Despite what you may have heard, there is more to musical theatre singing than just being able to hit the high note in defying gravity (though that is definitely important if you’re currently playing Elphaba). Within musical theatre, there are three main types of vocal styles: legit, mix and belt. Each style has its own texture and flavour, and mastery of at least one of the styles is essential if you want to work professionally.
Legit musical theatre singing is characterised by open vowels, generous use of vibrato, long musical lines, lots of glorious ring and spin, and more of a classical, operatic influence. Head voice is king in legit singing. Legit is as close as musical theatre can get to opera without changing styles (and a few musicals actually blur those lines). Think The Light in the Piazza, Porgy and Bess, Kismet and Candide. Legit musical theatre is all about sweeping orchestral scores, extended vocal ranges, complicated and demanding vocal lines, lots of vibrato, and a decidedly classical feel. Vocal training for this style often incorporates scales and exercises borrowed from opera and applied very similarly.
Mix musical theatre singing is characterised by speech-like vowels, moderate use of vibrato, and more of a pop influence. Singing in what is commonly referred to as middle voice is a hallmark of mix. It’s not quite head voice, not quite chest voice. It’s the middle, and it works well in many musicals. Think Avenue Q, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, most Disney musicals, and Waitress. Scores feature orchestras that include electric guitar and pop/rock drum kits, more moderate vocal ranges and lines, standard amounts of vibrato, and more of a pop/rock feel. Vocal training for this style often incorporates scales and exercises used to train pop singers, including learning riffs and runs.
Belt musical theatre singing is characterised by sheer intensity, power, minimal vibrato, impressive dynamics, and a definite rock influence. Chest voice is king in belt singing. Belting is definitely chest voice, and is all about power. Leading men and women in most shows will, at least occasionally, belt, especially in 11 o’clock numbers. Many character roles, even in more legit or mix-y musicals, are belters. Think Gypsy, Rent, If/Then and Aida. Scores feature solid percussion and horns, vocal ranges and lines that thrive in the extreme, vibrato generally held off until the end of note, and have a decidedly rock feel. Vocal training for belt includes exercises requiring gradual increases in intensity and volume, stamina and strength building, and rock dynamics.
Legit, mix, and belt are the three main musical theatre vocal styles, and each style can be found on professional stages around the world right now. Proficiency in at least one, but preferably two or all three of the styles is essential if you want to attend a top university programme or work professionally. If you need help, get a coach, get going, and get to auditions. The stage is waiting.