing in all the vocal registers

You may not think of vocal fry as singing, but it has important applications in speaking, singing and voice therapy.

Male Registers of the Voice

Now let’s look at a sample male voice. My voice is a pretty standard male voice, so we’ll use that.

You may be a little different from me, and may start your gears from D2 or E♭2, but from that starting point, your registers will occupy roughly one octave each.

For the record, there is not a lot of difference between the male and female voice in terms of the function. We have the same muscles, same vocal folds, same breath.

If you had no visual, and a skilled male singer is singing high in his range especially in contemporary music, you often can’t distinguish between a male and female voice.

Sample Male Registers

760x250-belting2

My gears start from E2 (the second E below middle C). My Chest Voice lives in the first octave, then the next octave, starting at E3, is my Mix.

Falsetto begins at E4, then Flageolet or Flute register at E5 and finally, Whistle register at E6. Vocal Fry (see above) as with the female voice, lives below Chest register.

Falsetto in Men, Head Voice in Women

When males sing in their Cricothyroid-dominant (or Head-dominant) production, it is usually called “Falsetto” whereas when women sing in this same coordination it is called “Head Voice.”

This is because years ago it was considered “false” for a man to sing in this way. Similarly, it was considered vulgar for a female to sing in Chest Voice.

Today, we know better than this. Males and females can sing in all the vocal registers. However, some of the dated terminology still exists in our vocal vernacular.

Head Voice Lacks Strength in the Middle Register

For a woman, pure Head Voice (instead of Mixed voice) in the second octave of the vocal range is possible, and might even be desirable in certain situations (particularly classical singing), but it would be considered a weak sound and not appropriate in most commercial genres.

In a Mixed Voice, the Vocalis muscle (the muscle within the vocal folds) is keeping the folds a little more “on duty” or compressed and thicker

This is why contemporary singers must learn to achieve a Mixed voice in that range. A Mix is a connected version of Head Voice.

In a Mixed Voice, the Vocalis muscle (the muscle within the vocal folds) is keeping the folds a little more “on duty” or compressed and thicker instead of lightening and thinning into pure Head Voice.

For help singing with your Mix, read Sophie Shear’s article ‘Increase Vocal Power With Mixed Voice’, or watch Justin Stoney’s YouTube lesson ‘How To Sing Mix Voice’.

The Mix Gets All the Attention

Within the Mix register, there are truly an infinite amount of options.

But, for simplicity, we can talk about these coordinations as:

  • Chest-Dominant Mix
  • 50/50 Mix
  • Head-Dominant Mix

The thicker and chestier a Mix coordination is, the stronger it will be.

The thinner, headier and breathier a Mix is, the lighter it will be.

Now that you understand the vocal registers, you are on your way to achieving all the voice qualities you want, including Belting. In part two, you will learn how to map out your voice for Belting.

* Capitalization on vocal terminology is used in this series at the request of the contributor to add clarity and emphasis.


My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Alê Acusticamente Alê Acusticamente - Somente Nela

Alê is just wonderful in this clip! His voice sounds clear, crisp, and vibrant. It is evident to me that he has done work on Mix Voice in order to achieve a voice that sounds so solid, yet is as effortless for him as talking. This allows him to be very conversational within his style. His skills as a musician and a guitarist are an added plus. There are not a lot of technique “problems” going on in this performance. However, I would encourage Alê to be a little bit more adventurous in terms of texture, dynamics, and also range. By texture, I mean that he could use some more aspirate textures (like “breathiness”) and compressed textures (like Vocal Fry) within his sound. This along with some additional dynamics (louds and softs) could give his sound more variety. Since this is a folk style, it is not necessary to sing in a high tessitura. However, “optioning up” to some higher notes or changing the key to highlight his upper notes a little more will also give Alê some additional variety.

Why I chose Alê Acusticamente as a Finalist

We chose Alê to proceed to the next point of the competition as a wildcard because of his accomplished sound.


justin-stoney-bio

Justin Stoney is an internationally recognized Vocal Coach, and is the Founder of New York Vocal Coaching. As one of the leading Voice Teachers in today’s industry, Justin has worked with thousands of singers, including students from over 60 countries, Celebrity Recording Artists, Tony Nominees, and anyone seeking to “Make A Joyful Noise!” 


  • Justin, nice job explaining the vocal registers in a basic way. When you refer to chest and vocal fry, we presume you are referring to the laryngeal vibratory mechanism classifications (“M0 through M3” ) developed by the French research team of Roubeau, Henrich, and Castellengo? Although a bit scientific for the common reader, it is a sound and adequate way of describing vocal registers.

    However, learning how to define what vocal registers really are, does not teach you how to belt. It teaches you how to better understand vocal registers, which it could be argued, is on the path of learning how to belt for sure. For example, to truly belt, you have to ascend a TA dominant phonation, laryngeal vibratory mechanism M1, above the primary bridge. But the understanding of vocal registers in a folky, practical way or in a more sophisticated way, still does not result in singers learning how to belt. Knowledge of vocal registers, does not workout the physiology of the voice, nor does it give students a kinesthetic experience they need through practice and training.

    To my point, to learn how to belt, you have to train specific workouts and techniques that ascend the TA musculature above the bridge. In addition to the physical training, you have understand the acoustics of singing, namely, how to amplify formants with the principles of narrowing. The best way to train these aspects is through specific “resistance training” onsets and lots of vocalize that focus on the “belt” onsets with narrowed vowels. On top of a lot of song coaching that requires belts.

    In the TVS training program, The Four Pillars of Singing, we have 4 resistance training onsets and 5 specific training workouts that we call, “Resistance Integrated Training Routines” that do just exactly that. They are specifically designed to “pull” the TA muscle and practice narrowing to build great belt strength. It is possible to learn about belting, but you also have to train it.

    For the record, I have enjoyed your videos Justin. Its refreshing to see a colleague that produces content that is informative. You do good work. Respectfully.

    https://youtu.be/qG5VEWkBe8w

    http://www.TheVocalistStudio.com

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    I’m finally starting to understand vocal registers! Thanks so much! For those of us who have studied with classical voice teachers, it is incredibly difficult to gain a clear understanding of mix voice as it is applied in contemporary genres. In classical singing, we are taught that there IS such thing as a mix, but we are told it exists at the very bottom of your head voice before you switch to chest, which is only used for a very small range as well. And thanks so much for the giving us the terms “head dominant mix” and “50/50 mix” etc. These terms make so much sense and help singers like me understand my voice SO much better.

  • Kathy, I invite you to view it this way. Perceive just about anything we are talking about in two fundamental perspectives, physiology and acoustics. That helps sort things out immediately. In regards to the physiology of belting, which is the context of what Justin and I are hitting at, you essentially have to engage in specialized training, or great gobs of aggressive chest pulling singing… to build the ability of the TA muscle to continue to remain dominant above the passaggio and into the “head voice”. That is the trick, because as we all know, the TA muscles doesn’t want to stretch or “pull” that far, even though we all know that it can. When we feel this TA pull, it is not unhealthy and I caution people from making that presumption. To do so is just obsolete, voice fear propagation. The TA muscle can “pull” above the passaggio just as readily as we can train to do a flat floor splits. It is a lot about stretching, making the muscle nimble, flexible and strengthening. Like learning to do the splits, in time, the TA muscle can “pull” above the passaggio and feel and sound quite agreeable to it as well. As my video points out, it is actually good vocal health. Yes, chest pulling… the very thing we have all been told not to do at some point in our training careers, turns out to be one of the healthiest things you can do to your voice. Or course provided that it is done properly.

    Now then, you also have to have the right acoustics and formant tunings, per the frequency tuned as well, otherwise no amount of strong TA dominant positions are going to do anything for you if you can’t also shift the resonance and formant by modifying vowels. To this end, you have to also train the ears.

    Resistance training of TA dominant configurations above the passaggio + properly tuned formants per the frequency = GREAT BELTING THAT SOUNDS GREAT AND FEELS GREAT.

    I love the belts in this… hopefully the VC readers will to.
    https://youtu.be/fs6q4ZNDzkk

    http://www.TheVocalistStudio.com