No doubt, one of the best female country belters is Carrie Underwood.
Take note of Carrie’s first line here at the chorus of How Great Thou Art…starting at 2:26. Notice the head tilt back in conjunction with the ascending notes…..“Then sings my soul”, and then the head comes back down when descending on the notes “my Savior”; back up for “God”, and back down “to Thee”. Carrie is well-known for this head technique. When she is “in belt mode” she raises her chin which activates the cricoid cartilage in the larynx.
So what is going on? Is Carrie actually just shouting? Well, yes, she is actually shout-singing in a controlled manner (in this case a C above middle C). She appears loud (and sounds like she is solely in her chest register). This is an illusion. Carrie sounds like she is pulling chest, but she is definitely mixing. You can bet that she could sing like this in your living room without a microphone and control the volume well enough to not bother your ears. It appears loud, but it really isn’t “too” loud.
According to Estill Voice Technique, cricoid tilt increases loudness with less breath.
Let’s talk about Carrie’s breathing.
Carrie is a great breather. This is a hidden technique that you can’t see, you can only feel, and/or experience.
If you watch and listen to Carrie breathe throughout the entire song you will notice there are NO big gasps of breath intake. Notice they are very quick sips of air through the mouth. Almost like she is simply just “topping up” at the beginning of each phrase. Yes, it’s a little noisy (which can be considered poor technique). Also, notice you never see Carrie’s shoulders or upper chest rise. Carrie has great breath control and everything down yonder is working with maximum efficiency. Check out her ending to this song starting at 4:36. This is superb breath control.
At 4:36 and 4:49 the word “great” is on a high E flat. This is approximately the 2nd passagio of the female voice and a very challenging area for pop, rock and country singers. The voice ideally should be allowed to transition to pure head register here, but that would definitely not be in keeping with the style of the rest of this song.
Carrie is a little tight on this E flat, but this is a live performance! I think she handled it remarkably well. The long “a” vowel in the word “great” is a challenging vowel (diphthong) at the best of times. Carrie could have tried to narrow the long “a” vowel a little bit to make this easier for her (such as a short “e” as in “bed”). The audience wouldn’t notice that she is deliberately changing the long “a” vowel. Their ears would still hear the word as they already know it. This narrowing would have allowed the word to resonate easier in the head voice and likely have caused less strain in the sound.
The other great quality Carrie has to her natural voice is “oral twang”. This bright, brassy, piercing sound allows her to sing loud and resonant without using a lot of breath, and without a great deal of effort. You can hear the “twang” in her speaking voice. She doesn’t need to work at it. It is part of her inherent sound quality. Note that twang can be a missing element to achieving volume (resonance) in your head voice. Singers who don’t have a lot of oral twang can sometimes try to alter or “push” the sound to try and make their voice louder. This usually activates muscles that “squeeze” the sound instead of allowing the tone to freely make it’s way from the back of the throat and beyond.
Note that when Carrie is belting, she is not “thinning” her vocal cords as she ascends past her first passagio. She does thin her cords sometimes above her bridge, and you hear this anytime she is singing high pitches that are not shouty. Some of you might refer to this as a falcetto sound. And, that’s OK. It definitely is breathier. (This is part the challenge of belt singers……to be able to use thick or thin folds while singing in the head register without being breathy).
In conclusion, the ability to maintain speech-level thickness to the cords, and allow the larynx to tilt and stretch are essential elements to safe belting. This allows the sound to get out of the back of the throat and resonant throughout the entire register…..hence mixing!!
Questions? Comments? I look forward to hearing from you.