The Truth About Belting and the Lies You've Been Told
Ooh I am so ready to debunk some myths about belting (and am bound to ruffle a few more traditional feathers along the way, but hey let's take the risk).
Before learning much about what belting was and how to do it safely, I was constantly losing my voice when performing at long gigs because I was pushing my chest voice higher than it naturally wanted to go. I was so frustrated that it wouldn't last very long and didn't understand why my throat would feel swollen afterwards.
I would hate for you to feel that same frustration, so let's get talking about this specific technique and how to know if it's safe or stop-it-at-once unsafe.
WHAT IS BELTING?
The term "belting" is avoided nowadays because of all the negativity and controversy over it. It was a term that referred to when singers created a loud, strong tone in a section of their voice that is usually the weaker head voice area or the vocal break between the two registers. Belting was used a lot in musical theatre and pop (and still is but is often referred to as "chest dominant mix" now).
You will hear a lot of pop and rock singers using belt (particularly in the chorus) and have perhaps tried to sing along with them but can't keep the strength in your voice quite as high. This is because the voice needs to be trained in order to do this with ease.
Psst! There is a free live online workshop all about mixed voice coming up on 26 November! Want more details?
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I HEARD IT WAS UNSAFE TO BELT...
That doesn't surprise me at all - I have been told by quite a few teachers and singers alike that belting is unhealthy and shouldn't be done.
The reason belting got such a bad reputation is that many singers used to force the belting sound (especially to push through their vocal break) without any training which led to vocal problems such as hoarseness, vocal fatigue and in some cases vocal nodules (see LIE #2 below).
So if we're simply aiming for a specific sound when trying to achieve "belt tone" or the strength in that area of our voice, then belting can become unsafe. When the strength is all that we're wanting without tuning in to how it feels, it becomes problematic.
A safe belt sound is created by gradually creating a "mix area" of your voice. This is a blend of both chest voice and head voice qualities.
One thing singers who desperately want to access a belt sound don't realise is that you MUST strengthen your head voice first.
Okay, so what are these "lies" I'm referring to about belting and how do I know that they're untrue?
LIE #1 : It's just yelling at pitch.
When used incorrectly, belting is very similar to yelling and strains the voice after a short while. If you are straining your voice, your throat will tighten making it quite uncomfortable.
Remember, when singing correctly, you should always be comfortable. Despite the strength and volume you can access when learning to mix your voice, you shouldn't need to put any pressure on the vocal cords (as happens in yelling). Mix can be used without any aggressive movements of the muscles at all.
LIE #2 : It will give me nodules.
Nodules are growths on the vocal cords that are created by improper use of the voice. If you constantly practised singing in a forced or pushed way for long enough, yes you can really damage your voice and could develop nodules.
If you are singing in a healthy way, not experiencing any pain or discomfort and are giving it all the TLC it needs, you have no reason to be concerned about this. Again, this is about the way you use your voice, not the sound being produced.
LIE #3 : Only some people can do it properly.
I suppose this is true in a way, only people who are trained how to strengthen this area of their voice safely are able to sustain this kind of singing.
In saying this, anyone can be taught how to create this "mixed" voice. I would suggest seeing a coach who specialises in the style of singing you're after and developing a mix through the passagio or vocal break.
LIE #4 : It's only used in musical theatre and pop and shouldn't be used in other styles.
Actually most styles require high levels of control in the voice and often the vocal break makes this difficult. One great thing about creating "mix" or learning how to strengthen the "belt" area of your voice is that you can seamlessly move through your vocal break with much more control.
Even in classical training, this stronger way of singing can be used. Each style has its own "sound" which can be layered on top of technique. Technique should be the base of the cake and the style the icing (delicious analogy huh?)!