Belting or Singing with Power.
By Jeannie Deva.
What is Belting?
After coaching thousands of singers, I would say that singing with volume and power is perhaps their second most common wish. The number one goal of singers is to achieve an expanded vocal range. Before we discuss what may prevent you from acquiring these elusive gems, let’s take a look at singing with power.
“Belting” was originally musical theater lingo for singing in a full voice with enough power and projection to be heard by audience seated in the back of the venue. And that was even without using a microphone. Over the years it has come to mean singing loudly in “chest voice,” a term I prefer not to use because it can limit how you perceive your voice.
Nodes and Polyps.
As you may know from experience, powerful singing is a style often accompanied by its own punishment. It is more likely to produce strain, frequent throat clearing, hoarseness, laryngitis, throat discomfort or loss of upper range. In severe cases, improper belting can result in nodes or polyps. Nodes are calluses on the inner rims of the vocal folds. Polyps are blisters on the top or underside of the vocal folds. Nodes and polyps painfully restrict your singing and may alter your voice permanently.
Metal and Rock singers often have the attitude that voice training will make them sound too “pretty” or force them to lose their unique identity. This is sometimes true if you study the wrong vocal technique. So not knowing what else to do, these singers bash and trash their voices resulting in canceled gigs and sometimes more severe consequences.
Does singing powerfully, inevitably mean you’ll wreck your voice? Often the answer is “Yes,” unless you know how to do it right! The good news is that it’s not what you sing, but rather, how you sing that will either slaughter or save your voice. Through nearly 50 years of my own vocal performance and over 35 years of vocal research and coaching others, I’ve discovered techniques that allow you to sing any style, even the aggressive and powerful ones with a seamless wide range and good tone without damaging your voice.
Force Instead of Resonance.
If you’re using muscle force in your throat or mouth to sing powerfully, you will have problems. Force leads to muscle tension in the throat which will hamper the vibrations of your voice. The reverberations of your voice throughout the tissue and cavities of the head and chest is vocal resonance. It is the resonance that gives volume and projection. Dampening this with muscle tension reduces the resonance which gives natural volume.
This tension, especially in the back of your tongue, your soft palate and your lips can strain your voice. Muscle tension can cause your voice to go off pitch and shorten your range considerably. It will eventually fatigue your voice and cause an increasingly severe vocal blow out.
The body parts that vibrate and create the sound of your voice, your vocal folds, are not what give you volume and power. True, if you practice the correct vocal exercises, the muscles within the vocal folds become stronger and more limber. This improves their agility and responsiveness resulting in better tonal quality and a fuller voice. Your voice sounds better and your range may increase, but vocal power and volume come from resonance.
What is Vocal Resonance?
When you pluck an acoustic guitar string, its vibration resonates and amplifies in the hollow body so you can hear the note. When you sing, the vibrations of your vocal folds are amplified by resonating within and throughout your body. This includes the porous bones, muscle, tissue lining and the palate (roof of the mouth) but especially the open body cavities (inner space) of the throat, mouth, sinus cavity in the head, and lungs in the chest and back. Resonance and thus volume with power is further enhanced if these vibrations are not dampened by tension in these areas.
A first step would be to get your vocal muscles limbered and flexible. One way to do that is with Vocal Warm-ups. The next step would be to eliminate muscle tension or strain in the throat that will hinder the vibrations of your voice and dampen the resonant power you could otherwise naturally achieve. If your throat and tongue tighten, you shut down your acoustic chamber and there goes the resonance.
In Part 2 of Belting or Singing with Power, I’ll show you an exercise to relieve the muscle tension. Until then, please post your comments or questions about belting or powerful singing.