Curious about how to belt safely? If you flip on Top-40 radio these days, you hear a lot of belting. But just because Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars sound great belting their lungs out doesn’t mean you know how to belt without straining your voice.
In fact, if you’ve ever been to a karaoke bar, or seen a pop star live, you’ve probably heard how strained and painful belting can sound. So, what is belting anyway? And is it possible to learn how to belt without straining your voice? The answer may surprise you.
What is Belting?
The voice has two main registers: chest voice and head voice (also known as falsetto in men). Chest voice is the voice that you talk in (the lower register), while head voice is the voice that Mickey Mouse talks in (the higher register).
The different vocal qualities of head and chest voice are due to a physical change. There are two sets of muscles that control the vocal cords: the thyroarytenoid muscles and the cricothyroid muscles. The thyroarytenoid muscles shorten the vocal cords, causing chest voice. The cricothyroid muscles lengthen the vocal cords, causing head voice.
Belting occurs when a singer sings higher pitches using chest voice rather than switching to head voice. This results in a louder, more powerful sound than most people can achieve in low head voice. When done wrong, it just sounds like yelling (yelling is a chest voice function).
How to Belt
Now that you know what belting is, you probably want to know how to belt without straining your voice. First, check out this helpful tutorial, then read on for some more tips and tricks!
Mixing It Up
Trained belters (and some über-talented people) don’t force their thyroarytenoid function past where it is comfortable. Instead, they use their cricothyroids and thyroarytenoids together to create a sound that is part belting, part not. This sound has the same power and sound as belting, but lacks the physical strain and danger of cracking. Because it is a mix of head and chest voice, it is simply called a mix.
Mixing is the reason why Broadway stars can “belt” extremely high every night without losing their voices. It is the reason why some singers, trained or not, seem to be able to belt without hurting themselves. But mixing is a fairly advanced vocal technique, and to really learn how to do it, you need to study with a voice teacher. If your dream is to sing “Let it Go” or “Defying Gravity”, you need to learn how to mix. There are very few people on earth who can actually belt those songs without causing serious vocal trauma.
In general, pieces that stay under a C5 are fair game for some (but not all) women to belt without straining. Some men can belt up to G4 or even higher without mixing as well. But where some singers can comfortably belt sans mix, other people will be straining and cracking. Part of this is just because every voice is different. Your natural belting capacity may also get higher if you seek vocal training.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about how high you can belt without hurting yourself. If you want to learn how to belt without straining your voice – and aren’t quite ready to learn how to mix – pick a song you can sing comfortably in chest voice right now. If you sound like you are screeching, don’t do it. If it hurts, don’t do it. You can also choose to do a song in a lower key if the original key is too high.
Belt It Out
Put succinctly, yes, it is possible to learn how to belt without straining your voice. But your favorite belters probably aren’t belting at all – they are using a combination of head and chest voice to achieve a healthy but powerful sound. So my advice to you is simple: stick to comfortable repertoire, or find a good voice teacher to help you develop your mix. Your voice (and your neighbors!) will thank you.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!
Photo by Disney | ABC Television Group