How Singers Can Belt with the Best of ’Em

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When you think of powerhouse performers like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, or Adele, you’re probably hearing their belt—a one-two punch of sound and power that gives notes the oomph they need to hit the audience right in their hearts. Among the many techniques a well-rounded singer needs to understand (along with head and chest voice, falsetto, and vibrato), belting is synonymous with big voices. But beware: It’s not something you can just bust out as a beginner. 

Below, we break down everything you need to know about belting, the ways to prepare for it, and how to do it well.

What is belting?

On a technical level, belting is when a singer hits the notes of their head voice—the highest register of their range—with the strength of their chest voice, or the lowest register of their range. 

In practice, some might tell you that that just means “the yelling of singing,” but it is so much more. The technique means projecting with power. But this idea—coupled with what it takes to pull off—makes it very easy to mess up or do improperly. People most frequently belt in theatrical settings where you have to fill the space with your voice (and maybe don’t have the luxury of a microphone to get you there). But it is also regularly used in pop and rock performances as well. 

Barbra Streisand is an excellent example of a performer who uses her belt to give a performance the gusto and imperative it requires:

Is belting dangerous for singers?

Because of its complexity, belting is not something to attempt as a novice without a bit of insight into the mechanics behind it. Without taking the time to master that skill, you can hurt your voice and create very serious, surgery-requiring injuries to your vocal chords (like tears and nodules). If you’re just starting out, read up on different tips and exercises to enhance your technique. (We also put together a handy guide on how to improve your voice in general).

That said, with proper form and an intuitive understanding of your body and its physical limits, belting is just another tool in a singer’s toolbox. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury had an incredibly powerful belt, and it wasn’t a danger to his instrument because he knew how to do it well:

How to belt safely

Here's how you belt, physically speaking:

  1. Relax your body. Belting takes strong, warm muscles in your core, neck, shoulders, chest, tongue, and face, so it's vital to make sure your body feels warmed up. Relaxing your tongue is vital to good belting!
  2. Stand up straight. Good posture is critical to ensuring proper breath support.
  3. Breathe deep. Breathing not from your lungs, but from deep within—utilizing your diaphragm muscles—will give your notes the power they need. You'll know you're breathing from your diaphragm when your stomach expands, not just your chest.
  4. Open wide! A full sound only comes from a fully-supported voice in an open mouth. Relax that tongue and open up; if you want a big sound, you need a big opening. Think of it like you're in a dentist chair.
  5. Project with your chest voice and, yes, belt it out. Belting is loud, supported singing from your chest. The noise you make will be dependent on the culmination of all of the above. At first, you likely won't be able to belt high notes at all. But don’t fret: It takes practice to use your chest voice to sing the higher, head voice notes, and with time you'll get there. Just don’t overdo it—stay within your vocal singing range!—or you could damage your cords permanently.

It’s all about the preparation and leg work you put in beforehand. Singing is the act of modulating (or relaxing) muscles in combination with proper breath support. Each performer will need to do different things in order to achieve this—you can’t really one-size-fits-all your way into belting properly.

Here are some basic tips to get you on the right track:

Do your warm-ups!

Your vocal cords are muscles and must be treated as such. This means—as with any physical exertion—you have to prep your muscles before you even think about exercising or utilizing your voice. Go through these simple exercises before diving into a session: 

  • Sharp exhales: Breathe deep in and then release a hard “puh” out, repeated 25 to 50 times. 
  • Elocution: Run through tongue twisters (“how now brown cow,” “unique New York”), Shakespeare sonnets, or your favorite wordy monologue with exaggerated mouth movement. 
  • Vocal slides: Gradually ascend from your lowest pitch to your highest.
  • Vocal flexes: Go through your scales, gradually decreasing in loudness. 
  • Lip flutters: Breathe in, then out, vibrating your lips so it sounds like “brrrrrrr.” 

Exercise your voice (and body!) regularly

After you’ve warmed up, it’s great to practice and exercise not only your vocal cords but the muscles and parts of the body that help give it strength. Your core, diaphragm, chest, and leg muscles all do this to varying degrees and in different ways. Consistently practice mindful, diaphragmatic breathing.

Master proper technique

Belting isn’t just about being loud; it’s about understanding the balance between head and chest voice, and mixing both together in a way that elevates the emotions of a song. This takes time. Mastering these myriad techniques and exercises requires consistent, diligent practice—but make sure you don’t overdo it. Remember: Singing too much for too long in belt mode can strain your cords and potentially damage them.

In short: relax!

When you belt, you’re asking your muscles to work overtime, but they can’t do that if you’re straining. The most important thing to remember is to relax into it. Open your mouth wide. Notice where your tongue and soft palate feel at ease. Loosen up your cords, the muscles in your neck and chest—all of it needs to be properly supported by your diaphragm and lungs, and this cannot be done if your muscles are tense. When in doubt, take a few deep breaths and try to relax. Let the power flow through you; don’t try and push it.

Hire a vocal coach

Learning to belt without an in-person coach to tailor the training to your specific needs is difficult, due to the mechanics and customized direction needed for each individual singer to master the skill. If you are really serious about learning how to control and utilize your belt—and each particular voice range required to make that happen—hire a quality teacher who can keep you on the safest and most supportive path.