High, intense belting requires finely-tuned resonance, otherwise, the results can be disastrous.

In this episode, John discusses the concept of BELTinese – the language adjustments necessary to sing thrilling high notes with balance and ease.

Episode Transcript

Episode 125 – Singing in BELTinese

Hey there, this is John Henny welcome back to another edition of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. Alright today, boy this has just been an absolutely crazy week for me, but very, very productive. I’ve incorporated all of, well not all but gone through all of the feedback on my book. I’ve incorporated a good chunk of it, especially the errors, the little typos that have snuck through little problems with my English. When I was a kid, I’m going to hear a rambling story. I’ll make it really short. But when I was a kid I remember it was first or second grade and I got sent out of the classroom to the office and I’m thinking, what’s going on and they took me in a room and there was a man there and he made me do these things. 

Like he tied the string in a certain knot. Then I had to tie it in that knot and then he gave me other little tasks to do and then I went back to my class and next thing I know I was taken out of my classroom and put in another classroom with a bunch of kids of different grades. They combined grades and I guess at the time, back in the 70’s, I had tested as gifted. Unfortunately at the time they decided that creativity was far superior than the actual mechanics of writing. So I was encouraged just to be creative, but nobody ever stopped me to say, Hey John you need a comma there or that word should be capitalized or you shouldn’t end your sentence with a preposition and splitting Infinitives I still don’t even know what that is but that was not my initial schooling. 

So I, my English when I write, I do need people to come in and correct things. Although I am proud to say that I know the different versions of there, there and there, so I don’t confuse those. All right, and I just finished another recording session for my upcoming belt course. I’m calling boldly belting and these little songs are coming out so well I’ve got 14 of them. And what they do is I’ve created the melody and the language, the vowel sounds, even the consonants to best help singers get into a belt. I have songs specifically that will get you into your chest voice songs that will then help you find your upper head register and then songs that will get you into the middle. And then songs that start opening up the belt and the intensity and the idea is not being stuck in exercises where you’re emotionally and somewhat intellectually divorced from the sound exercises are great. 

I use them all the time. They are very helpful in getting you into the right place. But then when you go to do songs, they’re not connected to language or at least the lag time. It takes a while to get the exercises into language. So I’ve been trying to fill that gap thereby creating songs that function as exercises that use the vowel and consonant combinations in a way that encourages vocal balance and registration. But you’re still singing a song and I’ve got some really cool backing tracks so you can be musical with it. You can be emotional with it, but you can also be technical. I’m really excited to get this out. I’m pushing to have this released by the end of October, the end of this month. It may be the beginning of November, but I’m doing everything I can to fight against that. 

So I’ve just been going like crazy breakneck speed. I also just got off a webinar that I did for my contemporary voice teacher Academy members. I do exclusive webinars every month and this one was a how to publish your own book. And I walk them step by step through the system I use that enabled me to get a bestseller in multiple categories on Amazon. And, you can do it. It’s actually doable. So I do these live training’s every month. If you’re interested in learning to be a voice teacher or strengthen your contemporary voice teaching skills, just go to my website, johnhenny.com and click on teacher training up in the top and then you get to be in on these webinars as well. And all the webinars are recorded and can be accessed at any time even if you don’t make it live. 

Anyway, today in honor of my upcoming belt course I coined a little phrase yesterday and this was inspired by my friend Lucy Phillips, who’s a very gifted voice teacher in the UK and she said to me, you know, you have to learn Sing-glish and in other words, you need to adapt language to singing. And I always loved that and I always wish I had come up with that cause I have to credit her every time I say it. Which is completely annoying. I’d love to credit myself, but I can’t. She came up with that. I love it. So I came up with, as I’m doing this belt course, I realized you need to learn BELTinese and it is a very specific way of pronouncing sounds, words, vowels in order to get the desired effect that you want and when you are belting. 

And there are a few different types of belt and I talk about that in the course, but the one that’s kind of the gold standard, if you really listen, are our belts like Whitney Houston just these just full throated deep, thrilling belts. They’re not thin or shrill or just kind of this reinforced head voice type of sound. I mean, it is a true belt. Even though not as aggressive, Barbara Streisand just has a beautiful belt. It just has a richness to it. and that to me is kind of the gold standard of belting. That’s what it is that I go for. Now, that type of belting, the danger is you can begin to cross over into shouting and if a vowel gets too open what it will do it will kick in impulses in the nervous system and the vocal cords will begin to seize up and you’ll begin to slam them together and you’ll just start to lose control. 

And we’ve all felt that you go for a note and it just loads up and you feel like you can’t get out of it. All of a sudden a hundred pound monkey is jumped on your back or monkeys a hundred pounds, maybe a chimpanzee anyway, something’s jumped on your back that’s really heavy and you can’t get it off. And that weight, you start sinking like a stone and very often it’s when you’ve gotten into that shout condition and I’ve talked on this podcast a lot about mix. I recently presented at the international voice teachers of mixed conference. A fantastic group of people and mixed to me is that that zone between head voice, whooo and shouting, hey and all the steps in between there that beautiful landscape is all different shades of mix and for belting, I think of it as a belt mix. 

I think mix has gotten a definition following it now that it’s just kind of this lighter style of singing and mix can be incredibly intense and it can walk right up to the edge of shouting. It just doesn’t cross over into shouting. Now having said that, you can do a full shout belt, but that’s really difficult to do and you really got to watch that you don’t let the muscle over engaged and you really gonna have to train the nervous system. I’ve even seen singers that do it well, men it’s a high wire act and they’ll do it well sometimes and then they fall off other times it’s a very dangerous place to sing, but I’m not telling you can’t sing that way and I singers I really like will actually sing all kinds of ways. They will go into a lighter belt, then they’ll go into a really super strong mixed belt and then they’ll even step into the shout, but they’ll quickly get out of it. 

They’re in control of it but to have this really good mixed belt, your larynx will tend to need to at least be neutral, not necessarily too low because if the larynx is too low, you’re going to have other issues. Primarily you’re going to lose acoustic energy. It’s your, the interaction of the sound wave and your resonating tube. And the resonating tube is basically from your vocal folds. And if you feel that bump right there in the front of your neck, goes up and down. When you swallow, you can feel your thyroid cartilage there. The vocal folds are kind of sitting at the bottom of that. And if you talk and press your fingers there, you really feel it vibrate and you can move this structure up and you can move it down. And as I move it up, as I’ve said in very scientific terms, I go between two conditions. I go between Spongebob and Patrick. Hey Spongebob or high larynx, low larynx. And the larynx really wants to be in between those extremes. Unless you’re going for something for effect. However, if it’s, let’s say, not high it is harder for the vocal folds to over muscle and you can feel this yourself if you make like a really dopey sound “ooohh”, and then try and really squeeze your core, like your “huuh” trying to bear down on something “huuh”. 

It’s quite hard to do. You really can’t do it. If you’re going to lift something heavy and you’re straining “hmmp”, I promise you, you’re layering cause is coming up. So having being in that slightly deeper condition stops that over muscling. And if you are someone who tends to over muscle, it can be really beneficial to work a low larynx position for a little while. Even those dopey sounds to override that habit and that squeeze. Now ultimately, if you’re in an overload larynx, you’re not going to be able to get enough power and intensity for belting. But this BELTinese, it’s essentially your, your tuning your resonators for the maximum impact intensity, but also ease of production for the note and for the vowel. Now, the great thing about vowels is that vowels exist on a spectrum. There’s not just one shade of, Oh. 

I can say no, no, no, now, no, now and they’re all being heard and registered, perceived as the word no and then accents, people have different accents so they can, there’s a whole spectrum. Even if somebody in the country you live in or that someone that speaks the same language as you, even though they may have a pretty funny dialect, you can still understand them. Unless of course they’re Scottish, particularly from Glasgow, then you’re not going to be able to understand a word. I do better than most cause I grew up with parents born and raised in Glasgow, but Oh my gosh, I’ve had friends and relatives come over from Glasgow and I’ve just been completely confused. A particular favorite one upon meeting someone he said, “we jah” What? “we jah” Huh? What age are you? “we jah” 

Yeah or when they want something This a do dada Huh? Yeah. So that’s a whole different thing. But you can have all these variations of a valid sound and you still hear the vowel. So vowels are on a spectrum. And then vowels also are pitch and frequency just as we have frequencies of light. And you have red, which is the slowest Light Wave form. And I think it’s a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. And violet is the fastest. So red is the slowest. Violet is the fastest within what we can see within the light spectrum and above. I believe below red is infrared above. What we can see in violet is ultraviolet. So in bowel perception and hearing. Ooh, the equivalent of red ooh is the slowest, lowest energy. 

Eee is violet. Eee is the highest energy. And that’s why those extremes of, Ooh, and Eee they’re harder to belt and we need to pull them a little bit more towards green. Green sits in the middle. And the green vowels if you will are uuh and ooh and what uuh does is it gives you a nice stable larynx. The, hah ah, and it will very often have somebody that’s struggling with a note to just first take in a deep breath, fill the back of their tongue drop and give me ah and that is going to stabilize the larynx. That’s going to offset the tendency for our throat to wanna reach up for the note and start squeezing. And then over that ahh we’d take our jar lips in our tongue and we adjust them to create the vowel perception that we want. 

Now when you are singing higher, it’s not the same adjustment as down in speech or down in low notes. It’s a more subtle adjustment and the resonators have acoustic conditions they need to meet that we don’t have in speech. So essentially we need to create a bit of a megaphone in a way. And belting is a bit of a megaphone condition. In classical music you have the ideal for female songs, a very open throat and then a more narrow mouth. Whoow. And that creates that nice rich sound. It pulls off the high frequencies. It’s warm, it’s flute-like, it’s beautiful, it spins, it goes very high. Belt is the opposite belt. The throat is a little more little more little more closed. Their quad is a, you know huh huh but not over closed. And then the mouth resonators are a bit more open. 

It’s a bit more like a megaphone, but if you go too far, you go into that shop. So we want to get aah in the throat and then for belting a higher note, I’ll have the student think a little more ahh in the mouth and dropping the jaw. We want to drop the jaw as well. I did a whole podcast on that, but with the jaw drop does, and you can feel it if you put your fingers on the corners of your mouth and drop your jaw it, they pull back. And what that’s doing is it’s shortening the resonating tube, which then boosts higher frequencies. It makes a brighter sound. And as in classical female singing, we want those high frequencies removed cause they’re too harsh. We want those high frequencies in the belt. It’s all about those high frequencies in the bite, in the voice and the intensity. 

And that also that intensity feeds back to the vocal folds and it helps them resist the air better. It’s just a whole magic thing that happens. But we’re going to get the ahh in the throat, the ahh in the mouth, drop the jaw, and then we’re going to adjust the lips and the tongue to get the vowel perception. So for an E vowel it’s going to be a bit more ahh ahh now I don’t want to move up my tongue all the way to E because you can feel that. Say that for me. E feel your tongue is, it comes all the way forward and up in the size of your teeth. A tongue is touching the, your top teeth. And what that does is it makes the mouth resonator really small because the back of the tongue has moved forward and you’ve got this big muscle blocking everything and it can work well on low notes, but on higher notes it’s going to acoustically get in the way. You hear people’s struggle belting E so he becomes a little more eh ah and you can experiment with the tongue, just barely moving it aah eeh aah eeh. 

And you don’t need to move that much until we get the perception of E. it’s not the shape of E, it’s what the audience is perceiving. Now, the other one is the vowel that doesn’t have a lot of energy. Ooh. And you can hear as I round my lips on a vocal fry, listen to all the upper frequencies disappear. I’m just pulsing on my vocal chords aaah. So there’s no change. But listen, aaah ooooh sounds like the pitch drops. It’s not dropping. What it’s’ doing is just dialing out all the upper frequencies. So when you try and belt on a spoken, Ooh, you just get this choke muffled sound. So ooh has to be more, ah, ah, ooh, I know. You just need enough, ooh, to create the perception. If I’m trying to sing, aaah aaah it’s just going to squeeze. But if I get the ah ah aah I get a better ooh, I get more belt in that ooh, but you can still perceive, ooh. I only need to round the lips enough to create the perception of the vowel. Now going back to this idea of BELTinese, if you take the lyrics of a song that you need to belt you, what you want do is think of taking everything towards an ah what’s a big belt song everybody likes “The Chandelier” The SIA song. I want to swing from the chandelier, I think is the other words. So in BELTinese get the ahh a little bit ahh in the mouth aah. And then you just move the articulators enough III wanna swing from the Chandelier. 

Now I know I sometimes call this zombie level singing. It’s a little bit of ohh, but that feeling of I wanna swing from the chandelier. Now I’m not going, I want..I don’t want to give it that big w because that, ooh, if I’m up on that high note, Iiii wanna ooh I choke it off. I just need, Iiii wanna just a little waah little quick up on those high notes. All of these different vowels and consonants are going to knock us out of acoustic balance. So we, we have to just draw ourselves, keep pulling everything to the green, pull the red in the violet to the green. And ooh I wanna swing from the chandelier I know it sounds ridiculous. I don’t even know how I would do a transcript of this podcast. I can just see the poor transcription person going, what do I do with that. So we’ll have to figure that out. Although I do intend on having on going back to getting transcriptions of all these podcasts. But that very, very quickly is an approach to that very, very intense belt so that you can still give the language. But holding on to the acoustic requirements for the note, which is very different from the lower notes. 

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com and be sure to get on my mailing list. Why would you want to be on my melee list I think it’s better than a mailing list and my email list is because I’ll tell you I send out every time I have a new podcast, you’ll be alerted, although it’s great for you to subscribe as well. But also when I have a new product come out I give, you, you would be the first to know. I give special discounts only to my list. The people who got to test, read my book and read my book before anyone else were all from my list. So there are special things I do for my list members. I do like to show them my appreciation. If you want to check out my courses, go to my website, johnhenny.com

Just click on courses at the top. I have a free, absolutely free course on straw warm-ups. If you’re not using a straw to warm-up, you need to because it is all the rage. I just came back from that voice teacher conference and everybody’s walking around with straws. So you need to get on that and I give you a bunch of warm ups. It’s a free course. All you need to do is give your email address. If you don’t want to be on my email list, you don’t have to opt in, you’ll still get the course. But,, feel free to jump on that. And I’ve got a mini belt course that’s like the precursor to this full belt course available. It’s only $17. It’s called the secrets of belting. You can check that out as well. And until next time to sing better singing. Thank you so much. Bye. Bye.