Recently, someone on Quora asked how they can learn to belt. Since it’s such a common question, I thought I’d repost my How to Belt response on our blog.
Get Your Foundations in Order
Especially when you’re first learning, make sure your posture is good. If you’re already a great belter, you can get away with sitting, but when a note is still hard for you, start by standing, feet at least hips distance apart, weight evenly distributed between your feet, tailbone pointing toward the floor, and in great alignment. Keep your head pointing toward the ceiling, as if it’s hanging from a string, and make sure your jaw ins’t jutting forward. This is all just basic posture you’d learn for any type of singing, so you’ve probably heard it before.
Not only should you have great posture, but you should make yourself sturdy. If someone were to push you on the shoulder or forehead, your posture should be solid enough that you couldn’t be pushed over. This is what Estill teachers call “anchoring.”
Also start with phenomenal breath support. Since it’s a loud, strenuous form of singing, you don’t want to get the note out by squeezing your abdomen and forcing all the air out of your lungs. You’ll want to do it by learning to comfortably hold back air. Humming is a great way to do this, since you can feel it immediately if you’re leaking a lot of air. Here’s an exercise to try.
Move onto creating a ton of narrow-sounding forward resonance, like a bratty kid saying “nya nya nya.” You can put this into an exercise to get used to it. It should feel very forward and narrow. Some people describe it as aiming for their nose (although this is technically not nasal resonance). Don’t worry about belting yet, just getting that narrow, twangy sound.
Belting For Beginners
Next, let’s move onto actually belting.
Before doing it with a specific pitch, try just joyfully shouting “Yay!!” It should feel like your breath is standing still, not like you’re shoving air out of your lungs to make the sound.
In order to start singing using a belt, try starting with exercises where you don’t have to sustain any notes. The one I’ve had the most success with is “na” on an octave jump.
I ask my students to imagine they’re just throwing the “na” like they’d throw a ball (overhanded). The overhand throw image does a few things. First, it suggests the image of releasing instead of holding onto the ball. Secondly, the arc of the ball ends up helping students lift their soft palates and glide down onto the note instead of feeling like they have to yank up to it (which causes a lot of tension).
Just go to the highest note that isn’t too difficult, but each time you try it, see if you can stretch your comfort zone by a half step or two. Don’t push it if it isn’t working that day, but know that you can and should sound ugly with it, especially at the beginning.
Cracking and sounding bad is a good thing when you’re learning! Doing it if it hurts, on the other hand, is not a good thing.
More Advanced Belt Technique
When you’ve gotten more comfortable belting without a sustain, move onto sustaining.
This is considerably harder than not sustaining, and you’ll really watch for tension. Try that same “Na” exercise, but sustain the top note, even if just for a second or two. Imagine a downward arc onto the note instead of slamming into it. I ask my students to imagine the note is continuing downward after it strikes. Sometimes that continually moving downward image helps you to avoid clenching once you’ve hit the note. It helps maintain a feeling of flow, and it usually makes for a better shot that you can get vibrato as well.
You can also try putting a puppy dog whimper into your belt to try to facilitate vibrato.
Belting Tips and Tricks
- The best thing you can do for a tough belt is slur as much as you can. Consonants temporarily close off the oral resonance and often tamper with breath control. To sing as efficiently as possible, you’ll want to soften or drop consonants so that you aren’t having to constantly readjust your mouth and your airflow. For example, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” could end up being “wha-doeseun-kell-ya-maks-ya-zdraghah.”
- As far as vowels, “ays” and “a'” (as in cat) are usually good. Ay keeps your tongue high, your mouth open and in a bite position, and your larynx slightly elevated. The “a” tends to keep your AES narrow (see fundamentals section), your tongue in that same high position, and your mouth fairly open.
- It’s okay (and sometimes very helpful) to gently lift your chin. I know you’ve probably heard that that’s taboo in the singing world, but there’s no real basis for that fear as long as you aren’t tensing up or jutting your chin forward. The posture will help thicken your vocal folds because of how it maneuvers various cartilages, and that’ll keep the sound thicker and more chesty.
- It should feel like a gentle yell (not a yell that you slam into).
- The sides of your tongue should be high and at your molars
- Using a more rectangular mouth position (as opposed to the rounder, more classical shape) can help. Think of biting a big apple.
- Posture should be rock solid; no one should be able to push you over.
- It should use very little air. You can get a loud sound by expelling a ton of air out of your lungs at once, but that’s not what healthy belting sounds and feels like. Holding back all that air is what you want to be doing.
Here are some other resources:
Hope that helps! Good luck in your practice!
Molly is the founder of Molly’s Music. She is a dedicated singer and pianist whose musical journey spans 2.5 decades, with stops along the way to sing for the pope, pass Certificate of Merit at the highest level, study with Gwen Verdon and Ben Vereen, and record an original album.