Voice Council Magazine Interview - The Vocal Athlete Speaks Out: Belting And Voice Research
Respect the limitations of your own voice when going big – says Wendy LeBorgne.
Wendy LeBorgne is the co-author of The Vocal Athlete, a vocal coach to elite performers and speech pathologist for injured voices.
Wendy delves into her pioneering research on belt and encourages the new generation to carry on the good work.
Do you see any interesting or worrying trends in commercial singing?
We are doing much more vocal gymnastics. I don’t think it’s better or worse, just make sure you are physically and vocally fit for the “vocal backflips” you are asking your voice to do. On the technological side, we are “vocal airbrushing” sometimes in the studio. What our listeners (both audience and budding singers) are hearing on the radio is not always what is actually happening in the recording studio.
What, exactly, is the danger?
If you listen to music loudly you may try to replicate the volume. Young singers don’t necessarily have the knowledge base to understand you don’t have to scream at 120 decibels in real time, but amplification (when used properly) can aid in increasing vocal intensity without vocal detriment.
What’s the best way to train a voice?
The way we learn is by making mistakes. I give my students permission to make mistakes.
What do you mean by “Mistakes”?
“Mistakes” come in many forms, from voice cracks as the singer learns to navigate registration to completely changing their physical and respiratory patterns which unbalance their typical voice production patterns. That is part of the motor learning process. You learn to walk by falling down a few times. If you’ve had an injury to your voice, the old way may not work the same way. Sometimes you have to take a step back, before moving forward. By approaching the vocal healing process (and learning process) physiologically with an understanding of anatomy and relevant physical exercises, you can understand behavioural patterns and affect change more effectively.
What is Belt?
A style of singing that is characterized by increased vocal intensity, and specific acoustic attributes
How to you define belt from your research?
Belting can be defined as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, the term belting (as I define it) is a style of singing that is characterized by the following: increased vocal intensity, specific acoustic attributes (which vary by genre) including spectral slope (timbre), interaction between the fundamental frequency and the first and second harmonics, the amplitude, frequency, and use of vibrato, and a longer closed phase of the vibratory cycle As a verb, the term belting (as I define it) is the actual act of producing the above acoustic and physiologic vocal output.
Can anyone learn to belt?
Anyone can get better at a given task. However, a Wagnerian opera singer is different than a Puccini opera singer right? It has been my experience that naturally ‘heavy belters’ (those with a darker timbre and a physiologic mechanism that supports it) won’t have the same voice quality (or repertoire) as light pop singers. At least not without a lot of vocal modification. If you take a light voice and train them too produce a heavy sound, regardless of the genre that they sing (classical or commercial), you are going to run into vocal problems down the road. Most people can belt, but finding and maximizing it within the parameters of their own vocal instrument – whatever that is, is imperative for vocal longevity.
What advice do you have for burgeoning voice researchers?
We are 20 years behind the times compared to our counterparts in exercise physiology research on elite athletes. There is so much to be done. In the words of Nike… Just Do It! Find something that is really interesting to you. As much as we all want to strive towards the end game, think about the little pieces of the puzzle first. A lot of research starts as a pilot case study, but we need more people to be able to provide generalized findings. Otherwise, we are simply quantifying the aspect of individual voices. We need to find general patterns of lots of case studies so we can apply our findings to the general population.
Who inspired your research – what names should we know?
We have to look at the past to understand the present to guide us towards the future of singing research… I’m a big vocal pedagogy nerd, so everyone from Manuel Garcia and William Vennard, to voice scientists like Johan Sundberg, Ingo Titze and Jo Estill to my research mentor Joseph Stemple, to the commercial day voice pedagogues, Jeanette Lovetri, Tom Cleveland, Joan Lader and Mary Saunders. Honestly, there are too many influences to list here!
Read Wendy Leborgne’s last article The Vocal Athlete Speaks Out: Myths And Voice Disorders.