Weekly Teaching Tip – June 25, 2012

Question: I am still confused about how a belt sound is created from a physiological standpoint – what’s a well trained belter doing that is different than just a yelly chest puller (they are still getting all that power without the pitch being flat and they have a full tone – but to my ear it is clearly not a mix – but is an exciting sound) – I have always been such a “let-go” girl, I’ve wondered if I should work with a typical belt teacher just to understand what they are doing and what it feels like to try to do it and if there is anything in their method that would actually help me strengthen my middle….also so I can understand my belters better and maybe find something useful…..don’t cast me out of IVTOM yet….but would it always be WRONG to have that as a tool to work with now and then for certain moments of color in the song? Or am I just talking about tuning formants which I admit I don’t get……so many questions…….

Answer:  As far as “belt” goes…mixers can easily get a “belt” coordination so it is not necessary to study a different technique. The physiology between belt, mix and “legit” is mostly a function of “Closed Quotient”. The higher the closed quotient (the length of time that the vocal folds are together in relation to the length of time they are apart in the vibration process) the more of a “belt” sound the singer will get. In a general sense, I see “belt” as a closed quotient of 70-80%, “mix” as a closed quotient of around 50% and “legit” as a closed quotient around 30% (for females – male closed quotient can be higher for men since “legit” is used to hearing male voices sing chest, whereas they are used to hearing female singers with a much “lighter” coordination.) So, for me, that is why I teach “mix” to any singer that comes into my studio. We then just use a “lighter” or a “heavier” mix depending on what style of music they are singing. The difference in closed quotient, along with the style differences between the different types of music is all that is needed to get an appropriate, healthy and effective sound in any style.

The problem with true “belters” or “pure gut yellers” is that they tend to spread the vowel and the larynx is raised so there is too much pressure on the vocal folds.(Too much TA, not enough CT.)  Range is decreased and there is unnecessary abuse to the vocal folds. (Basically, you can cheat one bridge, but then you get stuck at the next one. This is why pure female belters can only get to an Eb5. They push through the Bb4 bridge, but get stuck at the Eb5 bridge.) Yes, some singers tend to have thicker or tougher vocal folds so they can get away with more abuse; however, rumor has it that some famous belters miss a lot of shows because their voice is worn out and they have to take days off for vocal rest. Vocal nodules are probably in their future at some point as well, because of the increased pressure and irritation on the vocal folds. One teacher in New Zealand that taught the “Scream technique” promised that she could teach anyone to scream without ruining their voice. On research you find out that part of her program was that the singer was required to keep a strict calendar and every third day have “complete vocal rest” (no talking or anything).

My feeling is that most of the singers you are hearing that you feel are belting are really just singing with a very strong mix. True belting is attempting to pull the chest voice higher than it should go by altering the vowel and vocal tract. Mix singers understand the importance of always maintaining a split resonance and then “pressing” into the vocal folds to get more closed quotient and a more “chest like” sound. I like to describe the difference is that mixing chooses to keep the piano as big as possible and allows the stings to thin, and true belt attempts to keep the string as big as possible and make the piano smaller. I teach several singers that you would swear were just singing pure, straight chest because their sound is so strong and their mix is so solid, but they are really mixing. And my feeling is that the sound is actually better than pure chest or pure belt because the split resonance and narrow vowel give the sound a “prettiness” and a brightness that a straight chest or pure belt does not have. Some classical people call this brightness the “metallic sound”. A pure belt or straight chest yell is very harsh sounding and difficult to listen to in my opinion. I have attended shows where people were singing in a straight chest all the way up and I felt I was “pinned to my chair” because I felt I was being yelled at the whole time. There was nothing “pleasant” about it, it was just strong and loud. Many times all a “belter” needs to do is to narrow their vowel which forces a bit of resonation behind the soft palate and gets them into a strong mix. They are able to keep their powerfu, “chest” sound, but it sounds better and saves wear and tear on their voice.

When a singer gets into a strong mix I will often tell them it will feel that they are just singing in their chest voice all the way up because they will not feel any “let go” of the vocal folds. The compression remains strong and consistent. As a result, although I tell them it is not entirely true, it will feel like they are singing chest voice with narrow vowels all the way up.

So it sounds to me like you have spent most of your life singing with a lighter closed quotient and all you need to do is to try and convince your nervous system (muscle memory) to get comfortable with a higher closed quotient without allowing the vowel to spread or the head or larynx to raise. My advice, keep mixing and get more comfortable pressing into your mix to get a stronger and more powerful sound and people will think you’re belting.

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