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5 Tips for Learning to Belt

5 Tips For Learning to Belt

Belt technique is controversial in the voice world. I grew up with the belief that if I did anything other than sing in head voice that I *would* destroy my voice, and even in 2018, I meet students and voice teachers all the time who share that sentiment. The truth is, belting can be dangerous for your voice if you do it with bad technique or if you force yourself to do it when your voice isn’t in shape for it. But if you learn how to do it in a healthy way and listen to your body when your voice isn’t up for it, all will be well. For better or for worse, belting is an indispensable skill in most commercial styles of music, and there’s really no substitute. If you’re ready to take your singing to the next level, here are some important tips for learning to belt in a sustainable, healthy way.

1. Set the Foundation

Great support is absolutely crucial for healthy belting. Think of it this way. When you’re backpacking, you strap your pack on with a variety of straps to distribute the pressure around your body. That way the full force of the backpack isn’t crushing your shoulders. When you belt, you don’t want those tiny laryngeal muscles doing all the work.

Stand up straight. Your back should feel wide and long, and if someone were to try to push you over, you should be so stable that you could weather it. Your spine should be stacked vertically, and your sternocleidomastoids, that pair of muscles that extend from your chest to the base of your skull, should be at work keeping your neck in line with your torso.

When you have a stable base, everything from your breath control muscles (the diaphragm and external intercostals in particular) to the small muscles in your vocal tract can work more efficiently.

2. Use Very Little Air

One of the biggest mistakes newbie belters make is using more air than they need. When you hear a big voice, it may sound like the way to recreate it is to take a giant breath and shove all that air out at once. What this actually does though is force your vocal folds to work significantly harder. Part of the chesty sound belters achieve is created by a longer closed phase. This means that your vocal folds stay together longer during each cycle of vibration. If you use too much air, your vocal folds will have to work very hard to stay shut.

When you belt, don’t take in too much air. Use a relaxed inhalation, and then hold most of the air back when you create your sound. Keep your ribcage expanded so that your diaphragm stays in a low position instead of rising quickly and crowding your lungs. Your exhalation as you sing should be extremely slow and controlled, even more so than in classical singing.

3. Crush the Constriction

One of the biggest culprits in injuring your voice when you belt is the constriction of your false vocal folds, the muscular folds that sit above your vocal folds in your larynx. Your false vocal folds have a tendency to constrict when your body thinks it’s under duress. Constriction is triggered by a variety of things, from heavy labor to anxiety. When your false vocal folds are constricted, you’ll feel your throat get tight and close up.

To retract your false vocal folds, in other words, to open your throat, you can use a variety of visual cues. Visualize inhaling and smelling a rose; laugh silently and hold the position; or pull your ears apart. You can test whether your folds are retracted by covering your ears and breathing. When you can no longer hear your breath, your false vocal folds are retracted.

Keeping your throat open like this is by far the safest way to belt.

4. Learn to Twang

You know that hooty, woofy sound you hear when someone does a bad imitation of an opera singer? Well that ain’t gonna do it. You need a boat-load of forward resonance to make this happen. Try cackling like a witch, quacking like a duck, or saying “nya nya nya” like a bratty kid. You don’t have to be belting yet, but you should feel an extreme narrow, pointed quality to your sound. This is often called twang and is the result of your aryepiglottic sphincter (a tube above your true and false vocal folds) narrowing.

5. Don’t Be Afraid

It may seem contradictory, but the less afraid of belting you are when you do it, the healthier it’ll be. Fear causes tension and constriction, when what you want is freedom. Try fearlessly yelling, “yay!” With a lot of excitement in your voice. Not a trebly, tepid “yay!” A “yay” that someone could hear across a crowded room that’d cause them to smile. There shouldn’t be any real pushing, and it’ll quickly become clear how easy this can be if you let it.

How to Strengthen Your Head Voice

How to Strengthen Your Head Voice

We’ve talked a lot about learning to belt, which is a perfectly valid way to make your voice sound more powerful. But what if the notes are too high to belt, or you want to sing in a style that sounds better in your head voice or head-mix? Achieving a strong head voice probably won’t happen over night, but there are some very tangible steps you can take to strengthen your head voice.

What is Head Voice?

Before we talk about strengthening your head voice, it’s important to know what the term means and what it sounds like. Listen to the difference between these two ways of singing the same note. The first is chest dominant; the second is head dominant.

When you’re in a head mix or head voice, your vocal folds are thinner, so without solid technique, it tends to be softer and less “weighty” than chesty sounds. Luckily, with great technique, you can develop a big, powerful head voice, even with those thin folds.

How to Strengthen Your Head Voice

Use Great Posture

It’s amazing how connected the various structures in our body are. When we slouch, our respiratory system can’t work as efficiently: Our ribs won’t open very well, and there won’t be as much space in the thorax. Because singing is so much about how we regulate air, the simple act of standing up with good alignment (that is, stacking our vertebrae and keeping our tailbone gently pointing downward) will make our singing more efficient and powerful. Keep your feet firmly planted and your shoulders wide: You should feel stable enough that if someone were to push you, it would take them some work to push you over. Make sure to keep your head stacked on your neck and not pitched forward so that the space in your pharynx isn’t impinged on.

Work With Your Breath

Speaking of your respiratory system, learning breath control is important for strengthening your head voice. If you exhale the way you would on a normal exhalation, your head voice will sound like nothing but air. If you hold back your exhalation, you’ll get a lot more sound. Try taking a natural, relaxed inhalation, allowing your ribs to expand. As you sing a note in head voice, keep your ribs expanded, and don’t let your stomach suck back in. Try to let as little air out at a time as you can. It helps to start with a hum or an “ng” sound, because it’s easier to hold back your exhalation with a semi-occluded (partially closed) vocal tract.

Narrow Your AES

Aryepiglottic Sphincter may be hard to say, but luckily, it’s not that hard to manipulate. Narrowing your AES is a concept most people are very familiar with. Try saying “nya nya nya” in a bratty way. That narrow “ping” that you feel is the narrowing of your AES. You can use this concept in a belt, as well as in head voice. Pick a head voice note, and then make it brattier using the “nya nya nya” sound. You’ll probably immediately notice a difference in volume.

Lift Your Soft Palate

The twang you get from the narrowed AES is great, but you’re going to get a much louder, fuller sound if you couple that with a raised soft palate. You can experience what that’s like by finding that point at the top of a yawn when there’s a lot of space in your mouth and your cheek bones are lifted. You can also visualize a cat’s yawn, if that image is easier for you. That lifted palate will help give you a fuller sound (not to mention less nasal).

Lower Your Larynx (Proceed With Caution)

First, 2 disclaimers: 1. This one is only appropriate for certain styles of singing. You’ll certainly want to work toward a lower larynx for opera singing and some types of musical theatre, but this is very rarely a type of head-voice singing you’d want for commercial genres. 2. You’ll want to master the other head-voice tips before doing this one, because lowering your larynx without the other stuff solidly in place can cause new singers to drag down their soft palates and widen their AES’s.

When done correctly, singing with a relatively low larynx will create a much fuller, richer sound. To learn to do this, put your hand on your Adam’s apple. Swallow and feel how it rises. Now yawn and feel how it falls. Play around with this until you can learn to lower it at will. Just make sure you’re still using good breath control techniques and keeping your palate lifted.

Working on all of these techniques will increase the volume you can sing at in head voice over time. Don’t forget though: Singing is largely about muscle memory, so one of the very best ways to increase volume in your head voice is to sing in your head voice a lot. Knowing all this information in theory is great, but putting it to work by choosing vocal exercises and songs that require a lot of head-voice singing is the most important starting point.