Broadway and kids….

The singing world is in a revolution. Frankly, the entire world is in a revolution….but definitely so is the “art” and function of singing.

What I want to discuss is the child’s voice on Broadway. Think about it. You usually hear one of two things:
1) The child sings in his/her lower register (chest voice) and has to yell and strain to reach notes above his/her first bridge (around A, B flat, and higher).
2) The child sings in his/her high register (head voice) and has very little power in his/her sound….especially in the lower register.

What’s missing? The MIDDLE voice….the “mixed” voice!

Some teachers get it right, and students are able to ascend nicely through their bridge with a powerful “mixed” sound. Other students learn it on their own! They are simply aware of the sound they want, and how to do it without strain and constriction (shouting). These are naturally talented kids, and quite often it’s not the teacher who taught them how to do this!

The typical traditional voice lesson strengthens the head voice in a way that does not match the chest voice. This can give the singer a beautiful, technically correct sound in their high register, but does not teach them how to connect with the power and strength of their chest voice. This approach is perfect for singers who want to sing classical music and sing in choirs, but not so great for young singers who want to sing on Broadway.

If a student wants to learn how to “belt” so they can sing musical theatre, the teacher usually does one of two things:
1) tells them that belting will damage their voice and should not be done, or
2) trains their chest voice register alone without knowing how to negotiate the bridge into the head voice. This creates a “shouty” loud voice at the top of their chest register, and quite often sounds strained, constricted, and even hurts!

Does any of this ring true for your child? If so, please leave a comment. I would love to hear about your experience. Susie

Learning how to “belt” sing

There is much debate over what is “belting” in pop music and Broadway, let alone how to actually do it. I am a self-taught belter, and in fact never had any singing lessons until I was in my late 20’s, at which time I had already been singing with a band professionally for a number of years.

If you are classically trained, then belting may not be easy. You may need to undo some of the things you have been taught. If you have no training, then hopefully I can take away some of the mystery as to why you don’t sound as good as your favourite “belter”.

I would describe belting as singing above your first bridge (break, passagio) with thinning cords that are slightly stiffened with very little breath passing through, and a stable, tilted larynx to provide adequate twang. This gives the illusion of a strong chest voice `in the mix“. The belt I’m describing is the sound of Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson, Freddie Mercury or Adam Lambert. You know, the “big note” sounds in popular music. This is not the musical theatre belt sound.

The bridge is the area in your voice that differentiates your chest register from your head register. For women this is around A flat (above middle C) to B flat or even B, and for men it is around E flat above middle C to F or even G flat.

These are important areas of the voice. These are also very difficult areas of the voice for most singers. The way a singer handles this area will determine if (s)he can learn to belt safely or not. A singer must be able to maintain cord closure while ascending from the chest register into the head register. In order to main closure, the larynx must tilt and allow the cords to stretch and thin. This is called your mixed voice.  Belting requires extreme control of your mixed voice.

As you ascend in pitch keep that connection but allow the transition to mixed voicing. You will almost start to sound like a cartoon character. (This is the ability to add a cry to your voice to keep the cords thinning and touching on the edges). You do not carry the `heaviness`of the low notes with you as you ascend through the first bridge. You do not need to get louder. It may sound like your favourite singer is singing `heavy“ as (s)he goes higher, but in fact, belters are naturally zipping up their vocal cords as they ascend in pitch. It`s the ability to sing with very little air  that makes these belters sound so good to our ears. It may appear they are “loud” but they are actually not singing any louder than their medium speaking voice.

If you are untrained, and you find you are shouting and cannot decrease or increase the volume of a note above your first bridge, then you are not in a controllable good mix. This can mean a number of things, but in my experience it is commonly a problem with lack of ability to thin out  the vocal cords, while tilting the larynx. If you are a trained singer, and you are shouting as you go over your first bridge and cannot control the volume, then your larynx is possibly not tilting enough to get the cords to stretch and thin. There is a good chance you are sending too much air through the cords to try and get the sound you want.

Belting is not something you should learn on your own without a proper specialized teacher. However, hopefully I have shed some light on some possible habits or obstacles that might be in the way to accomplishing this difficult sound.