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:
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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 - 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 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!”