POPULAR SONG AND MUSIC THEATER

Robert Edwin, Associate Editor

The Multiplicity of Belting
Lisa Popeil

I
N ANY DISCUSSION AMONG SINGING TEACHERS concerning belting, it
quickly becomes apparent that there is little consensus on what belting
should sound like or even what belting is. Does this term describe a tech-
nique or a vocal style? Can an R&B singer be a belter? Can men belt?
Should belting be thought of only as loud, brassy, and nasal? This lack of con-
sensus is to be expected, and there always may be disagreement among voice
teachers about the definition and aesthetic of any vocal sound. Having said
that, I hasten to add that this is an exciting time for singers and teachers of
voice as we continue to discuss and codify a vocal technique and style that,
Lisa Popeil
traditionally, has been vilified or ignored by the classical voice community.
The root of the word “belt” probably does not originate from the Borscht
Belt, that concentration of hotels in the Catskill Mountains of New York State,
however charming that derivation would be. Rather, the term most likely
comes from the slang term for “wallop,” meaning “delivering a hard blow,”
as in boxing. In the early years of the twentieth century, without the avail-
ability of microphones, loud singing was not only an acoustic necessity, but
also turned out to be a big hit with audiences. Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson
were examples of such powerful singers. With the advent of electronic ampli-
fication, however, conversational singers called “crooners” became popular.
In this modern age, should the term belting continue to be defined solely
as loud, yell-like singing? Perhaps, but in my continuing quest for clarifi-
cation and ease of communication with my students, I define belting as
speech-like or yell-like in character and as the style used in much of today’s
music theater. I explain that singing technique in Western music can be di-
vided into two basic categories: popular voice technique and classical voice
technique. The former uses predominantly a speech-like or yell-like sound
in both men and women, and the latter, in women, uses predominantly a head
voice dominant or nonspeech-like sound. More simply put, popular singing
sounds like someone’s speaking voice and classical doesn’t.
Popular voice technique is used in the styles of pop, R&B, country, rock,
jazz, and music theater belting, although there may be occasional excur-
sions into head voice on higher notes for a lighter effect.
Classical voice technique is used in the styles of opera, operetta, choir,
Journal of Singing, September/October 2007 and legit music theater, although there are exceptions, such as some operatic
Volume 64, No. 1, pp. 77–80
Copyright © 2007
tenors creating a yell-like sound on high notes, or some female classical
National Association of Teachers of Singing singers using a chest voice sound which is more speech-like in character.

S E P T E M B E R /O C TOB E R 2007 77

com. Mechanically. I offer all within one song! the following listening examples. and length. duce and pleasant to the ear. the sound feels as though it is R&B. Though many of the There is no one belt sound that effectively can express following singers are capable of singing any style (e. nasal belt. jazz. and anger. and pleas.” from Gypsy (The Best resonance. in decreasing percentages. Nasal belt is often used for the ing types. dull. In music theater.. I caution against emotions. popularized by Ethel Merman—also ringy and (Elaine Stritch at Liberty) nasal but.” Speech-like production sounds has confirmed visceral perception. pop. although ning diversity of voice timbres—loud. by males and females. and country styles. ing. what makes a speech-like sound speech-like. or soft. of this article I limit the term belting to its music the. ers new to the topic of belting is to be able to discern cle activities. twanginess. ringy. shrill.itunes. twangy belt. with the emphasis on nasal — Liza Minelli—“Some People. Together. Other strategies. and music theater le- lar personality traits. Brassy belt is the original belting — Elaine Stritch—“Ladies Who Lunch. jazz. ness and possibly vocal fold lesions over time. I’m always This sonic diversity is a relatively new development on “press patrol. style choices should be character- increasing awareness of laryngeal sensations related to driven and not determined by the technical limitations pitch change. safely.amazon. Since I have never had a clear under. cricothyroid (CT) activity continues as the pitch rises ater context. It is superb for comedic. By focusing my attention on different of the singer. like people talking or yelling. I teach the speech-like sound as the basic modality & Mabel 78 J OU R NA L OF SINGING . This style is perfect for confident. The more versatile one’s vocal technique. Within this style. sincere. while the thyroarytenoid (TA) remains active. Each belt sound conveys particu. with a few notes in For teachers of classical singing who wish to become classical production thrown in for good measure and better acquainted with belting for music theater. no charge on www. anchored larynx. to the top of the range. heavy belt. human emotion.com and www. or dom. tension. I concluded that vibrations felt in the head and One of the biggest challenges for classical voice teach- face are actually the secondary effects of laryngeal mus.” from Mack ant.” Firm closure of the folds is accept- in the music theater world and allows singers to suit able. — Bernadette Peters—“Wherever He Ain’t. high lar. rather. and often quite easily. less ringy. such as standing of the terms “chest voice” and “head voice” the addition of nasality. these recorded excerpts highlight the five main belt- weariness. brassy belt. but there is a fine line between closed and pressed their vocal choices to the requirements of a character’s folds. for the purposes shooting straight through the mouth. a speech-like sound is not head voice dominant. tor move among these belt sounds. so for vocal longevity’s sake. opera. rock. A speech-like sound can be ynx. isters. Modern voice science does not sound “heady. belt- all human emotions. loud. The sung sound may be Although speech-like and yell-like sounds are not nasal. country. felt in the head. Simply these two sources could be manipulated to create the put. the more able the acting singer becomes in expressing I came to a visceral and direct experience of voice reg.Lisa Popeil Any discussion of belting must include the topic of of music theater belting style since it is comfortable to pro- voice registers. These various belting styles can be called comfortably. along with resonance coupling. or increased thy- (and I know I am not alone in this). world. more nasal. ter-of-factness and conviction. and Since over-pressing of the vocal folds can create hoarse- speech-like belt.g. Heavy belt can convey age. it panoply of human vocal sound. R&B. — Lisa Kirk—“Big Time. more or taken. git). I long ago decided roarytenoid activity as in heavy belt can be added to to sidestep these terms and focus instead on my ever taste. soft. Speech-like belt is natural. Twangy belt combines strong ring and nasality and is the most penetrating of Heavy Belt the belting types. over-squeezing of the folds in any belting production. These recordings can be heard easily and at heightened projection it provides and can convey mat. but vibrations are not exclusive to music theater and are the basis of pop. less nasal. one can hear a stun. mature of Liza Minelli) characters.” from Mack & Mabel inating characters. it is not uncommon to hear a singer/ac. unlike twangy belt. sensations in vocal fold thickness. In fact.” from Company sound.

videofluo- — Marissa Jaret Winokur—“I Can Hear the Bells.” from The 9) higher larynx position. — Debbie Gravitte—“He and She. Boy from Oz 5) high closed quotient—longer closed phase (over Brassy Belt 50%). EGG (electroglottography). Only by listening and learning required in order to tune our ears to sounds that are how to make and teach these sounds can we truly ap- often radically different than classical.” from The Boys from ugly and loud by definition. but singer has some lift- Wild Party ing and lowering ability.” from Cabaret 10) epiglottis more horizontal. lessening space in val- lecula. — Joel Grey—“Willkommen. direct Hairspray EMG (electromyography). there (2004) is more than one aesthetic in the grand scheme of belt- Listening carefully to elite music theater singers is ing for music theater. Methodologies such as CT scans. the Dictionary. We must keep in preciate the multiplicity of belting in the modern world mind that vocal beauty is not the primary goal of mu. but what does Avenue Q science have to show us about the physiology of belt- — Jason Opsahl—“Greased Lightning. It can be romantic. Gypsy (1989 revival) 8) possible pulling forward of hyoid bone. videolaryn- — Austin Pendleton—“Miracle of Miracles. — Idina Menzel—“No Good Deed.” from The Boys from Obviously we are still in the infancy of belting re- Syracuse (1997 Revival) search.” from 12) even distribution of amplified harmonics up to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee 4 kHz and spectral energy above 15 kHz.” from All acterized by: Shook Up 1) thicker edge of vocal fold.” from Tommy (1992) In the meantime.” from A New Brain and story telling. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). and Fiddler on the Roof (1962) kymography will help unravel the still remaining mys- — Adam Pascal—“One Song Glory. Nasal Belt there is general agreement that belt production is char- — Jonathan Hadary—“Heartbreak Hotel.” from Emotional magic is all well and good.” from Grease preconceived notions regarding vocal beauty and accept (1994 revival) the challenge to become more aware of contemporary — Eden Espinosa—“Once Upon a Time.” 6) increased sensation of breath-holding. considering (1994 Revival) the different approaches and aesthetics involved? Based on my research and that of belting research pioneers. — Patti Lu Pone—“You’re the Top. — Toni Collette—“Welcome of My Party. S E P T E M B E R /O C TOB E R 2007 79 .” from roscopy. even Syracuse (1997 Revival) refined.” from Avenue Q more of a clapping action.” from gostrobscopy. of singing. That’s not to say that belting must be — Debbie Gravitte—“O Diogenes. high speed photography.” from 4) high speed quotient—folds snap shut quickly. Popular Song and Music Theater Twangy Belt sic theater singing. — Hugh Jackman—“If You Were Wondering. but rather emotional expressivity — Kristin Chenoweth—“Calamari. Speech-Like Belt 11) increased “support”/subglottal pressure.” from Anything Goes 2) tenser TA (vocalis) muscle.” from muscles. ultrasound. — Michael Cerveris—“I’m Free. — Ethel Merman—“Everything’s Coming Up Roses. In summary. from Gypsy 7) heightened activity of jaw and extrinsic laryngeal — Robert Lambert—“All I Need Is The Girl.” from Grease ing compared to classical voice production. — Ann Harada—“The More You Ruv Someone. but never reticent.” from Rent teries of the belt voice.” from Wicked OCT (optical coherence tomography). voice pedagogues should examine — Sam Harris—“Those Magic Changes. (1987 Revival) 3) lack of zippering action in vocal opening/closing— — John Tartaglia—“Purpose. — Lisa Howard—“My Friend.” from Brooklyn commercial singing styles in general.

edu http://music. magazines such as Music Connection. composer. pop. Variety. Singer & Musician magazine. country. ing Over reality show and recently on TV Guide Channel’s Idol Tonight. high speed photography. and Bulgarian. Los Angeles. her self-titled album Lisa Popeil was a Billboard Top Album Pick.popeil. Chicago Opera Theater. choral conduc- Voice from the California Institute of the Arts and is the creator of the tors. R&B. television. rock.. Lisa has written for Journal of Singing. six. In the Lisa has been a frequent radio talk show guest and has been featured in 1980’s. advanced singers. Chicago Symphony and Grant Park Symphony Choruses. She received her MFA in and Pedagogy of Styles for teachers. including opera. Students live in and around Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood and take full advantage of our associations with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. and is a writer-publisher member of ASCAP (American Society She is the recipient of a 2006 LA Music Awards “Career Achievement in of Composers & Publishers). CT scans. and speech pathologists. Projects have used MRI. piano accompanist. and international lecturer. Lisa is based in acoustics of belting vs.” lisa@popeil. Her voice. Lisa is a songwriter. jazz. Vocal Instruction. Beginning at age four with piano lessons and classical voice training at videofluoroscopy.com www. and The Hollywood Reporter. voice researcher. She has appeared on NBC’s Start- ing engineer. She has recorded and performed with Frank Zappa and “Weird papers at international voice conferences. has been featured on commercials. 1. and many others. music theater legit Canada.Lisa Popeil Lisa Popeil has studied the singing voice for over forty years and has Lisa’s three-day Total Singer Workshop outlines the Voiceworks ® Method taught professionally for over thirty years. 57444 musicadmissions@depaul.800. The Voice Foundation. Auditions must be completed by March 1.com I N THE H EART OF C HICAGO . A private Her international voice research concerns primarily the physiology and teacher. and record.edu 80 J OU R NA L OF SINGING .. Classical Singer. and presents workshops and scientific and film. D E PA U L S C H O O L O F M U S I C Vocal study at DePaul emphasizes opera and choral performances with numerous solo opportunities. AFTRA. and Norway. and has performed with the Pasadena Symphony. Japan. and endoscopy at labs in the US. 2008. Graduates of the DePaul vocal program are now performing or have performed with: New York Metropolitan Opera Lyric Opera of Chicago New York City Opera San Francisco Opera Chicago Opera Theater Pacific Opera Santa Fe Opera Music of the Baroque Hamburg Opera Houston Grand Opera The Merry Widow Zurich Opera Chicago Symphony Chorus DePaul Opera Theatre 2007 Audition for admission and scholarships! Application deadline is January 15. She is a member of NATS. classical voice technique and of American vocal Los Angeles. both raphy. 2008. and studio lessons with some of the finest instructors in the world.4depaul ext. Lisa has sung in many styles. Al” Yankovic.depaul. VASTA. In addition. Sweden. is a regular contributor to singing and voice-overs. Voiceworks® Method and the Total Singer instructional DVD. styles. Upcoming projects will use EMG and videokymog- and belting.