The truth about belting: top voice scientist Dr Ingo Titze on the claim that some singers are born to belt.
Belting is a powerful vocal quality most commonly used in the musical theatre, gospel and rock worlds. But many vocalists struggle with it prompting the question: are some singers simply built to belt? Or can it be mastered with technique and practice? Dr Ingo Titze shares his thoughts. Warning it’s a science answer so hold on.
Do you think some people are physically more inclined towards belting than others?
Anybody can produce a belt. They just have to understand it comes from the timbre that you want to produce. If you want to make your voice brass-like, then you are driven for a timbre in that direction. If you want to make your voice flute-like, then you’re going in the other direction. What I mean by direction is, for the brass-like sound, the harmonics need to be higher than the fundamental [the actual pitch].
Second, third, fourth harmonics tend to be more powerful than the fundamental. If you look at brass instruments, for example trumpets, you hear that. The fundamental never carries the greatest amount of energy. It’s always the second, third, or fourth harmonic that carry more energy than the fundamental. That’s what gives it that brassy timbre and that’s what Ethel Merman wanted when she began this culture of belting, because she wanted to sing un-amplified with brass accompaniment.
What you need to do in order to get that timbre is to raise your first resonance [formant] so that at least the second harmonic is still below the first resonance. In the vowel “AH”, for example, the first formant is around 700Hz. If you divide that by two, you get 350Hz. That would be the note at which you can still have that second harmonic very strongly reinforced. 350Hz would be something like an E4/F4. If you can figure out how to increase that formant frequency and make it go all the way up to, say, 1,200Hz from 700Hz or 800Hz, now take 1,200Hz and divide it by two, you get 600Hz. Now you can belt all the way up to 600Hz, which takes you into the D5/E5 area. That is then a very, very strong brass-like sound that you can sustain at that pitch.
How does the singer do that?
First of all, don’t let go of too much of the Thyroarytenoid muscle (TA), you want a lot of that energy, that higher harmonic energy, to be produced at the source [vocal folds] in the first place. It does involve a little more vocal fold collision and more use of the TA muscle. Most importantly, you need to choose a vowel that gives you that high first formant. These vowels are typically “e” and “ɑ” [father] [also æ [cat]], very bright, open vowels. Belters also use “i” [feed] and “eɪ” [day], and they belt on those. But there, what happens is, the fourth harmonic is often reinforced with the second formant. Everything is multiplied by two for those vowels. But those are basically the four vowels that you can belt on. The minute you use the more centralised vowels like “ʊ” [put] and “ɒ” [hot] and “ɔ” [fall], they don’t work for belting. You have no chance to get that kind of timbre with those vowels.
Are you saying only certain words can be belted?
IT: It’s like in opera, there are money notes in belt. If you’re singing the lower stuff that is not highly sustained and is not what the piece is known for necessarily, then you can use any speech-like vowel and you’re fine with it. If you go to Cats and you listen to Memory and the lyrics “Touch me, it’s so easy to leave me”, there is no speech vowel in that. This is how you would speak it if you were to use vowels that you actually speak. The singer just has to adjust the vowel to be more brassy.
Read more about belting HERE