What is belting? – The Voice Club

Naomi Bignell is The Voice Club’s European Managing Instructor. She specialises in pop, classical, broadway, standards and contemporary worship. Naomi teaches on the Basic and Advanced training programs and offers sessions in the Vocal Repair Clinic. In addition to teaching at The Voice Club, Naomi is a professional voice talent and singer/songwriter.

 
Have you ever heard, or been confused by, the term ‘belting’?
If you’re from a musical theatre background you’ve probably heard this term a LOT. You may have been asked in auditions what your ‘belt range’ is, or what note you can belt up to. But it may not be clear what it really means – and often people who use it aren’t even sure. So let me clear it up for you.
 
First off, if you’re not familiar with head voice, chest voice and mix – the basics of what we teach at The Voice Club – I recommend checking out my earlier post here.
 
Belting is forcing chest voice up beyond its natural register to achieve powerful high notes.
This is especially used in the theatre, as singers need to project their voices over a large area (theatre, auditorium, or even outdoor venue) so they use the more naturally powerful chest voice, because if they sing high notes in pure head voice, they simply won’t be heard.
 
The anatomical stuff
Chest voice is present in the lower register of the voice, and it brings with it all the power and guts of that lower register (think power notes). Head voice is light and airy, and lives at the higher register of the voice.
Simply put, somewhere in the middle of your range (technically known as the ‘second bridge’), chest voice should gradually lift off, and head voice gradually take over, so that each note has a different amount of head and chest voice. Most people need vocal coaching in order to achieve this level of vocal balance; only about 2% of singers can naturally mix seamlessly between head and chest voice.

No matter what you have heard, belting is NOT a good thing to do.

Forcing chest voice into the higher register of the voice is incredibly dangerous for your voice.
The amount of air used in singing a power note in full chest voice is WAY above what the vocal cords can healthily withstand, and as the cords are sandblasted with the excess air, they become sore and inflamed. This causes hoarseness and a sore throat – it is NOT normal.
Prolonged belting can result in nodes, nodules or polyps on the vocal cords, which may require surgery to be removed. This is something to be avoided at ALL costs, as even the best vocal surgery is risky and leaves scar tissue on the vocal cords, which are then more vulnerable to developing more issues, and requiring further surgery, and so on.
 
Healthy mix voices DO NOT belt. Because they don’t need to.
A healthy, trained voice can mix freely between head and chest voice, combining different proportions of each for each individual note. This allows a singer to sing any note in their range with as much, or as little, power as they need to in any song, and without pain, strain or damage to their vocal cords.
Think this is just a pipe dream? Andrea Boccelli, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Josh Groban have all benefited from training in mix voice, and they don’t have any problems getting heard!
 
For more information on mix, and vocal bridges, see our podcast at www.helpmyvoice.com
 
If you’re ready to start finding your vocal potential, come and train with me at The Voice Club. We offer private coaching and group classes to singers of all ages and abilities. Or, if you have a specific question about your voice, email me directly.

Why does it feel like I have two voices? – The Voice Club

Naomi Bignell is The Voice Club’s European Managing Instructor. She specialises in pop, classical, broadway, standards and contemporary worship. Naomi teaches on the Basic and Advanced training programs and offers sessions in the Vocal Repair Clinic. In addition to teaching at The Voice Club, Naomi is a professional voice talent and singer/songwriter.

Ever feel like you have two completely different voices battling it out inside you?
I grew up as a classically trained singer, and in my spare time I listened and sang along to a lot of pop, RnB and gospel music – all the divas. For years, it felt like I had two completely different voices.
My ‘classical’ voice was light, airy – the kind of voice that makes old ladies go weak at the knees… “You sing like an angel…” I was told I was a soprano, and always sang the high part. I could reach high notes, and was rarely required to go lower than a middle C. As a result, my lower range was weak and wimpy.
My ‘pop’ voice was strong, gutsy, and maxed out about an octave above middle C.
So what was happening? First, a little anatomy lesson:
Every voice has two elements – head voice and chest voice.
Your vocal cords sit inside your larynx and are controlled by 6 groups of muscles. These muscles help the cords ‘zip’ up and down to reach certain notes.
Head voice is light and airy. In head voice the vocal cords are thin and elongated, and zipped up, so the air coming up your windpipe flows through a small hole between the cords and resonates in your head to create sound.
Chest voice is the power house of the voice. The vocal cords are thick and open, so the air coming up your windpipe flows through a large hole between your vocal cords, and the sound resonates in the chest.
So far, so simple. So what was my problem?
The problem was that though I had access to both head and chest voice, there was no strong bridge between them.
Every voice has areas known as ‘bridges’. If you’re from a classical background, you may have heard them described as a ‘passagio’. That’s just Italian for bridge. Bridges occur approximately every octave in the voice, and it’s in these areas where the muscles controlling the vocal cords interchange to allow head and chest to mix. The trouble is, if these muscles aren’t trained, they don’t know where to go or what to do. Result? Your voice falls apart, usually on a crucial note.
 A healthy voice can mix freely between head and chest voice, combining different proportions of each for each individual note.
Maybe you feel like I did, that you have two voices which seem totally separate. Or maybe you only have head, or only chest. The solution is to develop a healthy mix voice. For more information on mix, and vocal bridges, see our podcast at www.helpmyvoice.com
If you’re ready to start finding your vocal potential, come and train with me at The Voice Club. We offer private coaching and group classes to singers of all ages and abilities. Or, if you have a specific question about your voice, email me directly.

Am I Talented? – The Voice Club

I’ve worked with hundreds of singers as a vocal coach.  I’ve also performed alongside hundreds of high level singers throughout my career as a studio and live vocalist.  And the one questions that seems to plague us all the most is “how talented am I”?
It’s drives me crazy, but we ALL think it.  So I’m going to definitively answer that question for you.

Why You Question Your Talent

You may not be old enough to remember this, but the world used to be a much smaller place.

To be a greatly talented singer all you had to be was one of the better singers in your town.
If you were were lucky enough to live in a smaller town the odds of being the ‘talent of the century’ were huge!
Want proof?  Just watch any of the shows about the Amish and see what they thing a great singer is.
Eeesh.

 
But this ain’t then.  And unless you’re living in a small utopian society (and if you are please let us all know where it is), your talent has got serious competition.
Now you don’t just compare yourself with people in your area or even people who sing a similar style.  Now you compare yourself against every singer in every genre across the world.

It’s no wonder we all feel like we should never sing outside of the shower – and sometimes not even there.

Are You Just ‘Born’ Talented?

Most people  believe you either ‘have it’ or you don’t.  And the evidence seems to support it.

celine-family

Celine Dion and her talented family


Talent can be traced through the family trees of some of the greatest singers of all time.
Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five weren’t the only great singers in that family.  Everyone sang well.
But did you know that the ones who performed regularly worked with vocal coaches to sound like that?  That said, there was some crazy great singing in that gene pool.
Celine Dion came from a family of FOURTEEN kids, all who sang beautifully.
Mariah Carey was the daughter of a professional Opera singer who obviously had some killer chops.
So if you’re not from a gene pool that swims with talent you shouldn’t expect to be very talented, right?

Is Talent Learned?

Environment no doubt plays a huge part in how good a singer is.
In fact almost every famous singer and backup singer from the MoTown era would tell you they were gospel50ssinging in church as far back as they can remember.
Whitney Houston was singing church solo’s as a child as were many great singers that we have come to know since.
And almost exclusively, they were raised in black gospel churches where music tends to be more ‘loud and proud’.

There are reasons why gospel churches tend to crank out great singers.  Now I’m going to let you in on a little ‘trade secret’ here so I’m assuming we can just keep this between you and me.
The reason gospel churches have bred more great singers than any other single source is that not always but much of the time, the ‘styling’ singers use in gospel churches puts the anatomy in a better place to take advantage of what the voice is capable of.

Part of what high level vocal coaches like us train is how to get the benefit of those vocal approaches without needing to have had those experiences.

On the other hand, we spend a lot of time fixing the vocal problems that come with the ‘modernization’ of the gospel sound; ie, new bad habits added to old good ones that keep a singer from singing their best or that cause pain or damage in the voice.
But everyone that has sung old school gospel should be incredibly talented, right?
Nope. 
Like I just mentioned, you can have good habits and still have bad ones that keep you from your ‘maximum talent quota’.
We all know we have room to grow.  But how do you know how talented you are RIGHT NOW?

The Talent Formula

(ie. how to tell how talented you are)

Why should you care about my talent formula? 
Because it will, once and for all, tell you how talented you are and what to do about it. 
This is the formula I have seen played out in every great singer in every genre from every decade.
 
Here it is:

Interest + Skill = TALENT

 

Think about it.
 

INTEREST

Not everyone from a singing family will have the interest to sing.  I came from a traveling family trio which my shy middle sister couldn’t wait to escape.  Can she sing today?  Yes.  But not nearly as well as she could’ve if she’d had the interest to drive her to building her skill level.
It’s a simple human fact that without an interest to grow our skills, we never really get very good.
 

SKILL

Skill is simply training plus experience.   Even singing families develop skill from training somewhere along the genetic line.  Remember Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five?
Even the ‘natural born singer’ has had their skills built by family members who have gone through skill building, as in the case of Mariah Carey.

If you learn to speak a foreign language as a young child you won’t remember ‘working at it’.  But if you learn it later in life, you certainly will.   That’s why some singers think they were just ‘born with it’.
The truth is that they’ve learned from other family members who’ve passed on some level of training and the benefit of the experience.

The good news is that skill can be gained at any age.  Sure it’s easier if you got it early and don’t remember having to work at it.  But isn’t it more important to know you can get it right now?

So, are you?

Now you have the tools to answer this question for yourself.  So give it a shot.
Are you talented?
If you have the INTEREST to sing well and some level of SKILL then YES, you ARE talented.
 

Then the next question becomes:  Can I become MORE talented?
Absolutely! 
And here is simple,straight-on. ‘how-to’ to DO it:

INCREASED interest + INCREASED level of skill = MORE TALENTED

Interest drives our willingness to learn and develops our drive to find real answers, not just believe advice on face value.
Skill (proven, solid training plus experience) expands what you’re capable of.
The result is always more talent.

 
Comparing ourselves to other singers is unavoidable in a world that already does it for us. 
But regardless of what others say,  if you have interest and skill you should be giving yourself the honest assessment of ‘talented’. 
It’s not an end to the work, but it is a fact of where you already are.
 

What’s Next for Me?

First, put away any nagging real or imagined voices that question your talent.  If the formula rates you as talented, the only thing to decide is if you want to be MORE talented than you are today.

As long as the interest is there, you are only one step away from continuously becoming ‘more talented’. 
And the more your talent grows, the more you’ll be able to enjoy it!

 
If you’ve just discovered that you are, indeed, talented, you can now spend all of that time once used for questioning for enjoying each improvement you see.
Make it your new habit and you’ll become one of the few who really enjoy the joy of singing.
 
What are you doing to become more talented?  Share with us below!

Five Steps to Confidence On Stage – The Voice Club

One of the top concerns shared by singers the world over is how to be more confident on stage.  Maybe it’s the new venue, someone special in the audience or just the fear of the unknown that has you distracted from enjoying performing.
Regardless, there are a few things you can do to minimize stress and nerves and own your show.

1.    Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Rehearsing goes way beyond memorizing words.  Beyond learning to sing in a well trained balanced voice and learning the song itself you should also be rehearsing your song’s arrangement, styling (dynamics, trills, runs, hold notes, etc.), how you’ll move around the stage during the song and the transitions between songs if there are more than one.
Just like songs follow a map or format, your show should have a map so you know where you’re going.
Having a plan for your show doesn’t make it less spontaneous, it makes you a pro.  And the more comfortable you are with the flow of your show, the more confident you will both appear to your audience and be.

2.    Train, Train, Train

You’re already getting vocal training from a qualified instructor. So put it to good use!  Ask your Voice Club instructor every questions you can think of about the songs you’re going to perform.
Start working through your song(s) in your training time as soon as you know you’re going to perform.  Remember, any song you’re going to perform live gets bumped to the top of your training priority list.  But we can’t give you those extra tips if you don’t let us know.
If you find you’re distracted by trying to play an instrument while singing, find qualified training for that. If you don’t have a great instructor already, ask your instructor.  We know musicians who really know their stuff who train great musicians of every level.
Whatever it is that’s diverting your attention away from where it should be, training and experience will help to remove it from the equation.

3.    Stop Stressing on Stage

The time to stress about vocal strain, reaching the high note, if you look dumb taking the mic off the stand, etc., is when you’re not on stage.
Stress is there to drive you to take control and work those things out ahead of time.  But once your foot hits that stage, don’t give any of it another thought.  Audiences may not know much about what you’ve done to get here but they can spot nervous and self-conscious a mile away; and it makes them uncomfortable too. 
Once you hit the stage it’s time to enjoy what happens and give your audience a good time.  Let the chips fall where they may; this is what you trained for.  Trust it.

4.    Don’t Draw Attention to Mistakes

Most of the mistakes on a stage that the audience knows about are the ones you tell them about.  Really. 
Regardless of the type of music you sing, your audience wants to enjoy themselves and they expect to enjoy what you do.
If you forget the words, fill in with another line or make something up.  If you completely blow that vocal trill, pretend you didn’t .  And chance are, they won’t even remember it.
But tell them you’ve messed up, either by saying something or just by the look on your face and both you and your audience will have less faith in you. 
Confidence comes from taking control.  Don’t let your own opinion give you away.


5.    Perform with Authority

If someone let you get on that stage you have been given permission to be in charge.  Understand the responsibility of that and rise to the occasion.
Look people in the eye.  Tell them what to expect by introducing yourself, telling something about yourself and letting them know you’re all going to have a good time.  Take them along for the ride.
YOU are in charge.  If you don’t take the reigns, regardless of your nerves, they know they’re in for trouble.  A world of mistakes and mishaps are forgiven for the artist who knows how to perform with authority.
 
Confidence on stage comes from being prepared and taking charge. 
You’d be surprised how many major artists get horribly nervous at the start of a show.  Nerves are just part of the game many times. 
But when they hit, you’ll know you can fall back on all of the work you’ve done to get there, take the stage and just do your thing.
 
Want to know more about how to sing well on stage? Sign up to our mailing list for news about our upcoming group classes or get in touch with us about private training today!

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