What Singers Don’t Understand About The Female High Belt

Disclaimer: Do not attempt to do this on your own. You could hurt yourself. A healthy, safe belt requires an experienced coach, so if you need help, you can text me, call me or zoom me.

It’s technique over talent. Simplicity over complexity. Proper musical tension wins over a non-descript “mix.”

I don’t advocate a mix for female singers until they are fully and safely able to belt F3 to Ab5 (utilizing true vocal cords) and sing in their legit (false vocal cords) from Db4 to Eb6.

It’s a simple question: if you don’t have equal strength in both voices (legit and belt), why would you try to mix them?

Nothing like listening to a singer belt their way through a number only to bail out on the last note with some wacky mix that sounds nothing like the exciting voice they were using for the first three and a half minutes. You’ve seen it and heard it plenty of times.

Building a safe belt starts with pulling the corners of the mouth into a smile. In the early days of discovering it, it has to feel like an extreme, forced smile in order for the singer to feel musical tension for the exit of the sound. After all, your mouth is a sound hole, why keep it closed? The belter presses the jaw down (about two fingers worth), shows teeth on top and bottom, bites (into a big sandwich) and then simply “yells” over the molars.

“That a lot of tension!” you might say. And I would agree.

Then I would show you my acoustic guitar and ask what you think it would sound like if I “relaxed” one string and left the other five strings to their proper tuning (or tension). Would the guitar still be in tune? Is it even playable? Would the headstock, pegs, neck, wood and bridge all be working well together or would the whole instrument fail because of one relaxed, no-tension string?

The answer is; you could still “play” the guitar, but people would probably not enjoy it very much. Ask yourself why brass instruments are made of brass; drum heads are stretched over a drum; why we strike, pluck and pop an electric bass. It is musical tension that is required.

Interesting thing about that single “relaxed” guitar string; if you apply one finger to the lowest fret and then raise the pitch fret by fret, you are also increasing the tension on the string. The string gets tighter (or shorter) with each fret in order to hit a higher, faster vibration. In our singer’s mind, that’s what we’re also doing with the voice.

What many (too, too many) singers don’t understand about the high belt is that, with a proper (or “heroic”) amount of musical tension in the body, you barely feel it when you hit the high notes.

PLEASE do not try this at home. You could injure yourself or create bad habits that have to be unlearned. Learning to belt safely requires personal training. Acquiring a high belt is an athletic event and to get to the Olympics, you really do need a coach to give you constant, constructive feedback. So, please, if you want to work your belt, give me a call or send me an email. Do not try this on your own.

Remember, if it hurts when you sing, something is definitely wrong.

Removing The Doubt In Vocal Performance

When it comes to vocal performance, I guess we can put “doubt” and “fear” into the same wordsphere. Only problem is that doubt and fear are extremely personal; based on a performer’s lifetime of unique experiences. When I was 17, I sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in front of a halftime homecoming crowd. I was decked out in a sequined white tux with tails (thanks, Michelle!) and a stars and stripes top hat. Cheerleaders were in position down on the field – maybe they formed a star, I don’t remember that part very well, but I do remember that I sang and danced on that field. And my microphone was off. The whole time.

The microphone didn’t have an on/off switch, so there wasn’t much I could do about it. As I was performing what appeared to be a mime act, Donna, one of the celestial cheerleaders said, “Your mic’s not on.” And I said, “Yeah, I know” and kept dancing (box step, walk, walk, grapevine…).

When I quietly left the field with the cheerleaders, Scott the sound guy confirmed on the sidelines that, yup, my mic was off the whole time. The drama teacher, Mr. Ruehle, saw my reaction to that news and complimented me on my professionalism, mentioning how I just “shook it off.”

It was disappointing for sure, but I did shake it off. You see, just two years prior, at the gargantuan annual high school musicale extraordinaire held in the sold-out gymnasium, my mic was off for the entirety of my big solo debut at my new school. Now, that was horrifying.

Performing can be a very humbling experience and your willingness to surrender to mayhem is one of the keys to happiness.

So, as a vocal performer, what is in your control?

The Lyric.

You can’t do much about the mic, the mixer, the accompanist or the sound system, but you can know your lyrics inside out.

Here’s your checklist:

  1. Without singing it, how fast can you enunciate every word of the song in a monotone with no spaces/word stretches? Can you do it in under 30 seconds? Time it.
  2. How few breaths can you take in that 30 seconds? One? Two?
  3. Can you look at or read an article on your phone while saying your lyrics as quickly and as understandably as possible? Can you then tell us what the article was about?
  4. While facing in one direction, focus on one item in the room and tell the lyrics to that item, then change to north, south, east or west, focus on another singular item, repeat and continue.
  5. Be joyful in your practice.

Singing 101: Whether Pop Style or Legit, Your Technique Stays The Same

Here is an example of me singing “Musical Theatre Legit” style:

Words and Music by Geoff Levin & Chris Many

And here’s an example of me singing in more of a pop style:

From Musical Beans: Animal Songs For Children

In both instances, these were three to four hour recording sessions. Actually, for “Follow The Dream,” I really didn’t like my vocal performance from the first session, so I called Geoff and offered to come back to get it right the next day. That took another couple of hours, but we all were much happier about the result.

Bottom line is, recording sessions can take hours, days, weeks, months. Whether you choose to sing in a big belt, legit or pop style is up to you, your instrument (meaning your entire body) and your artistic inclination. However, if the vocal instrument breaks down, the session ends right there. You don’t finish because the vocal sound is different than the sound you started with. In other words, you don’t want to start off with a clean sound only to end up all scratchy-sounding.

In both tracks, I sang with the exact same technique because as singers, we need to make sure we last for the entire session, whether it’s four minutes or four hours. The only thing I changed was the quality of sound I was going for. “Follow The Dream” required a much more Josh Grobin-type approach. With “I Wish We Didn’t Have To Say Goodnight,” I was the voice of a Teddy Bear.

Singing 101: If It Hurts, You’re Doing It Wrong

Imagine having to lift a moderately heavy box. It’s on the floor, ready to be moved. Suddenly you get a phone call and you decide that you could probably carry on a conversation and lift that moderately heavy box with one arm. So, with the phone in one hand, you cheerily chat away, lean over, bend your knees a little bit, get that arm around the box and use your lower back and neck muscles to lift up. At that point, you realize that you may have misjudged this particular moderately heavy box and that it required more than one arm, it required two. That little bend in your knee should’ve been both thighs stretching and flexing. Not only that, but you probably should have used your glutes, back and chest to do the job properly.

And, just as suddenly, something is not right with your body and you are injured.

I’ve rehabbed a lot of singers’ voices. A Broadway/Pop Belt requires concentration, focus, trust and athleticism. After all, we’re talking eight shows a week on Broadway or six shows a day at a theme park or a four-hour minimum SAG/AFTRA recording session. What we do sounds difficult, but with concentration, focus, trust and athleticism, it is a relatively simple operation. All it requires is daily practice.

So, if you lift that same box incorrectly every day, you do not necessarily get stronger, you only risk further harm. Like that misjudged moderately heavy box, you don’t develop an unbreakable voice by breaking it every day. If it hurts when you sing, you’re doing it wrong.