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Belting Collection: Belting Studies, Part 2

Katy Perry 14, 2012, by suran2007, under CC BY 2.0

A few weeks ago, in the first installment of my belting collection, Belting Studies, Part 1, we talked about the vocal study done by the American Academy of Otolaryngology and how the results don’t do a whole lot to prove that belting is unhealthy for your voice. In today’s post, we’re going to discuss a few more belting studies and other vocal studies that can be applied to belting. Please note that, as with the last entry about belting studies, this information is technical and not as fun and lighthearted as these blog posts usually are. If you decide to skip this one, I’ll understand!

American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society Study

Findings:

This study was not specifically geared toward singers, but rather speakers with vocal disorders. 20 speakers, 10 with vocal disorders and 10 without were examined. The results determined that the participants with healthy voices tended to speak with slightly raised larynges and lowered hyoid bones. The participants with unhealthy voices tended to speak with greatly raised larynges and higher-than-normal hyoid bones.

My Take on This:

The results of this study are actually encouraging for proponents of healthy belting. The fact that healthy speakers use a slightly elevated larynx indicates that the larynx need not remain neutral or low to produce healthy sounds. Since it’s possible to belt without greatly raising the larynx, and since the hyoid bone tends to protrude but not necessarily rise up vertically in belters, it should not be impossible to produce a healthy belt.

In addition, the study does not even rule out that very high-larynx singing could be safe (although it certainly doesn’t prove that it’s safe). Healthy singing uses a level of breath support that speaking does not, so it’s possible that the increased muscular reinforcement helps mitigate some of the tension caused by high-larynx singing, the way the chest strap on a heavy backpack helps take some pressure off the shoulders. Speaking and singing are different animals, so studying one does not definitively prove anything about the other.

Robert Edwin/Scott McCoy Belting Study

Findings:

Scott McCoy, a professor of classical voice and director of the Presser Music Center Voice Laboratory at Westminster Choir College, worked alongside Robert Edwin, distinguished belting expert, to conduct research in belting. The study used a sampling of 12 female musical theatre students from Westminster Choir College. Scott McCoy hypothesized that belting would use a longer period of vocal cord closure than non-belting and that it require a high larynx. The results surprised him. Of the 12 singers, 6 of them used a period of cord closure that was comparable to classical singing. 3 used a longer period of cord closure and the other 3 used a period of shorter cord closure. Of the 12 singers measured, all 12 of them used a fairly stable laryngeal height.

My Take on This:

Admittedly, this study did not use a large sample size. It’s very possible that a larger sample size would reveal longer closed quotients for vocal cords and higher larynges for the majority of singers. What it does reveal, though, is that there are multiple ways to produce a belt, from long to short durations of cord closure, and that belting without a high larynx is possible. Because this study used trained singers, it’s also possible that good training helps belters learn to keep their larynges from rising to an uncomfortably high position.

My Conclusion About the Belting Debate: Is Belting Healthy or Unhealthy?

My take on the belt debate is that it can be dangerous. Sure, you can harm your voice in any type of singing if you don’t do it properly, but let’s face it. You’ll see far more kids losing their voices from playing Annie than from singing in their school choir. But that doesn’t mean that belting in and of itself is dangerous. Particularly if you learn to belt in a healthy chest-mix instead of trying to shout higher and higher, it’s unlikely that you’ll damage your voice. The best way to learn to belt higher and higher in a healthy chest-mix is to practice, gradually but consistently. I’ve watched hundreds of students do this without harming their voices and have never seen a student who worked patiently get hurt. I myself took lessons throughout most of my childhood with a fear-mongering voice teacher who persuaded me that any belting at all would permanently destroy my voice and even that participation in musical theatre in general would mark the end of my singing career. For years I was terrified of belting, and it wasn’t until I was older and started doing my own research that I began practicing. Sure enough, I’ve gone from being able to belt only up to an F4 all the way to being able to comfortably belt a G5 in the past 10 years.

It’s not just the health factor though. I’m in favor of learning to belt because, whether you like the sound or not, whether you’re in favor of teaching it or not, it’s a form of singing that isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s pervasive in contemporary Broadway and popular music genres, and if you want to be marketable in those areas (or even if you just want to be able to produce a similar sound to the artists you love), belting is an important skill. And while I don’t advocate forcing your voice to do anything that makes your throat uncomfortable, I fully endorse slowly working to improve your belt, if that’s something that interests you.

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