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Healthy Belting for gospel singing?

Friends -

Bethany McKee-Alexander wrote: "I am a high school chorus ... teach the
gospel choir. ...trouble getting my females to sing above middle
...They all want to sing (scream) in their chest voice. these
students sing the music they love without destroying their voices?
...suggestions on music selections and how to go about finding choral

This is a very interesting topic and I would imagine many school and
church choral directors run into this issue. I *love* Gospel, and enjoy
teaching the style to non-Gospel choirs - but it's a challenge!

The issues center on vocal technique and conditioning, culture and
experience, and ways to work around a "hard" gospel style while
capturing its essence.

Technique/Conditioning -

voice teachers don't all agree, but more and more are teaching "healthy
belting". They advocate a way of accomplishing a strong middle mixed
voice (like the shouty Gospel sound) without the strain of using muscles
extrinsic to making sound. Personally I am concerned about teaching this
to high school students unless there is lots of balanced vocalizing that
explores the head voice. It's finely tuned balance to engage that much
power in the middle and kids rarely can achieve it healthily. But, if
you want to explore it, look at the pedagogy of Seth Riggs, Jo Estill,
Robert Edwin, Lara Browning-Henderson & The VoiceCare Network's
materials. (I'm sure there are more!)

If you could get a winsome specialist to some in a do some
demonstration, and teach the kids basics of what's happening in their
voices they might begin to share your interest in keeping their voices

But beware - as I said, it requires careful coordination to do this
sound healthily, and a kind of athletic condition of the voice. Kids
will have heard countless pop/rock singers use some version of this
style. Some do it healthily, others don't. (Listen to Whitney Houston
try to speak these days.)

There are two factors ... the ones who do it unhealthily will have short
careers. Other last much longer, but only if they learn to pace
themselves, and if they are in condition (from regular, aware, healthy

Culture and Experience -

But what about all those people who can sing Gospel who have no idea how
they're doing it? If someone grows up doing it, chances are if they've
risen to the top so that we've heard of them they have intuitively found
ways to sing this style without strain and without the extrinsic
muscles. And they're in good vocal condition. Watch some Gospel/pop
singers - you'll see some who are bundles of tension and struggle, but
many who sing from a calmly energized state. It's amazing to see.

We know that Gospel comes from black culture - that's ok to say, right?
There are some amazing examples out there of black artists to can sing
Gospel amazingly well but come at it with magnificent classical
technique. They're not as famous as Beyonce, etc. But listen to the
Three Mo' Tenors - amazing. See if you can find Charsie Sawyer of Calvin
College (operatic coloratura who sings incredible gospel), or Alfreda
Burke of Wheaton College. Same story.

Working around the style -

It's very hard to do this when you have a Gospel choir, per se. Kids
*might* find it to be less than authentic - they might not. If you have
just a "choir" they're singing literature that builds the upper voice,
then you can teach a little healthy belting and find Gospel that has a
good range for their training.
Try some things - find recordings of good choirs that are not true
Gospel Choirs, but pull off a great Gospel song now & then. The Saint
Olaf Choir does this a lot. (some might be of the opinion that it's not
a true Gospel sound - but it's very exciting as Gospel should be) Find
Larry Bach at North Central University in St. Paul, MN. His kids sing
incredible gospel.

In the "work around" approach, know that you will never get the massive
wall of sound that you get from a huge Gospel mass choir. Kids will
try! Be very careful of competing with loud accompaniment, too.

So what *do* you do?

Emphasize the rhythmic style, and the gesture and shape of Gospel
phrasing. You can get at this without the belting.

Celebrate the incredibly theatrical and experiential nature of some
Gospel music. Learn to really play with the interpretation.

Find a fabulous gospel pianist who can lock in a groove, fast or slow.
They will make you or break you!

Once you develop a shared understanding of the voice, identify in
rehearsal where to use the "belt" and where not to. Sometimes a very
rich a hooty sound works (St. Olaf Choir singing Gospel)

Take voice from a teacher who understands & teaches healthy belting, and
see if it works for you.

Teach somewhat by rote, and model a healthy but exciting Gospel sound.
If that's not your strength, maybe someone can come in and help. (Andre
Thomas is in Florida!)

Find literature that might use a great gospel solo but where the choral
parts sit in a more conventional range.

Off the top of my head repertoire thoughts:

Robert Ray - Gospel Mass, Gospel Magnificat, and anthem "He Never Failed
Me Yet"

Byron Smith - Worthy To Be Praised

Jack Schrader (Hope Publishing) write very accessible arrangements of
some Gospel - "Lord Listen to Your Children Praying", "Soon & Very Soon"
(I'd want to add Crouch's verses back in) & "Order My Steps"

Josephine Poelenitz' "City Called Heaven"

Rollo Dilworth - many GREAT arrangements - specifically, I think for
the young singers

Keith Hampton - also some nice arrangements and compositions.

Whew - sorry to be so lengthy. I love this genre (for a middle-aged
white guy!)

All the best,

Dan Wagner

Director of Worship

Christ Church of Oak Brook

31st Street and York Road

Oak Brook, IL, USA 60523


ofc: 630.321.3916

mobile: 630.890.9292

on August 24, 2004 10:00pm
There really is no way to teach an authentic gospel sound. I grew up singing it without ever being told how. I just knew that I need to sing louder and I did eventually learn that better use of my air made singing easier. Then I joined my school choir and learned proper breathing and vocal use and found that singing gospel the way I'd done it all my life was very difficult. It hurt to belt those F's and G's.

And please remember that if your students want to sing gospel, they are probably singing it every Sunday morning,and are more than likely not being taught about proper production. Which to them is a conflicting message about how to sing. You must encourage them to use proper production, not because it's right or the way to sing, but because you want them to still be singing when they're 80.

Kendall Bridges
Amesse Elementary
Denver, CO.
on March 2, 2008 10:00pm
Mr. Wagner is correct in his assessments. Due to the invigorated interest in the Vocal Pedagogy of styles other than classical, there is a great deal more information available. The interest has spurred numerous scientific studies, many of which have been presented at the annual Symposium of the Voice Foundation in Philadelphia. In referring to these styles, you will hear more and more the non-perjorative term of CCM, or Contemporary Commercial Music, as indicated in the publications of both the Voice Foundation and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

As Mr. Wagner mentioned, there are a number of methodologies out there. I will make a shameless plug here for the work of Jeannette LoVetri, a Singing Voice Specialist with 30 years of teaching experience in Manhattan. Check out her website - Her work is the most science based and practical in application in the voice studio and choir rehearsal, where I use her principals each and every day.

Her students have appeared/are appearing at New York City Opera, Carnegie Hall, numerous Broadway shows, not to mention her work with Meredith Monk, Luciana Souza, and as the Singing Voice Specialist for the Grammy-Winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus. That is a huge range of styles, and I haven't even begun to cover the range of people she teaches.

Now for the plug - I warned you!

We will be hosting Ms. LoVetri teaching a Level I Certification course of Somatic Voicework(tm)- The LoVetri Method at Albion College in Albion, Michigan April 11-13 and the complete Institute is held at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA in July.

If anyone is interested in attending the Albion course, please email me at or checking out the Shenandoah Course at

Singers CAN learn how to sing in CCM styles in healthy ways which protect their longevity AND remain true to the intents and wishes of the composers and genres. We need to know how to do this to respect OUR American art forms AND protect our singers at the same time.

All the best!

Robert Doyle
Michigan Governor
National Association of Teachers of Singing

Certified Teacher of Somatic Voicework(tm)-
-The LoVetri Method

Director of Choral Activities
Edsel Ford High School

Adjunct Instructor of Music
Albion College
on September 22, 2008 10:00pm
I'm the newbee.

Bellingham, WA
on September 22, 2008 10:00pm
I am one who grew up with singing the 'gospel sound,' and I know I'm doing it all wrong. Well, I go to an all white church who love the songs I sing, and have asked me to start a women's gospel chorus. We are into our 4th practice, and I was thrilled with the progress.

I made CD's for each of the women, and typed out the words. We started with I'm Available to You, We've Come This Far By Faith, I Woke Up This Mornin' with my mind Stayed on Jesus. Timing was a problem in the first two rehersals. Starting with these songs, singing with the music, then singing accapello, and a lot of repetition; our practice last night was great. Volumn is coming along.
on October 6, 2008 10:00pm
I've performed mainly opera and musical theatre in my career, but after 30 years, I had the bounty of singing in a combined interfaith choir - lead in an authentic gospel style - our goal was to perform for Martin Luther King JR.'s birthday and it was really revealing. Learning everything by rote and by ear is an excellent way to improve one's listening skills. It was educational for me to listen to women who had developed their voices it such a way to mix the lower and upper registers. The difference is more is the way one holds one mouth (smiling/broad), a laryngeal shift(slightly highter)and more nasal. The quality of sound is different than the typical low larynx, long mouth and long vowels typical of classical singing.

People who have sung in this style from childhood develop the muscles that allow for shifts between registers. If just one area of the voice is developed (head voice in opera)the lower range is usually out of balance and overpowered.
on November 22, 2008 10:00pm
Seth Riggs and Speech Level Singing does not teach belting. The Estill method and Lisa Popeil's Voiceworks method does.