How To Make Your Belting Voice Less Shrill
Warning: Don’t start this section until you’ve already learned how to sing in a chest-mix comfortably.
As you’ve worked on developing your healthy belt, have you noticed that it sounds kind of shrill as you sing higher and higher? If that’s the case for you, you’ll probably want to work on some exercises to help lower your larynx and create a little more space between the back of your tongue and your soft palate (what some voice teachers call “open throat technique.”) Be careful though. Keeping the sound too “open” can be harmful for the inexperienced belter, because wider vowels make mixing less natural and can result in a singer’s shouting up to higher notes. When I work with trained classical singers, I often notice that it takes them longer to belt comfortably, because their lower-larynx, open-throated singing makes it less natural for them to get the narrowness needed for a healthy belt.
Try This Vocal Exercise
Arpeggiate on BUH BUH BUH.
Keep the sound as dopey as possible, as if you’ve just been to the dentist and got a shot of Novocain. This will help gently lower your larynx from the high position it may have risen to as you’ve learned to belt. Even though I often use this exercise whether or not a singer is trying for a chestmix or a headmix, for the purposes of the exercise right now, restrict it to a belt. You may need to concentrate on staying chesty with this exercise harder than you’d need to for a twangier exercise, like NAY or NA. Some singers will find that they can’t belt as high when they sing this way; others will find that the reduced pressure on their larynx will actually allow them to belt higher comfortably. If you’re in the former camp, bear with the exercise. It’ll be worth it when you have a full, relaxed-sounding belt from low to high.
Continue to Work on Twangy Exercises
Work on the twangy exercises I gave you in Healthy Belting Technique, Part 1 alongside the dopey exercises so that you can continue to work on a balance between bright, forward belting and darker, larynx-lowering sounds.
Gradually Reduce the “Brattiness” in the Twang Exercise and the “Dopiness” in the Low-Larynx Exercise
The hyper-twangy quality in the NA NA exercise and the dopiness in the BUH BUH exercise are just tools to help you reach a certain sound quality. But in the real world of singing, unless you’re playing a very specific character role, you won’t want to sing in these extremes.
See if you can do the NA NA exercise without making your voice intentionally bratty-sounding.
It should take on a slightly more open quality. If it starts to feel as if you’re drifting into head voice early, or if your throat becomes tense from the more open sound, go back to a little more brattiness.
Now see if you can do the BUH BUH exercise without quite so much dopiness. If it starts to feel like you’re straining, add some of the dopiness back in.
Over time, you’ll be able to strike the balance you’re looking for, and that balance may even shift depending on the song. The optimal place to get to with your belting is to be able to thin out your sound (making it sound more like the NAY NAY exercise) or thicken your sound (more like the BUH BUH exercise) based on what sound you’re after in a particular song. Often, a casting agent for Disney might prefer a slightly thinner, brighter belt, while someone casting for the role of Fantine in Les Miserables might prefer a thicker sound. It’s all about balancing the relaxed, open sound with the forward twang.
Listen to Alanis Morissette at 2.30 of “Uninvited” as an example of a thinner belt:
Next, listen to Whitney Houston throughout the belted parts of “I Will Always Love You” as an example of a thicker belt:
How To Sustain a Belt
Unfortunately, belting becomes a whole new beast when you begin trying to hold notes. The most important thing to keep in mind is to not make the sustain happen by clenching your throat. It should feel more like a core workout than a throat workout.
Try a Vocal Exercise
Let’s go back to the dopey BUH BUH exercise and add a sustain in on the last high note.
Now that you’re holding the notes, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to belt as high comfortably. There’s no shame in quitting at a lower note to preserve your larynx! In order to continue working on expanding your belting range, work on non-sustaining exercises alongside the sustaining ones.
In Healthy Belting Technique, Part 3, we’ll work on belting an actual song!
Have any questions about healthy belting technique? Post them in the comments below!