Welcome to the second installment in our Belting Exercises series here at Musical Theatre Resources! In case you missed the first blog post in the series, check it out here. Today, MTR writer-contributors Jared Trudeau and Kevin Michael Jones are sharing two of their favorite exercises for teaching belt technique to students. As with our previous post on this topic, these exercises should NOT be utilized without first thoroughly researching belt vocal technique and styles. When performed correctly, belting is not an inherently dangerous type of singing, but it also isn’t a technique that should be learned without proper guidance (YouTube videos don’t count!). Jared and Kevin both hold master’s degrees in Voice Pedagogy and have been teaching musical theatre and commercial music vocalists for years. We hope you find their insights valuable!
“The Taxi Call”
by Jared Trudeau
Origin of Exercise: My graduate school mentor, Mary Saunders-Barton, came up with this exercise as part of her Bel-Canto/Can-Belto approach to cross-training the singing voice.
Overview of Execise: In the studio, I utilize this exercise in order to help students find comfort and ease in their high-energy call. This exercise is gender-neutral and can be used throughout a singer’s range. With students who are new to belting or have an imbalance in the speaking voice (overly light or heavy registration, breathiness, limited range, etc), this exercise is used to cultivate a free and easy call that is tied to a dramatic need. As singers advance, we extend into the high belt range to find uniformity between traditional belt (roughly G4-D5/Eb5) and high belt (roughly Eb5 and higher).
1. Set up the scene: Imagine you just finished shopping at your FAVORITE store in New York City and have many bags of clothing, sporting goods, teddy bears… whatever you love. It is pouring rain and there is one cab coming. There are ten other people vying for that taxi.
2. Call out “hey taxi!” in a speech-dominant quality, notice the approximate pitch (Men: approximately E4-Ab4 at first; Women: approximately G4-Bb4).
3. Sing “hey TA-xi!” on a 1-5-1 pattern. Men begin around A major with E4 at the top, women around C major with G4 at the top. **
4. Continue calling out the phrase and then singing the 1-5-1 pattern, ascending by half step. Make sure the call isn’t too “heavy”. It should feel chest-dominant, but not like you are carrying up all of your possible vocal weight.
5. Once you have reached the top of what is comfortable, descend by half-step.
** Be sure the body is engaged. Use your arms. Plant your feet. Stand tall and be confident!
“Unifying Belt Vowels”
by Kevin Michael Jones
Origin of Exercise: This exercise is a combination of concepts I learned from Broadway voice teachers Jeannette LoVetri and Joan Lader. Slide-y [æ] vowels are a staple of Jeanie’s approach to teaching a ‘mixed’, traditional style of belting—while Joan advocates using a variety of different vowel shapes and resonance configurations in her ‘Blissful Belting’ pedagogical approach.
Overview of Exercise: This exercise actually has origins in classical/traditional voice pedagogy. For centuries, many classical singers have sought to unify vowel sounds across their entire range (think about all the ‘ah, eh, ee, oh, oo’ scales and arpeggios you’ve done throughout your life). Usually, tall and round vowel/mouth shapes are utilized to achieve this. When approaching the passaggio/break, classical singers typically ‘modify’ vowels like [i] and [u] toward taller, rounder shapes in order to maintain a rich and warm tone quality. When belting, we don’t really want that particular type of vowel modification, or ‘cover’, to occur because it obscures song lyrics (which are usually the most important part of musical theatre singing). However, in many cases, we DO still want acoustically unified vowels.
The goal of this particular exercise is to produce bright, speech-like, unified vowel sounds across the student’s range. The exercise is particularly beneficial for students who have learned to belt on a more open vowel like [æ] but struggle to do the same on closed vowels like [i] or [u]. Using this exercise, the student can start on a bright, comfortable vowel and transfer a similar vocal tract configuration to other vowel shapes (aka ‘tune’ all vowels to a particular vowel sound/shape). Note: This is more of an intermediate exercise than a beginner one.
1. Make sure the singer can comfortably sing a bright, ‘brassy’ [æ] vowel across their range using chest/mix registration. For treble voices, start around A3 and proceed with Perfect 5th slides up and down, slowly moving up by half steps through the passaggio and above (tenor and baritones start around E3). If the student comes from a classical background, they may be apprehensive about making this type of sound initially because it isn’t ‘pretty’. Reassure the student and continue on. Note: If they struggle with Perfect 5th slides, try Major 2nd slides instead. The goal here is freedom, flexibility, co-ordination, and a unified vowel sound across the singer’s range.
2. Continue on with these Perfect 5th [æ] slides, but now instruct the student to add the vowel sounds [ɛ], [i], [o], [u] to the top of each slide– then descend by scale steps on the [u] vowel. Make sure to provide a demonstration for the student in your own voice if possible (I have included an audio example of this exercise below).
3. Continue to move up and down by half steps, paying close attention to how the student approaches and navigates each vowel sound at the top of every slide. Encourage them to maintain a similar mouth shape for each vowel in the sequence (using the initial, ‘brassy’ [æ] vowel shape as a reference point). The tip of the student’s tongue should remain at the back of their bottom teeth, and the tongue should move minimally for each vowel. The student should also stand tall with an ‘engaged’ posture.
4. When all vowel sounds are unified and ‘tuned’ to the [æ] vowel, try starting each slide on a different vowel instead. For example, the student could tune vowels to a darker [ɑ] vowel shape to create an acoustically different type of belt. Remember, different musical theatre roles will require technically and acoustically different types of singing. It is always good to have options.
P.S. Need help finding musical theatre songs to sing? Check out my professional repertoire guides here.
– Kevin Michael Jones