The belt’s got soul! an investigation into the vocal characteristics of r&b/soul singing and the production of the ‘belt voice’ within this style

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Supervisor

Matthew Styles

Second Supervisor

Sonia Ranelli

Third Supervisor

Linda Barcan


The dissertation investigates and defines the vocal characteristics of rhythm and blues (R&B)/soul singing within contemporary commercial music (CCM). Over the course of more than 80 years, the R&B/soul style of singing has evolved to become a prominent and influential component of the music landscape. This research addressed the question of whether the ‘belt’ voice is an integral part of R&B/soul singing and investigated the skills required for its sustainability. Furthermore, the project explored, through rigorous acoustic analyses and computed tomography (CT) scanning, the physiological events occurring at the laryngeal level during ‘belting’ by R&B/soul singers.

The study commenced with a comprehensive survey analysis of performances by five pioneering R&B/soul singers, assessed by a panel of recognised industry practitioners and pedagogues from across the globe. Through this evaluation and the accompanying questionnaire, the vocal characteristics of R&B/soul singing were examined and refined. The outcomes challenge and extend the scope of existing literature and reveal the belt voice as the most challenging characteristic of R&B/soul singing to acquire.

The investigation narrowed its focus to the belt voice as a crucial characteristic, leading to five in-depth interviews with renowned practitioners and educators. The findings of these interviews unveiled a novel perspective on the timbral nuances of the R&B/soul belt voice, distinguishing it from traditional belt voices observed in music theatre. This notion acted as a catalyst for the final phase of the study, in which the biomechanical aspects of R&B/soul belting were explored.

A groundbreaking experiment involving CT scanning of 10 vocalists during both comfortable and belted pitches uncovered pivotal insights into vocal fold lengthening, larynx positioning and pharyngeal wall mobility. These results contribute to the emerging understanding of the physiological mechanisms behind R&B/soul belting and highlight its uniqueness within the broader spectrum of vocal styles.

In summary, this research establishes a comprehensive framework for understanding the vocal characteristics of R&B/soul singing, with a significant focus on the belt voice. By fusing artistic analysis, expert surveys, questionnaires, interviews and cutting-edge imaging techniques, this study advances our understanding of the vocal complexities that define this style, shedding light on both its artistic essence and the physiological events that underscore the R&B/soul singer’s performance.



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