Belt voice, vibrato and the passaggio?


I am a 20-year old male, and I have a bari-tenor voice type with a very deep, very fast vibrato. I enter my belt around a G, and can carry that up to an F above high C seamlessly in a strong “head” voice. My belt voice is very bright and very sharp, which is ideal for singing dramatic numbers with sustained “money” notes higher in the ranger.

1) I enter my belt voice at around a G; however, that particular note (as well as G#) are my hardest notes to achieve. My belt is weakest there because it is so near my passaggio… everything above and below sounds fine. Is there anything you can suggest to help me become more comfortable with those notes?

2) Sometimes I find it very difficult to make vibrato with my belt voice quality. I know that vibrato is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, but I at least have SOME control over it when it is in my normal range. How can I control my vibrato in my belt voice? I assume that it is probably due to that fact that I am used to applying breath-controlled vibrato in my normal range whereas there is very little breath in my belt voice. Still, I haven’t figured out how to achieve vibrato any other way. Help?

3) I have trouble singing quickly-moving or lyric passages that lie in my belt range. Any suggestions?

Gillyanne says:
It is always tricky to give advice about specific vocal questions in written form when I have not heard the singer.

In your introduction you mention entering your belt around high G and then moving up to high F in a strong ‘head’ voice. This is confusing, since belt voice and ‘head’ voice (made with thinner vocal folds) are not the same thing. My responses are made in this context.

1) Yes, as a high baritone G is likely to be your pivot note into falsetto, or belt, depending on the effect you want to make performance. I suggest raising your larynx as part of the approach for your belt note. Work out the route pitch-wise and raise the larynx before the belt note, as a preparation. You mention having a ‘deep’ vibrato (I assume you mean wide in terms of pitch fluctuation), which might indicate that you are inclined to low larynx singing. If this is the case, conscious raising of the larynx as you approach your belt note will be important for you.

2) Yes, there is a longer closed phase for each vibratory sequence of the vocal folds in Belt, so less air is allowed through. I have found that the ‘Howl Belting’, which I describe in Singing and the Actor is useful for adding vibrato to belt. Think ‘loud energised moaning’ with a high larynx, plus all of the usual support that belting requires. I suggest that, here, vibrato comes from the larynx being in a slightly different position than in classic belting, rather than being a breath vibrato.

3a) Do you mean that you have trouble singing fast moving passages in your belt voice? Belting is usually reserved for money notes, and a string of them doesn’t increase their worth! You may need to change the vocal set you are using so that the vocal folds can manoeuvre more easily, yet still give the impression of ‘going full-out’. This is the difference between perceived effort (high) and actual effort (lower).

If you want to sing fast-moving passages in your belt range (as opposed to your belt sound) do the following:
Check out what type of consonants you are having to sing: fricatives and stops present special challenges for belters because the breath use is changing. This can either increase back pressure on the vocal folds or cause too much air to pass through them in moving from the consonant to the vowel, Take each problem note out of context, sing it on a vowel first (any vowel), then the target vowel of the text, then add the first consonant and notice what changes. We show you how to tackle some of these problems in the Belting Explained double DVD.

Jeremy says: Pay particular attention to your jaw. When people ‘lock’ in high-note singing, there is usually tension in the jaw hinge, or a jutting jaw, as the singer makes the effort to hold everything in a ‘good’ place. The consonant exercise described by Gillyanne is excellent for noticing if you are only able to sing these notes with a fixed jaw position. Effort can be maintained in the surrounding scaffolding (back of the neck, roof of the mouth, lats) and in maintaining the height of the larynx, but the articulators need to remain flexible.

3b) Does lyric mean sustained in this context? Again, belting needs only to be used for money notes, so if you need to sustain in the upper range, use a different vocal set, such as a thicker fold twang with higher larynx, or a slightly easier ‘moan’, to reduce the pressure on the vocal folds.

Let us know how you get on.

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