Resonance in tenors vs belters

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Tyler Cesario

Westminster Choir College

Voice Pedagogy: I

Dr. Kathy Price


The use of “ring” in singing is something of high debate. It is most easily described as a use of resonance to amplify a harmonic of the glottal source so the singer can be heard without amplification. In this study two types of singers were examined, the classical Tenor voice (which commonly sings without amplification) and the female musical theater Belter (which commonly sings with amplification). While there is no discussion about the presence of “ring” in the classical tenor voice, whether it be from the presence of the Singers Formant (seen by strong upper harmonics) or the use of formant tuning harmonics one, two, or three; the presence of a singers ring in the belter voice is something that is highly debated. This experiment analyzed harmonic frequencies of both the types of singers on the pitch C5 and on the vowel [a] that is the fundamental frequency was around 523 Hz. Singers from Westminster Choir College and Westminster Collage of the Arts (Rider University) were used in this experiment, more specifically 3 Tenors and 3 Belters all of whom which studied Voice and took private lessons. In general every participant had a high measure of harmonics 2 and 3, however they were not always the highest harmonics present. No matter what harmonic was measured at the highest intensity, the perception of the “ring” quality was present in all participants except one. All of the participants also had similar intensity patterns in harmonics.


Belting has evolved rapidly in the course of Western theater over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It has been the area of wide controversy, and is something that has not been the object of a lot of study because the lack of a clear definition (LeBorgne, 2010). For the purposes of this study, belting will be defined as the upper extension of the chest register (thyroarytenoid muscular dominance) in female singers above the first passagio, which according to McCoy is d4-g4. The classical tenor also exhibits the use of thyroarytenoid dominance in his upper extension above the secondo passagio, which has the same range as the female first passagio. Both singers are perceptually reported to have a similar ring quality and the pedagogy for teaching both has been compared. This study relies on the self-report of the subjects, and on the ear of the listener for both belters and tenors to report if they were in chest registers.

Review of Literature

Ware (1998) discussed resonance and registration and the principles outlined guided this research. McCoy (2012) wrote on the physiological and acoustic overview of the larynx, the vocal tract and a scientific explanation on the physics and laws of acoustics.

Jahn (2013) offered the practical concepts of both the Ware book and the McCoy. It is the discussion of vocal pedagogy and science edited by a medical doctor. Harrison (2010) combined different Australian voice teachers’ opinions on the pedagogy of voice on different pedagogical and vocal topics. The most useful of the topics for this research lie in chapter eleven, “Music Theater voice: production, physiology, and pedagogy” by T Borne, Garnier and Kenny (2010). This chapter explained what happened when singers belted muscularly and acoustically, and also offers the singers perceptions.

Leborgne, Lee, Stemple and Bush (2010) offered information on how belting is perceived. It discussed the ongoing debate of the singer’s formant in belting but does not track it with a spectrograph. The researchers had judges to rate what they thought of as being “loud”, having “ring” or vibrato, being “nasal” and other attributes typically associated with belting. Singers with high levels of “ring” and vibrato were perceived as being loud. The debate of the Singer’s Formant in women’s voices in general was explored in Weiss, Brown and Moris’ (2001) article. The findings of this article were that when a soprano sings in their mid to low range, there was a band of resonance that was very similar to that of a tenor.

In both Björkner (2008), and Lankeren (2010), attributes were compared between classical singers and females who sing in the belter range. Björkner found that the musical theater participants had higher f2, f4, and f5 frequencies. Lankeren found that between tenors and females singing in the tenor range (very similar to the belter range) that there was a similar peak in high intensity resonance between 4 and 5 kHz.

Bestebreurtje (2000), and Sundberg’s (2012) studies both discussed resonance and formants in the female belt voice and how to obtain the resonance in different substyles of belting. Sundberg found that belters had to slightly raise the larynx to match the first formant with harmonic two and match the second formant while Bestebreurtje found that both F1 and F2 were raised to tune the third harmonic with the second formant. The last two articles by Sundberg (2013) and Echternach (2014), both discussed the vocal tract figurations and resonance strategies for tenors. Sundberg found that the first formant tended to be lower in classical singers and Echternach found that there was a change in the configuration of the vocal tract as the tenor ascended in range.



Six participants, (N=6) were tested in this study, 3 classically trained tenors and three trained belters, ranging in ages from 19 to 24. All were students from Westminster College of the Arts. The belters 1, 2 and 3 were trained classically as a legit musical theater soprano, a lyric mezzo-soprano, and a light lyric coloratura soprano, as well as belters. The three tenors were all trained as young lyric tenors. All subjects had been studying voice for at least three years and belters 2 and 3 had specifically studied belting as well as classical voice use. All participants were performers and the belters have both performed in classical and belt styles.


Harmonics were measured using the software VoceVista, with the use of an Earth Works Microphone (HDM QTC30). Pitches where given using a keyboard. Data was recorded on a Dell PC computer.


All participants were asked to stand facing the microphone and to sing the pitch C5, which is commonly known as Tenor high C, on an [a] (ahh) vowel. The participants were told to get to the pitch in whatever method they felt most comfortable; Tenor’s one and two used an arpeggio from C4 to C5 on an [a] vowel, while tenor three used an arpeggio from F4 to C5 on an [a] vowel. All three belters used part of the song “Shy” from the Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress to get to C5. The song lyrics are “…I’ve always been shy…” in which “shy” is pitched at C5 and all the other words are pitched at C4. In the word “shy” [ζa: i] the [a] vowel was sustained so it could be measured. Some of the participants asked to redo the procedure. The entire process took no more than 5 minutes for each participant.


All of the data was collected by and from the VoceVista software on a spectrogram. Bit maps of all the data were saved under the name and number of each participant and a bit map of each harmonic and its specific frequency measurement was saved. All of the data was analyzed visually through the measurements of VoceVista.
The findings revealed that all of the participants, the belters and the tenors had a similar intensity surrounding harmonics two and three. Some of the belters and the tenors had harmonic intensity in the singer’s ring area, which is between 2400-3200 Hz. All 3 belters had obvious spikes in resonance on harmonics 2 and 3.

Belter number 1, while still having the same spikes in resonance had an overall smaller and less intense waveform. Belters 2 and 3 both had the band of resonance around harmonics 2 and 3, belter 2 had more intensity in harmonic two and belter 3 had more intensity in harmonic three. Both belters 2 and 3 also had very clear upper harmonics; while they were not as strong as the others they were more than present. All of the Belter’s harmonics 2-3 were measured as: belter 1 H2 1034 Hz and H3 1573 Hz with the highest peak being on H2, belter 2 H2 1061 and H3 1573 with the highest peak being on H2, and belter 3 H2 1079 and H3 1591 with the highest peak on H3.

Belter number one’s harmonics 5 and 6 were not very intense and were measured at 2654 Hz and 3147 Hz respectively. Belter 2’s same harmonics were measured around 2600 Hz and 3100 Hz respectively and were as intense as the fundamental. Belter 3’s same harmonics were measured at 2625 Hz and 3210 Hz respectively.

As for the tenors, numbers 1 and 2 showed strong harmonics 1, 2 and 3. Tenor one’s where measured at H1 521Hz, Hz 1025 Hz, and H3 1537 Hz. Tenor 1 had similar peaks of intensity in the first 3 harmonics but the fundamental was slightly higher. Tenor 2’s H1-H3 were measured at 548 Hz, 1069 Hz, and 1636 Hz with the most energy being in the first harmonic. Tenor 2 also had a considerable amount of noise between the 3 harmonics. Finally, tenor 3 measurements were 539Hz, 1061 Hz and 1591 Hz.

The upper harmonics 5 and 6 were different in each tenor. Tenor one’s H5 measurement was 2589 Hz and his H6 was around 3000 Hz and had spikes that rivaled the earlier harmonics. Tenor 2’s H5 and H6 were 2670 Hz and 3228 Hz where H5 got the boost. Lastly tenor 3’s H5 and H6 were measured at 2548 Hz and 3183 Hz.

All 6 of the participants had harmonics 2 and 3 light up on the spectrogram. Whether or not that was the only thing that was shown is the ground for a separate study. All three belters had harmonics two and three at the highest on the power spectrum with H2 being higher for belters 1 and 2 and H3 being higher for belter 3. This can come to the conclusion that for belters tuned F2 to H2 or H3 through their vowel modification. Belters 1 and 2 seemed to have pulled F2 onto H2 whereas belter three seemed to have pulled F2 onto the third harmonic.

The tenors, all of whom had H2 and H3 light up seemed to have used a similar strategy where F2 was moved onto either H2 or H3 resulting in the boost of energy. Tenors 1 and 2 had strong fundamental frequencies, which lead to the conclusion that F1 was tuned to H1 through use of a raised palate. It is logical that the tenors had strong first harmonics because of a taller, more classical sound as opposed to the belters.

All of the singers had a least one clear harmonic in the singer’s formant area, which is 2400-3200 Hz. Tenor 1 had very strong H5 and stronger H6, tenor 2 a stronger H5 but still a strong H6, and tenor 3 had a weak H5 but a clear H6. Belter 1 had clear but weaker H5 and H6 (may be representative of her overall less-intense speech like quality), belter 2 had a present H5 and a stronger H6, and belter 3 had clear and present fifth and sixth harmonics. Overall the participants with stronger upper harmonics could have had a lower larynx and therefore more of a clear singer’s formant.

“Ring” is a perception that is heard in opera singers especially tenors in their passagio and at the top of their range. All of the singers except were perceived to have had “ring” on the tenor high c. Singers Ring in the top of the tenor voice is approached in two ways. The first way was studied in Placido Domingo, which is categorized through a boost in the Harmonics of the singer’s formant between 2400 and 3200 Hertz. The second way was studied in Luciano Pavarotti and is categorized by tuning the second formant to H2 or H3. Luciano was made famous in voice science for tuning f2 to H3. All of the participants did some semblance of the second method of tuning and all had at least one spike in a harmonic in the singer’s formant area. The one belter who was not perceived to have “ring” used the same resonance strategies but was perceived as more “speech-like” and quieter, probably attributed to the fact of singing with a microphone and not needing the extra boost.

The intensity, measured in decibels is recorded in the chart figure 1. The shapes of the vocal tract would indicate how intense the energy of the harmonics would be. All of the energy seemed to be in Harmonics 2 and 3, with the most intense energy in harmonic 2.

The findings are such, to suggest that all of the singer’s were shaping the vocal tract in a similar way. The account for the singers with high upper harmonics could be the result of intense classical training and a lower larynx. This is also indicative that the pedagogical techniques in teaching belters and tenors are extremely similar. Vocal source measurements were not explored in this study and could have made more of a comparison between both voices. Several voice teachers make the similarities between both voices apparent, but the similarities need to be tested with further research.

Figure 1

Harmonic 1





Tenor 1


















Belter 1


















Intensity of Different Harmonics

All measurements are approximations

Red denotes very intense energy

Yellow denotes intensity

Black denotes important presence of harmonic energy

Grey denotes Low harmonic energy


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Björkner, E. (2008). Musical Theater and Opera Singing—Why So Different? A Study of Subglottal Pressure, Voice Source, and Formant Frequency Characteristics. Journal of Voice, 22(5), 533-540.
Echternach, M., Traser, L., & Richter, B. (2014). Vocal Tract Configurations in Tenors' Passaggio in Different Vowel Conditions—A Real-Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Journal of Voice, 28(2).
Harrison, S. D. (2010). Perspectives on teaching singing: Australian vocal pedagogues sing their stories. Bowen Hills, Qld.: Australian Academic Press.

Jahn, A. F. (2013). The singer's guide to complete health. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lankeren, H. V. (2010). Voice characteristics of amateur female tenors are comparable with those of male tenors. Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, 35(1), 51-58.

Leborgne, W. D., Lee, L., Stemple, J. C., & Bush, H. (2010). Perceptual Findings on the Broadway Belt Voice. Journal of Voice, 24(6), 678-689.

McCoy, S. J. (2012). Your voice: An inside view. Delaware, OH: Inside View Press.

Sundberg, J., Thalén, M., & Popeil, L. (2012). Substyles of Belting: Phonatory and Resonatory Characteristics. Journal of Voice, 26(1), 44-50.

Sundberg, J., Lã, F. M., & Gill, B. P. (2013). Formant Tuning Strategies in Professional Male Opera Singers. Journal of Voice, 27(3), 278-288.
Ware, C. (1998). Basics of vocal pedagogy: The foundations and process of singing. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Weiss, R., Brown, W., & Moris, J. (2001). Singer's Formant in Sopranos: Fact or Fiction? Journal of Voice, 15(4), 457-468.

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