Belting has been an incredibly divisive topic in the voice and musical theatre communities for over a century (though its origins date back much further than that). In fact, it has only been within the past few decades that this topic has started to receive the kind of detailed academic and scientific attention it deserves. Please note that this blog post is not some grand treatise or scientific study on belting– though there are plenty of those out there today. Instead, the expert contributors here at Musical Theatre Resurces would simply like to share some of our favorite exercises for teaching the belt technique to students. We hope that these exercises will encourage readers to research this topic at greater length (our Online Articles page is a good starting point for this).
Without further ado, here are belting exercises from two of our esteemed writer-contributors, Christianne Roll and Elizabeth Gerbi. When you finish reading, check out the second blog post in this series here as well.
by Christianne Roll
I first worked on this belt exercise in private voice lessons with Dr. Pamelia S. Phillips, former Chair of Voice and Music at CAP21. It immediately became one of my ‘go-to’ belt exercises for my own vocal development, as well as a universal favorite of my female students.
With all of the aspects of this exercise, I find it to be a useful tool to introduce belting, to work on increasing belt range, to practice support, to incorporate acting, and to use with more advanced belters as a reliable warm-up. Since it uses a spoken phrase, it can help a student connect to the more speech-like quality of belting. The use of a spoken phrase can also remind students to constantly connect their singing, particularly the energized belt sound, to an acting objective. Physically, I use this exercise to introduce and reinforce the concept of abdominal support for belting, asking the students to focus on the exertion of their oblique muscles to take the pressure off of the muscles of the throat. Finally, this exercise can be used to work on increasing belt ability in the traditional range, and also can help students work on the transition into the contemporary belt range. As the pitch of the exercise ascends, students can systematically and chromatically work on negotiating the balance of registration and resonance to create a consistent belt sound.
1. Introduce the Physicality: Ask student to place their fists on their oblique muscles with elbows out. In this stance, ask student to cough or say “hey,” for them to feel the oblique muscles engage against their fists. Repeat this exercise, eventually asking student to perform the physicality of the abdominal exertion, without making a sound, so that the abdominal movement can function independently.
2. Speak the Phrase: Have the student say “That’s Mine,” with emphasis on the word “That’s.” Ensure that they are saying the phrase with energy and with a slightly higher than normal speaking pitch. Ask student to practice exerting oblique muscles on the word “That’s.”
3. Relate to Acting: Ask student to think about a circumstance where they might say to someone, “that’s mine,” in an energized, direct manner. (Some students suggest the scenario of someone stealing their purse, cell phone, boyfriend, etc.) Encourage the student to keep this scenario in mind while performing the exercise.
4. Introduce the Melody: “That’s Mine,” on a Sol-Do (5-1) pattern, with “That’s” on Sol, and “Mine” on Do. The exercise can start at approximately F4.
5. Perform the Exercise: Ask student to sing the phrase on the melody. Encourage student to always exert oblique muscles on the word “That’s.”
6. Range: Based on student ability and goals, the exercise can ascend by half steps to approximately D5 to work on increasing belt ability in the traditional range. The exercise can also be used into the contemporary range, up to approximately F5.
7. Tone quality: Student should be starting this exercise with a lighter, brighter, more spoken vocal production. Resonance/vowel shape should become brighter and more focused as the pitch ascends.
8. Extension: Please listen to vocal example below for a more advanced version of this exercise. The melody and phrase is repeated on the same pitches, but the word “That’s” is now sung a bit longer to work on sustaining a belt sound.
“Spectral Pedagogy for Belting ”
by Elizabeth Gerbi
Greetings! Today, I’m going talk a little about my own system of “spectral pedagogy.”
This exercise is more of conceptual toolkit than a specific vocalise that you will need to adapt throughout a session.
Now, you’ve probably noticed that most students who walk into your studio—and most professionals, for that matter—tend to be either hyperphonators (prone to pressed phonation) and hypophonators (prone to breathy phonation, with an audible “leak”).
You’ll probably find that most students are also predisposed to:
- Singing “too big”………….or “hiding” (problems finding natural, organic expression)
- Singing “too loudly”…………or “too softly” (problems with appropriate/ tiered volume)
- Overreliance on T.A. muscles ………..or C.T. (registration issues)
Using an overly bright ………or overly dark vowels (vertical or horizontal inclination)
- Using too brilliant………or too “dark” and “woofy” a timbre for the repertoire (color)
- Overuse of legato………or “speechiness” (singing versus speech)
…and that a lot of our time is spent coaxing students away from their “home base” tendency. Take a moment to imagine your introverted, breathy pupil who barely phonates when they sing, and compare them with the “big” personality pupil who you are constantly asking to adopt gentle, flow phonation.
You’ll probably notice that most of the left column is indicative of the classical aesthetic, and the latter indicative of contemporary belt/mix singing. What’s handy about placing them on a spectrum is that it doesn’t say either is innately undesirable, just that there is a right balance for every piece. By playing with these “extremes,” we allow the student to engage playfully in order to reconceive with what it can do.
A typical “ad hoc” vocalise could be:
1. Take a simple and familiar pattern, such as 1-2-3-2-1 on “ee” [i], and identify the degree of clarity/breathiness in the sound. Instead of offering a value judgment, I would encourage you give it a numeric value (for example, “I hear about 20% breathiness in that sound”).
2. Next, ask the student to consciously back and forth along the spectrum (“can you sing it with 30% breathiness? 40%? 50% How about back to 30, 20, 10,” etc.).
3. DELIBERATLY go outside the threshold of pleasant sounds, so the student realizes the goal is not to create “beautiful” sounds, but allow them to really test their facility.
Now, what does this have to do with belting? Well, it’s often my first recourse for students who staunchly identify as a “soprano who can’t belt,” or “a belter with no head voice.” I have found that sometimes simply by asking the voice to literally produce the words you are saying in the vocalise, for example, “this is my head register” on 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, or “this is my mix register” is the fastest way to elicit the intended quality. And, whenever your student struggles with a sound, simply jump to the “wrong” end of the spectrum and work backwards. For example, sing a belted pitch in the most hilariously inappropriate of classical head voices (for both levity and function), and then work backwards.
Incidentally, for actors, you often make interpretative discoveries you would never have otherwise considered this way! So, as they say, keep calm, and play on.
P.S. Need help finding musical theatre songs to sing? Check out my professional repertoire guides here.
– Kevin Michael Jones