Singing Techniques – To belt or not to belt, that is the question!

At least it’s the question that I hear often from students working on songs. “Should I do a straight belt or a mixed belt?”

Belting sometimes has a bad rap from the classical singing crowd,  and much controversy surrounding the technique.  Let’s take a look at what belting is in singing, what it isn’t, and how best to approach it when in doubt

What is belting?

Vocal belting is a singing technique where a singer brings their chest voice or register above its natural break (or passaggio) at a loud volume with intensity.  Singers such as Adele and Christina Aguilera are examples of pop singers who consistently ‘belt it out’.  Both of these singers have had vocal damage, possibly due to the intense pressure on their vocal folds from this type of singing, which is not uncommon in pop and rock singing.

Belting is a necessary tool to have in Musical Theater, but not all belting is ‘straight belting’.

Singers who have to endure 8 shows a week need strong technique and tools to belt without damaging their voices.  This is where the ‘mixed belt’ comes into play.

What is a mixed belt?

Mixed voice, mixes elements of chest voice and head mix.  The stronger you get in your mixed voice, the more power you can add to that mix.  The more power you add to your mix, the more that mix can sound like a belt!

Mix belt is a combination of registers used at the same time, with a good amount of forward resonance, to amplify the sound. Vowel modification, vocal tract shaping, good breath support and moderate cord closure are the keys to achieving a  belt and a mixed belt.

Ariana Grande is a good example of a pop singer who can mix-belt in her upper range:

So, back to the question of ‘to belt or not to belt’.  The answer to that question depends on the song, the key, the note and the vowel.  In singing lessons, I work with students on ‘mapping resonance’ within a song. Mapping resonance requires deconstructing a song, and making specific resonance decisions on particular notes and trying out different resonances and approaches before committing them to muscle memory.

For example, on working on the song “On My Own” from the musical “Les Miserables”, there are certain notes where a belt is unavoidable (the note on ‘blind’), and other high-impact notes where a mixed-belt might be better ( I have never KNOWN). Mixed belts can be ‘chest dominant’ or ‘head dominant’ or meet somewhere in the middle.  

Sound confusing?

With a good voice teacher, repetitive exercises and resonance mapping, the answer to ‘belt or not to belt’ will be easy to achieve.