Have you ever tried to learn a new song and found yourself straining to reach certain pitches, resorting to “shout-singing” or flipping into your head voice? It’s an incredibly frustrating feeling to not be able to seamlessly maneuver through the middle part of your vocal range and sing with the freedom you want—enter the belt mix.
What Exactly is Belt Mix?
To clarify belt mix, we must first talk about belting as an independent vocal technique. Belting is simply the act of singing in chest voice past where the singer’s natural break, or passaggio, occurs and higher into the vocal range. We frequently hear singers belting in contemporary music, from pop and rock to musical theater. While many current professional singers use belting, that doesn’t mean that belting is always the most successful way to sing higher in the range and can actually cause a great deal of damage to the vocal cords if used incorrectly. As a voice teacher, I’ve never taught a student to belt unless belting already came naturally to the student and was produced in a healthy, natural way. I do, however, teach students who wish to sing repertoire that requires belting and have trouble singing fully above their breaks to use belt mix.
Belt mix occurs when the singer negotiates singing in chest voice and head voice simultaneously through the middle of the range (the part of your range above your break), hence the “mix” of the two resonators. The result of using belt mix is a well-supported voice that feels easy and free for the singer and sounds like belting to the listener. The technique specifically alleviates the pressure felt in the throat and neck that occurs when belting while still maintaining a fullness of sound. If done correctly, belt mix will provide accessibility to many of those songs that previously felt too hard, or too high, to sing and will add longevity to the voice, allowing the singer to keep practicing and performing safely for years.
How to Use Belt Mix in Five Steps
It should be emphasized that learning to use belt mix, like any other vocal technique, takes a lot of time and patience and should be done with the help of a teacher. Just remember that you are building the foundation for healthy, sustainable vocal production.
- Take a quick mental body scan—are you holding tension anywhere in the body unnecessarily? Are you locking your knees? Hunching forward? Gripping your jaw? If so, take a few minutes to do some gentle stretching to release tightness and set up a sense of good, natural posture in the body. In order to achieve the best results when you are singing, your body should feel as free and uninhibited as possible.
- Set up your breath—take a few large, slow inhales and exhales (keeping the shoulders and neck relaxed!) to get the breath going. A little trick I like to use when setting up my breath is to imagine the origin of my inhale in the bottoms of my feet, and then I inhale up through my legs, torso, spine, and out the top of my head before exhaling completely. Breaths that start low in the body and helps ground you will make a huge difference in your practice.
- Find your break (or passaggio)—use the following vocal exercise to identify where your break begins. You are specifically looking for the point in which you can no longer sing in your chest voice with ease: beginning on A3 (A below middle C), sing Do-Re-Mi-Re-Do (A-B-C#-B-C). Then, move up the scale by half step (for example, the next round of the exercise would start on B♭) until you’ve reached your break. Once you’ve found the break, flip into head voice (to avoid pushing the voice) and continue up the scale for a few pitches. Maybe try coming back down the scale and observing whether the voice transitions from head to chest in the same place (oftentimes, we can carry the head voice lower in the register when singing descending scales). The key at this point is to feel very clearly when you are in chest voice and when you are in head voice.
- Find your forward placement—the next step is to bring the voice forward. Finding a forward placement in the face (sometimes referred to as “the mask”) achieves a belt mix sound most easily. Here’s a little trick to find forward placement: hum the exercise mentioned in Step 3 from A3 until you reach a few pitches above your break on an “ng” hum (tongue raised, mouth open). You should feel very little transition through the break and more flexibility than when you sang during the previous step. Now try the singing the same exercise once again on an “Ee” vowel (like the word, “knee”), keeping the voice resonating in the same places in the face as when singing the “ng” hum.
- Engage your full breath support—yes, we are coming back to the breath because it’s THAT important for successful results. Start by taking a low, long inhale, imagining that you are filling your entire torso with air (front, back, sides). Then, sing the exercise from Step 3 and Step 4 from A3 through your break one more time on an “Ee” vowel. As you sing each phrase, imagine someone squeezing your sides down near your hipbones (low in the torso) like someone would squeeze a plastic ketchup bottle. Using this engagement in the torso, your voice will have the support it needs to carry it through the break without causing any tightness or feeling of pushing in the throat. The sensation in the body while singing the exercise at this point will feel more similar to singing in head voice than in chest voice—this is exactly what you want to feel. If tightness or pushing occurs, go back down the scale and try again with fully engaged breath.
When you try out these steps to learn how to use belt mix during your next practice session, please remember that you are learning to coordinate and use your voice in a completely new way. It’s not easy, but your singing will feel so much more effortless and flexible once you can sing with belt mix. Record yourself every now and then to track progress and adjust your practice as needed. With some patience and diligence, you will be singing more freely and fully than you ever imagined in no time!