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Belting (or vocal belting) is a specific technique of singing by which a singer brings their chest register above its natural passaggio (break) at a loud volume; instead, an alternative production is developed, often described and felt as supported and sustained yelling. 'Belting' is sometimes described as 'high chest voice' but this is technically incorrect and potentially damaging for the voice. It is often described as a vocal register, although this is also technically incorrect; it is rather a descriptive for the use of a register. Singers can use belting to convey heightened emotional states.
"Chest register" is the lowest register of the singing voice, produced by dominant use of the thyroarytenoid muscle. The term "belt" is sometimes mistakenly described as the use of chest voice in the higher part of the voice. The chest voice is a very general term for the sound and muscular functions of the speaking voice, singing in the lower range, and the voice used to shout. Each of those functions requires a thicker closure of the vocal folds and the support of the muscles surrounding them. The term "chest voice" is therefore a misunderstanding when it describes muscular work in the chest-area of the body, or a resonance therein. Proper production of the belt voice, according to some vocal methods, involves minimizing tension in the throat and a change of typical placement of the voice sound in the mouth, bringing it forward into the hard palate, although techniques vary by pedagogical style.
It is possible to learn classical vocal methods like bel canto and also to be able to belt; in fact, many roles now require it. Vocalists trained in a wide berth of styles describe vastly varying experiences in learning belt technique. Some claim that it comes naturally, while others struggle to access chest register other than while speaking. Style of music does not seem to be a related factor, other than in a singer's exposure to material.
Belt technique requires muscle coordination not readily used in classically trained singers as the thyroarytenoid muscle is dominant (as opposed to head register singing where the cricothyroid muscle is dominant), which may be why some opera singers find learning to belt challenging.
In order to increase range and stamina, one must practice, however physiology and physical limitations should always be taken into consideration in a realistic approach. Since belting can be harsh on the vocal mechanism if care is not taken, supervision by a teacher experienced in working with belters is recommended in order to avoid developing lifelong pathologies that could be otherwise avoided. Others recommend repeatedly attempting to hit a note in a melody line, or by using vocalise. Many commercial learn-to-sing packages[quantify] have a set of scales to sing along to as their main offering, with which the purchaser must practice often to see improvement. However, these packages do not offer a user feedback in terms of posture, breath support, muscular constriction, or any assistance with difficulties that a singer may encounter. Since this is not a separate instrument but a part of the human body, care must be taken not to damage it in a way that may later require surgery, so learning to belt without proper supervision is not advised.
'Belters', as well as other singers, should balance their registers and develop a strong head voice, in order to facilitate muscular coordination and avoid constriction. Some belters find that after a period of time focusing on the belt, the head voice will have improved and, likewise, after a period of time focusing on the head voice, the belt may be found to have improved.[original research?]
There are many explanations as to how the belting voice quality is produced. Under a scope, we are able to see that the vocal folds shorten and thicken, and that they undulate along more of their vertical surface area than in head register when a smaller segment of their edge must undulate to produce sound.
One researcher, Jo Estill, has conducted research on the belting voice, and describes the belting voice as an extremely muscular and physical way of singing. When observing the vocal tract and torso of singers, while belting, Estill observed:
- Minimal airflow (longer closed phase (70% or greater) than in any other type of phonation)
- Maximum muscular engagement of the torso (in Estill Voice Training terminology this is known as Torso Control or Anchoring)
- Engagement of muscles in the head and neck in order to stabilize the larynx) (in Estill Voice Training terminology this is known as Head and Neck Control or Anchoring)
- A downwards tilt of the cricoid cartilage (an alternative option would be the thyroid tilting backwards. Observations show a larger CT space)
- High positioning of the larynx
- Maximum muscular effort of the extrinsic laryngeal muscles, minimum effort at the level of the true vocal folds.
- Narrowing of the aryepiglottic sphincter (the "twanger")
Possible dangers of belting
Belting without proper coordination can lead to constriction of the muscles surrounding the vocal mechanism. Constriction can consequently lead to vocal deterioration. Correct use of the technique and, most importantly, retraction of the ventricular folds while singing is vital to safe belting. Without proper training in retraction, belting can indeed cause trauma to the vocal folds that requires the immediate attention of a doctor.
Some proponents of belting say that it is a "soft yell," and if produced properly it can be healthy. It does not require straining and they say it is not damaging to the voice. However, the larynx is higher than in classical technique, and other experts believe that a high larynx position is both dangerous to vocal health and produces what many find to be an unpleasant sound.
On the other hand, it is thought by some that belting will produce vocal nodules. This may be true if belting is done incorrectly. Many in the musical theatre industry like to quip, "belting is not bad; bad belting is bad."
As for the physiological and acoustical features of the metallic voices, a master's thesis has drawn the following conclusions:
- No significant changes in frequency and amplitude of F1 were observed
- Significant increases in amplitudes of F2, F3 and F4 were found
- In frequencies for F2, metallic voice perceived as louder was correlated to increase in amplitude of F3 and F4
- Vocal tract adjustments like velar lowering, pharyngeal wall narrowing, laryngeal raising, aryepiglottic and lateral laryngeal constriction were frequently found.
- Henrich, D. N. (2006), "Mirroring the voice from Garcia to the present day: Some insights into singing voice registers", Logopedics Phonatrics Vocology 31 (1): 3–14, doi:10.1080/14015430500344844
- Singers such as Christina Aguilera are known for their signature styles of belting Soto-Morettini, D. (2006), Popular Singing: A Practical Guide To: Pop, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country and Gospel, A & C Black, ISBN 978-0-7136-7266-4
- Estill J (1988). Belting and Classic Voice Quality: Some Physiological Differences. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 3:37-43.
- Yanagisawa E and Estill J (1989). The Contribution of Aryepiglottic Constriction to "Ringing Voice Quality. Journal of Voice, 3:342-350
- The Oxford Dictionary of Opera by John Warrack and Ewan West (1992), ISBN 0-19-869164-5
- Metallic voice: physiological and acoustic features