Belt & Twang: the Loud & High Vocal Technique

If you want to hit those high notes with enough volume and do it without damaging your vocal chords, then there’s only one way to do it: belt and twang. While belting gives you the necessary volume, twanging stabilises everything – and is also a helpful technique at a lower volume and pitch.


It is strongly recommended to combine the techniques explained in this blog with the guidance of singing lessons. Even just a couple of lessons is better than nothing and will help stop you from A) getting stuck and B) damaging your vocal cords.

First, a Little Step Back: Compression

Before we get started, it’s worth having a look back at the previous edition of this blog series, where we covered singing with and without compression by tensing and relaxing the vocal cords. When singing with compression, the vocal cords are tense (active mode), and when singing without compression (passive mode), it’s the surrounding muscles that pull the vocal cords together, while the vocal cords themselves remain relaxed. By mastering both techniques you can expand your vocal options. However, both techniques have their own drawbacks. Take a look at the table included below, where you can see that the dynamic range when singing with compression is limited to between 3 and 7 on our imaginary volume knob. If you sing any more softly than 3 with compression, then your voice will start to crack. Try to sing with compression any louder than 7 and you risk damaging your vocal cords. When singing without compression, you gain the full dynamic range – so 0 to 10 – but then you come up against some other limitations. When you sing without compression, you’re singing with the edges of your vocal cords, so you can hit the highest notes, but your voice sounds soft and thin. When using the bel canto technique this is referred to as the head voice or falsetto, while the CVT approach refers to it as ‘neutral’ and the EVTS technique calls it falsetto. If you sing without compression using the full width of your vocal cords then your voice will sound full, but you also sacrifice the highest four or five notes of your range.

Belt & Twang: the Loud & High Vocal Technique

Tilting the Larynx

Using these techniques, it’s not possible to sing higher notes and gain full volume at the same time. The fact is, you can’t sing at full volume while applying compression, simply because it risks damaging your voice. If you want to reach the highest notes in your range and do it at high volume, then you’re going to need to belt it out.

In EVTS, the term ‘belting’ is used as standard, while the CVT method uses the term ‘edge’. Belting is singing without compression and using the full width of your vocal cords alongside maximum ‘twang’. Twang is an essential part of belting, but what is it and how do you do it? Twanging happens when your larynx, or epiglottis, is tilted backwards. The larynx forms part of the funnel that sits above the vocal cords and, by tilting it back, the vocal tract starts to act like a mini megaphone. At the same time, the frequency range lying between 4,000 and 5,000 Hertz is amplified – so the higher pitch range. So, by belting, you’re able to reach the highest notes in your range while singing them at the highest volume. The beauty is that belting isn’t bad for your voice. Once you get good at belting, then you’ll be able to do it with minimum effort. The trick is to learn to belt without compression, because that’s when avoid the risk of damaging your voice.

Some Examples

An obvious example of belting is a crying baby. Even with a tiny little body and relatively little effort, babies are able to produce a whole lot of noise and keep it up for a really long time. Kids that make the noise of the little cars they’re playing with are also belting, but they’re also twanging – so tilting the larynx back. If you’ve ever donned a pointy hat for Halloween and emitted the appropriate cackle, then you’ve also been twanging, since you can easily twang without having to belt. Some people speak with a natural twang. The speaking voice of American actor, Fran Drescher from the comedy series The Nanny is a prime example of twang. The American accent in general, especially in the southern states, uses a lot of twang. Even Bert from the famous odd couple Bert & Ernie who feature on Sesame Street speak with both compression and twang – but we’re getting a little off point here. Basically, these are all examples of belting and twanging in non-singing situations. A lot of vocalists add twang when they need to reach higher notes. Aretha Franklin did exactly that earlier in her career, but there are other famous vocalists who use it all the time: Tina Turner, Anastacia, Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses, and Joey Tempest from Europe.

Belten en twangen- Techniek voor hoog en hard zingen

The Historical Perspective

It’s also interesting to look at belting and twanging from a historical perspective. In the first edition of this blog series, we took a quick look at the history of vocal techniques in general, starting with bel canto: a singing technique first developed during the Renaissance and one which still encapsulates the classical ideal. When performing bel canto, the larynx is always held as low as possible, which has the downside of making every word you voice sound the same, so no one understands what you’re singing. In classical music, less stress is placed on intelligibility, so bel canto is a standard technique. In the meantime, various musical movements emerged in which intelligibility is really important, like traditional gospel music, where a solo singer is supported by a full choir. Since gospel choirs weren’t even amplified with microphones at first, the solo singer really had to raise their voice above the choir to be heard. Then there was the emergence of musicals during the twentieth century, which threw up a very similar dilemma and then, of course, there’s the pop music of today, in which being able to clearly understand the lyrics is essential. But, returning to the gospel choir: the choir member selected for solos would always be the singer that you could clearly hear above the rest and who did something different from the rest. The power and openness of these voices didn’t come from bel canto, but ‘belting’.

The Megaphone Effect

How does belting work exactly? As we’ve already mentioned, belting is singing without compression using the full width of your vocal chords and with maximum twang. Because you’re singing without compression, you can turn the volume all the way up to ten and because your vocal chords are resonating across their full width, your voice sounds big and full. Normally, singing with the full width of your vocal chords sacrifices the highest four or five notes of your pitch range. But you compensate for that loss by twanging – or tilting your larynx back. What exactly happens when you twang? The trick of twanging is that it creates a sort of megaphone or trumpet effect. While an ordinary flat speaker simply releases sound into a space, sound pushed out through the horn of a trumpet first bounces back and forth against the walls of the horn. While this is happening, the soundwaves match the natural frequencies of the horn, causing it to resonate. This resonance strengthens the frequency range where the natural frequencies of the horn lie and, the smaller the horn, the higher the pitch of the strengthened frequencies. The bigger the horn (let’s go as big as the horn of a ship), the lower the pitch of the strengthened frequencies. When you’re yelling through a megaphone, the frequency range that lies between 4,000 and 5,000 Hertz is strengthened, which is exactly the frequency range of the human speaking voice, and is why people are able to hear you so clearly – even in a really noisy environment. Interestingly, our ears are actually extra sensitive to exactly this frequency range. Old gramophone record players use exactly the same principle to amplify sound.

Conditioned Hearing

When twanging, exactly the same thing happens as described above. By folding your larynx back, your throat is flattened and by tightening the muscles, the walls harden. This way, the vocal channel works much like the horn of a trumpet where the natural frequency of the vocal channel is strengthened and amplified, but at the expense of other lower frequencies. Twanging sharpens the sound, much like turning up the presence knob of a guitar amplifier.

The ‘own frequency’ of the vocal channel lies within the same 4,000 and 5,000 frequency range mentioned earlier – just like a megaphone. This is the frequency range that our hearing has been conditioned to hear in order to understand what other people are saying. The best way to illustrate how well tuned human hearing is to the human speaking voice is to listen to a fade-out. As the volume of the recording slowly reduces and the sound fades away, it’s the vocal that remains audible for the longest. Your brain focuses on the voice and filters out as much of the other sounds as possible. This is why the volume of the vocals usually drops away more sharply than the rest of the sound. Another quirk of human hearing is its ability to fill in any missing lower notes. If we’re listening to a busy mix including vocals with a lot of twang, then our hearing naturally fills in the missing lower frequencies of the voice. However, to the singer, the twang can sound ugly, so it’s always a good idea to record yourself and listen back, then you’ll be able to hear what your voice actually sounds like to the listener.

Smooth Adjustments

You can also twang and belt when not singing so loudly or high pitched and use it to colour the sound of your voice or enhance certain accents. The amount of twang can be adjusted smoothly so you can do things like apply a medium to low level of twang to the lower note range and add a lot of twang to the higher note range. Aretha Franklin does exactly this in the number, ‘I Never Loved a Man’. If you want to sing with power, then it’s best to sing without compression using the whole width of your vocal cords and add more twang as the notes get higher.

Can you also combine this method with compression? Definitely, but as I’ve already said, singing with compression always pushes the volume limit down to around 7. Anything above that could damage your voice. If you start singing with compression and then switch it off, the volume of your voice will automatically increase. A good example of twang with compression is in the vocals on ‘A Real Mother for Ya’ by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson.

Twanging with compression does come with a certain advantage, since it makes it easier to rise in pitch because twanging activates your breath support more. If you do apply twang to your voice when you’re not trying to raise the volume or the pitch, then make sure to dose it and keep it tasteful. If you’re constantly twanging then it could actually offend your listener. You can quickly switch the twang on and off to accent a specific note and use twang to apply some rhythmic accents, giving your vocal style a really soulful feel.

Belting and twanging won’t fit every genre of music. In pop, gospel and soul, for example, it’s an outstanding fit, but belting and twanging is used far less in blues and is barely used in country music. However, it does pop up a lot in specific forms of folk music. A beautiful example is in the unbelievable sound of the all-female Bulgarian choir Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, which is definitely worth a look on YouTube. What this choir is able to do is nothing short of amazing, and serves to illustrate something we already touched on above: the human ear naturally fills in any missing lower pitched notes, so while the choir members tend to stick to the higher note range, together, the sound is still full and balanced.

Also, you can twang without belting but also without compression by only singing with the edges of your vocal cords rather than the entire width. This actually results in a very typical vocal sound that has been used by an array of artists, including the Bee Gees, who used what’s referred to as ‘psuedo-belting’. You can hear this loud and clear on classics like ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and ‘Night Fever’.

Vocal Formant

Twang is also used as part of bel canto, but in this context, is referred to as resonance. This is where the vocalist literally resonates both the vocal tract and their head to retrieve certain frequencies. This resonance can actually be felt in the forehead of the singer, because what you’re actually doing by twanging or resonating is amplifying the overtones of your voice, making them more prominent. When you sing a specific note, your voice is made up of a root note or tonic and a number of overtones. In bel canto, the overtones of the twang are called the vocal formants. These overtones or formants always lie within the same pitch-range, no matter the note you’re singing. When you sing in a higher pitch, you change the formant. If this didn’t happen, then you’d gain a really strange sonic effect.

These days, there’s plenty of software and equipment you can use to easily tweak and change the pitch of a recording. If you shift the pitch of a male vocal by just a couple of notes, it quickly starts to sound like one of the chipmunks, simply because all of the frequencies within the voice are uniformly raised, resulting in an unnatural effect. Each vowel has its own formant and within the formant, the frequency is arranged differently for each vowel. The lower frequencies are really strong in the formants of the vowel ‘a’, while the higher frequencies are stronger in the formants of the vowel ‘e’. This is why it’s actually harder to sing ‘a’ sounds in a higher pitch, because the tonic lies above the formant, as it were, so that, when singing a high pitched ‘a’ sound, it quickly becomes an ‘e’ sound.

All of this brushes up against the subject of the next edition of this blog series, which will focus on the influence of vowels on vocals. It’s an essential subject, because, if you’re continuously coming up against problems while singing, it’s likely to have something to do with your vowels – so it’s also where the solution lies.

Good to Know

Over 100 Decibels

When belting, you’re able to reach a volume level of over 100 decibels. Normally, if the sound were coming from elsewhere it would damage your hearing. But when belting, this doesn’t have to be the case as long as you keep your Eustachian tubes open (these tubes connect your middle ear to the back of your throat), which happens naturally every time you swallow or yawn. By keeping these tubes open, the external pressure on your eardrum is equal to the internal pressure so your eardrum isn’t pressed in.

Vowels Sound Different

It’s also good to know that, when belting, all vowels sound like an ‘i’, ‘ee’, ‘a’ or ‘oo’ sound. So, when belting, you can’t actually sing a genuine ‘ee’ or ‘oo’ sound. You need to just accept this, because if you force the sound, your voice will eventually crack. Belting definitely results in more intelligible vocals, but there is also something special happening, where the ear of the listener is automatically correcting and filling in the gaps, even though the vowels are warped.

See also…

» Singing With and Without Compression
» Auto-Tune, Melodyne… Is Using Pitch-Correction Cheating?
» How to Record a Full Choir
» Mixing Flawless Vocals in 5 Steps
» Recording and amplifying vocals for beginners

» Microphones & Accessories
» Vocal Books
» Vocal Effects
» Speakers

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