The tough thing about the studio I use at school: it sits directly beneath a practice room.

Sometimes it sounds like incidental orchestra warm up.

Sometimes I hear prolonged reed instrument embouchure masochism.

And sometimes singers get in there, and I remember that nobody knows how to practice.

(Sounds like a useful video series. I’d just have to make the title “How to Get Good and Slay Your Foes,” or something like that.)

The other day, though, a diligent person above me at 8 The Fenway decided they was gonna do themselves some high belting.

And they’d decided belting meant making a strong sound with their vocal folds REALLY together all the time.

I understand. That’s a logical thing to think. It’s just that so much of singing is weird and counterintuitive.

I tried to focus on my work, but I just kept hearing this somewhat familiar melody being emphatically forced through this person’s larynx.

My mirror neurons wouldn’t let me notice anything else besides the auditory empathy constricting my throat.

Then there were the vowels.

Oh no, friend, you’re not going to sing that note with that vowel the way you want.

I almost changed into my nobody-asked-me-but-I-must-help Vocal Pathology Avoidance Man superhero costume and bounded upstairs, but I had no time. And that woulda been weird.

Then I realized that somewhat familiar melody was “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile.

I love “The Joke.”

But there was nothing funny about what was happening here. Stop doing this to yourself. And this song.

So, there’s a slew of stuff I could say about the nuanced interworkings of how to make effective Mode 1 (basically chest voice) sounds around and above your passaggio.

But here are three takeaways we can learn while we pray for our friend’s vocal future.

The Voice Comes Through, Not From

The power source for your voice starts in your torso (well, your whole body, really, but, again, another article) — your abs and ribs, depending on what kinda sound you’re making, who you’re being, and what’s happening in the story.

This moves the air THROUGH (yes, yelling at you) your vocal folds and causes them to vibrate.

When folks make belty sounds, the brain somehow decides that the source of the screlt is at the throat level, so the body recruits all kinds of effort around your larynx. No bueno.

The air movement ITSELF helps with vocal fold closure, so when I don’t collaborate with this physical reality, I fight my own body and make things real real hard.

The breath, vibration, and communication energy come THROUGH, not from the folds.

This is also why singing’s so scary and tricky — it’s a flow that you can’t stop and edit before it leaves your mouth.

Belty Sounds Aren’t Just Dependent on Your Folds

Lots of folks think, “Belt? Ok, engage vocal fold slam!”

There are lots of ways to make called-out, excited, risky, wailing, engaged, scream-adjacent sounds. And so much of this depends on your phonatory pattern and the shape of your vocal tract.

And when you discover these ways, you’re gonna be a little angry at how easy they feel.

What we call belting is often one of the most efficient ways to make noise, and it requires a teeny bit of air. Yeah, it’s robust, but the actual feeling of efficient sound making is some crazy return on your breath investment.

Belty sounds also collaborate only with certain vowels.

If you want to look this up, check out Complete Vocal Technique’s work on this, and look up Overdrive and Edge modes. I think their breakdown of this is one of the most straightforward ways of understanding belty sounds. You can also watch a video I did on vowels here.

Your Body Knows How to Belt

The family of sounds we’ve come to call “belting” are all very natural human sounds. That’s why we love it. They’re real, engaging, risky, and the let the emotions through. They’re healing.

So learn to listen to your bod.

And listening to Brandi Carlile is a good lesson in this. She sings straight from her hear guts spirit errythang.

In “The Joke,” the melody of the chorus climbs and climbs — that’s story structure telling you these folks who are laughing one day won’t be.

Just that line, “Let ‘em laugh while they can.”

That “laugh” for 2 beats — what does your body feel when you picture folks pushing somebody down chuckling because they have the upper hand? Do your justice hackles get up? Might that affect how your voice calls our the word “laugh” for 1.5 seconds? Of course it will.

I wrote about the specific how-to right here — how your gut-brain can teach you to sing almost anything.

Super Important Takeaway

And here’s the most important piece of this.

I’ve made the equivalent noises as our friend SHOWING UP and working in the practice room. Good job up there!

I’ve worked really hard and been mystified by how to accomplish a vocal task. I’ve thrown all the spaghetti at all the walls and made the wounded animal noises to prove it. Often in front of folks.

Your voice is resilient. Yes, there’s fragility there, and we have to take care of it.

AND, it’s so strong and capable. Think of all it can do. So trust it. If you feel tired, or anything feels uncomfortable, stop, and don’t do it that way again.

Get help! From someone who knows what they’re talking about. Someone who can demonstrate knowledge about how your physiology, psychology, and soul make sounds.

Mike Ruckles in NYC has great advice on this too:

And be kind to you. You’re going to suck at stuff that’s new. Let’s let ourselves be a beginner for heaven’s sake. Talking to myself, too. Oof.

And if you want to learn to make these noises in straightforward, easy ways that make sense, work, and are fun, just reach out and work with me.

I’ve made all the mistakes, and I hear this stuff every day, and it’s my absolute delight to help you sing free, joyful, and heal stuff in the process.

Singing is sneaky like that.

There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing. Now go sing.

CVT’s Research Site

Epic Performance of “The Joke” at The Grammys.