Man singing into a microphone

What is belting in singing?

By BBC Maestro

Ever wondered how singers hit those powerful notes that seem to be dripping with emotion? Their secret is belting. But what is belting in singing – and why should you learn how to do it? Here’s everything you need to know about how to belt. 

What does belting mean when singing?

What do Whitney Houston, Adele and Freddie Mercury have in common? As well as being incredible performers, they’re all belters.  
 
Belting is a vocal technique that’s characterised by a big, powerful sound, and is most commonly found in musical theatre, as well as rock and pop performers. 
 
When singers belt, they tend to use their chest voice. The chest voice is the lower register of the vocal range, as opposed to the head voice, which is the higher range. When you belt, you engage your chest voice, which causes your vocal folds to vibrate across their entire length – which produces a loud, resonant sound. 
 
Although belting primarily uses the chest voice (or the lower part of their vocal range), skilled belters can also extend the chest voice into the higher part of their vocal range. That means they can sing big, powerful songs even in the upper registers. 
 
That means that belting can convey powerful emotions, add drama to a song, or add intensity. It’s commonly used in musical theatre when performers need to ensure the whole audience can hear them over the instruments. 

close up on a microphone on a stage

Mixing vs belting

People often get the terms mixing and belting confused, but there is a clear distinction between the two.  
 
Belting is a vocal technique that uses the chest voice to produce powerful, forceful, and resonant sounds. Mixing, on the other hand, is when a singer combines elements of both the chest voice and head voice to create an even and smooth singing voice from the top to the bottom of their vocal range. It combines the highs of the head voice with the deep sounds of the chest voice. 

Is belting bad for your voice? 

Healthy belting is perfectly possible. But if you belt without proper training or without warming up your voice, you could run the risk of straining your voice or injuring your vocal cords.  
 
Have you ever sung your heart out at a concert, only to leave with a hoarse voice and sore throat? That’s an example of what can happen if you belt too much without proper training.  
 
As a singer, you need to learn the right way to belt to avoid damaging your voice. If you get it wrong, it could cause harm in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Excessive tension: Often, when singers belt, they put a lot of force on their neck and throat muscles, which can strain the vocal folds. 
  • Inadequate breath control: When you belt, you need to learn how to breathe properly. If you don’t use proper breath control, your vocal folds will be under a lot of pressure, which could lead to damage.
  • Vocal fatigue: Belting without allowing sufficient time for vocal rest can lead to vocal fatigue. Vocal fatigue may result in decreased vocal control, range, and overall performance quality. 

However, if you learn how to belt properly, and spend some time warming up your voice beforehand, you can achieve gloriously powerful belting without damaging your vocal health. 

Belting exercises 

Belting exercises are key to improving your technique – and they’re also useful as a warm-up before you get on stage, to ensure you don’t damage your voice. Here are some of our favourite exercises to try: 

Vowel belting 

Select a comfortable starting pitch and sustain a vowel sound (e.g., “ah,” “ee,” “oo”) using a strong, belting quality. Hold the note for as long as you can while maintaining clarity and power. Repeat on different vowels. This will help you to build power in your belting technique and ensure you can hold long notes when necessary. 

Ascending and descending arpeggios 

An arpeggio is when you sing the individual notes of a chord one after the other, either going up (ascending) or going down (descending). 

To practise belting ascending arpeggios: 

  • Begin with a note in the middle of your vocal range 
  • Belt the individual notes of a chord in sequence moving upward. If you start on C, for example, you might sing C-E-G in sequence.
  • Gradually move to the higher pitches while maintaining consistency in your belting technique 

For descending arpeggios, the technique is exactly the same, but you’ll move down the sequence rather than up. This exercise will help you to practise belting across different pitches and develop more control. 

Belting while moving

If you’re an aspiring musical theatre actor, then this exercise is specifically for you. Belting musical theatre songs often involves walking or dancing, unlike with pop or rock singers, where they may stand still while belting. 
 
Try belting a song while incorporating movement, by walking around or gesturing. This will help to develop both your technique and your stamina, as musical theatre is often very physically demanding and will require you to sing while simultaneously doing other things. 

Practise proper breath control 

Proper breathing is one of the key aspects to successful belting. This exercise will help you to develop your breath control: 

  • Sit or stand up straight, with your shoulders relaxed 
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand – you can place your hand on your belly to feel this
  • As you exhale, engage your diaphragm to control the release of air – imagine holding the breath back with your abdominal muscles
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth
  • Once you’ve tried this a few times and feel comfortable with controlled exhaling, add a simple vocalisation on an extended vowel like “ah” or “oh” as you exhale 

How to belt 

Ready to give belting a go? Here’s our step-by-step guide for strong belting vocals: 

1. Warm-up

Try one of the belting exercises above to get your vocal cords ready for the demands of belting.  

2. Good posture 

Stand or sit with good posture. Keep your shoulders relaxed, your spine aligned, and your feet shoulder-width apart. Ensuring you have good posture will support optimal breath control and make your voice project further.  

3. Engage your diaphragm

Your diaphragm is one of the keys to proper breath support. Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. As you exhale, focus on controlled breath release, engaging your abdominal muscles – and get ready to belt. 

4. Open your throat

Keep your throat open and relaxed. This will make your voice more resonant and help to prevent vocal cord strain. 

5. Start with a comfortable pitch 

When you start belting, begin with a comfortable pitch within your mid-range. As you gain confidence in your belting technique, you can start to explore higher and lower pitches. 

6. Gradually increase the volume

Belting isn’t just yelling. Start softly and gradually increase your volume, maintaining a clear and resonant sound as your volume increases. 
 
Consistent practice will help you to develop a strong belting technique. Consider recording yourself and listening back to identify areas for improvement going forward. Always remember that belting should feel easy and effortless – it shouldn’t strain your voice or feel painful. If you do experience any discomfort when belting, consider seeking guidance from a professional vocal coach.  

Explore musical theatre 

Belting is a common technique used by musical theatre performers, to ensure the entire audience can clearly hear what they’re singing.  
 
If you’re interested in finding out more about musical theatre, Sir Tim Rice will teach you everything you need to know in his BBC Maestro Course, Writing and Performing Musical Theatre. In 23 easy-to-follow lessons, you’ll gain unparalleled expert advice on everything from working with collaborators to auditioning tips. 

Learn from theatre star Tim Rice

Join Sir Tim as he shares advice on writing and performing for musical theatre. You’re one step closer to seeing your name up in lights.

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