Belt and mixed voice singing are popular styles, featuring in many contemporary genres. And while they are challenging to learn, you’re rewarded with a greater versatility in repertoire.
Let’s look at developing these skills, using songs two of my singers are working on to demonstrate some techniques.
Belt singing usually refers to a specifically female sound. For guys, it’s their falsetto or head voice they need to balance. In belt, women work toward achieving a more forward, chatty sound in their middle voice.
Before attempting belt singing, you need to develop your chest, middle and head voice and smooth the transitions between these registers. You must also learn to identify and feel where each register lies in your voice.
Adding too much weight in your voice as you sing up the scale is a common issue and needs to be addressed early. The easiest way to start blending your head voice into middle and chest is to use your speaking voice up and down the scale, saying a short phrase. This helps you place your sound more forward and get the chatty, twangy sound belt singing needs. Even though you’re speaking, you still need to set up and monitor your breath control as if singing. This creates important muscle memory as you learn.
As you gain confidence in your spoken quality between registers, you can apply this exercise to your practice. Singer Gina used this technique when learning ‘I Just Wanna Be a Star’ from Nunsense. In this sample, you can hear her using a bright forward sound with some New York American twang. In the last note, Gina takes her chest voice into a belt sound, making sure she has set up her breath for support.
I asked Gina to share what helps her learn to balance mixed and belt voice.
“Interval training, practising shifting registers between chest, middle and head voice. It’s muscle memory. Also, using different vowels, such as forward and back vowels,” she says. “And recording yourself and listening back. Sometimes what you think sounds good, when you listen back, you might hear that ‘Oh! I need to shift register there’.”
Gina is still working on her register transitions, especially in moving from head voice back down to chest, which she finds especially challenging. To help, we work on feeling where those register changes are. Hearing the lightness of head voice, the layers of chest voice and the robustness of middle voice is important, but getting to know where those transitions ‘live’ in your voice and body is more so. As Gina puts it, “You start to feel the way everything gets positioned once you’re in the different registers. So, you think, ‘I now remember what to do, this is what a mix, head or chest voice feels like when I sing it’.”
Mixed voice is a blend of head and chest voice that’s neither too far forward or back, and without the brassy sound of belt.
Using modified vowel sounds can help smooth register shifts for a more mixed quality. Singer Angelina is learning Lizzy McAlpine’s ‘Ceilings’, which uses a mixed to belt feel. Working with vowels from the song, we roll forward those back-sounding vowels for a brighter sound: ‘Oh’ in ‘Short’ and ‘ih’ in ‘Kiss’ are examples of matching and mixing in the sound to find a forward tone. If we need to, we go back to speaking these sounds higher, keeping the voice ‘chatty’ and forward. Angelina finds this exercise especially helpful and enjoyable.
She also finds it helpful the way we work on each song section individually.
“That conditions you, so you know how it feels in this bit, and this bit… then when you do it all together you can glide through those sections easier,” she says.
“In ‘Ceilings’, we work on getting the ‘Kuh’ sounds forward for ‘Kiss’, ‘Car’ … And the really high bit where it goes to ‘not real’, the ‘O’ vowel sound is hard because it’s a back vowel. What helps me overcome that is thinking [forward vowel sounds] ‘ee’ or ‘oo’ when I sing [back vowels] ‘oh’ or ‘ah’.”