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When Whitney Houston hits the chorus of ‘I Will Always Love You’, or when Christina Aguilera puts her vocal power in ‘Fighter’, or when Jessi J seems to be shouting the choruses of ‘Who You Are’ - they are all using a technique called ‘belting’ which brings an unmistakable energy and power to these songs. Sometimes also known as ‘edging’, this vocal technique is not only a brilliant way to lift a song to a more powerful emotional plateau, but can also save singers from damaging their vocal chords. In this article, we will look at well known users of belting, how belting is trained, and which possibilities this singing technique can offer you.
Contrary to what some may assume, the technique of belting emerged before our current era of modern music. Belting was heavily utilized prior to modern amplification in order to fill the stage and the hall with one's own voice without a microphone. In the 1930s, for example, belting became known through stars such as the vaudeville and musical singer Ethel Merman and gradually established itself in vaudeville (an early form of French pop), shows and revues. The advent of rock'n'roll then gave belting its final push into popular music, and since the 80s the technique has become standard in many directions of popular music.
When singers belt the sound can be powerful, strong, and loud. However, the latter is not necessarily the case: although rarely used, a belted vocal can be a bit quieter and just give the sound the powerful metallic sound. This sound is also described as ‘hard’ or ‘edgy’, which is why the vocal technique is often used in rock or jazz. But belting also has a firm place in pop singing, musicals, gospel, soul, and even classical music. While it is especially popular with women in pop/chart music, men often belt in classical singing. For example, if a tenor wants to reach higher pitches powerfully and fortissimo, he will do so with belting. A well known example of a male voice in popular music making use of belting was demonstrated very impressively by Freddie Mercury in the choruses and adlibs of the Queen classics "The Show must go on" or "Don't stop me now."
Even if you haven't heard of the singing technique before, or at least couldn't name it as such, you will certainly know many singers who belter regularly. As an example, we've listed a few of these well-known belters here:
These are just a few of the many talented singers who have mastered belting. If you consciously keep your ears open, you will hear belting more often than you think.
But what do singers actually have to do to belt a note? Simply singing loud and high is not nearly enough and could even cause damage to the vocal cords. It is not for nothing that belting is a singing technique that requires practice and, above all, knowledge of one's own vocal apparatus. Especially the support, mouth position, and the control of larynx and vocal cords are important for a healthy belting. The technique is well described and accompanied by exercises in Cathrine Sadolin's "Complete Singing Technique" - one of the standard works when it comes to singing techniques.
Who is Cathrine Sadolin? Cathrine Sadolin is a big name in vocal research. She works worldwide as a vocal coach and producer, and in 2002 she even developed a diploma course in which both singers and vocal teachers can train according to her principle of complete vocal technique. Since 2005 there is the "Complete Vocal Institute", which today is considered the largest vocal institute for professional and semi-professional singers in Europe. In the book, she divides the voice into four “vocal modes”: Neutral, Curbing, Overdrive, and Edge. The latter is the topic of this article: belting. In Sadolin's view, with the right exercises, any voice is able to use all four modes.
According to Sadolin, a strong support is needed for healthy belting. This works against the natural urge of the diaphragm to let out the inhaled air. For this, the muscles of the waist and the solar plexus are pushed outwards and the abdominal wall is pressed inwards while the back is tense. This strong trunk posture makes it possible to hold notes longer or to sing powerfully and strongly with a technique such as belting. It is important here not to want to “push out” sounds with the support, but to use the core muscles and other techniques, such as the position of the mouth, in a targeted manner. If you feel like you are pressing, your support or technique is not yet developed enough and you should keep practicing so as not to damage your voice. If the technique is right, singing and bellowing should never be strenuous or require a lot of energy.
Tip: A degree amount of "singing fitness" So you can see that singing doesn't stop at the throat. You don't have to be a high-performance athlete with a six-pack, but strong core muscles can certainly contribute to making it easier for you to sing certain tones and techniques. So if you do sport every now and then during the week, focus on your core and abdominal muscles and observe how this affects your support and the retention of the notes by consciously controlling the muscles while singing.
In addition to the support, the so-called “twang” is a main component of the belting technique. The twang mainly takes place in the larynx, more precisely on the larynx funnel, which sits above the vocal folds. Twang is created by making the opening of the larynx funnel smaller. This makes the voice clearer and hardly allows any breath, which in turn protects the vocal apparatus. Examples of the twang sound are screaming babies, chattering ducks, or a complaining cat meow. So all in all a nasal-sounding, squeaky sound. In addition to the familiar sound, you can also find twang through certain positions of your vocal mechanisms:
The second point in particular is very important. As soon as you lower your larynx, the sound will break off and your voice can be damaged.
There is a persistent rumor in singing circles that in order to be able to belt, singers have to ‘just’ sing the high notes in their chest voice. However, this is a fatal mistake and overloads the sensitive vocal apparatus around the larynx and the vocal cords.
Chest and head voice: When singing, the voice can be divided into chest and head voice, also called chest and head register. The chest voice is usually also the voice with which we speak. So most people find it easy in normal pitches and normal volume. The vocal cords vibrate more slowly and are more open than with the head voice. The resulting sound waves spread particularly in the chest area - hence the name. The chest voice sounds naturally stronger and clearer than the head voice, which is used with significantly more breath and sounds very light. At a certain pitch, singers have to switch from chest to head voice at some point. Both registers should be able to be mastered and changed without any problems before singers start belting - because: there is also a mix register! And that is exactly what is used in belting.
So that nothing goes wrong with your first belting attempts, we have summarized the most important points for you:
Now we would like to give you two little belting exercises to take with you:
Finally, we want to emphasize once again that belting is a really great singing technique, but it should be used with caution. One common criticism of belting is that it is too often used by inexperienced singers. However, if you adjust your vocal apparatus sensibly for belting and practice before you use it in songs, the technique is in no way dangerous or harmful and you can throw your tones at the audience with force and expression.
Would you like to learn from a professional, how you can best approach the belting? Then you will surely find suitable singing teachers on mukken. If you already know how to belt, a rock band or a jazz combo may already be waiting for you in our musicians' portal. Or go looking for musicians yourself - register with us and place an ad. Either way - we look forward to seeing you!
Originally published on March 30, 2021, updated on March 28, 2022