Analysis of Female Belters and the Star-Spangled Banner

Recently Christine Aguilera performed the Star-Spangled Banner at the Superbowl. This poor performance was more than just forgetting the words. In this post I hope to provide valuable information to female singers worldwide about the importance of key choices and style choices of songs they sing. I will compare famous pop singers who belt and link to their Star-Spangled Banner performance.

First, you will need to know the first female passagio is around A above middle C (middle C is C4). This “bridge” is the transition between your lower voice (chest) and your high voice (head). It is more than just one note, it is a “passage” of usually 2-3 notes…anywhere from A flat to B flat. Do you notice that when you sing in this area, it feels different? This is where your voice needs to “mix” well so you can transition well into your higher register.

Watch Christine Aguilera’s performance here.
Her key choice is F major. The “big note” on the words red glare and the last line free is C above middle (C5). A good belter has no problem hitting this note. Unfortunately, Christine was not well prepared for this performance. She started very shouty and never got “in the mix”. She basically got stuck in her chest voice and had to flip for the big note at the end. I think the reason she forgot the words is because she realized straight away that she was not mixing well, and was in trouble for the big finish. She knew her energy and focus was off, and it reflected not only in the lyrics, but also in her voice.

Watch Jennifer Hudson’s performance here.
Jennifer’s key choice is A major. This performance is spectacular. She is one of the best “mixing” chest belters in the business right now. What the listener may not realize is that Jennifer is belting C#5 in the second line on the word proudly and this is already a higher note than Christine’s “big note” of C5. Listen to how Jennifer can slip easily into her dynamic range of loud and soft within any given phrase. This ability means she is definitely mixing well. Christine’s voice on the other hand would not have been able to decrease in volume without “flipping” into a heady sound.

Watch Mariah Carey here
Mariah’s key choice is E major. This is a semi-tone lower than Christine’s. Mariah is a fabulous “mixer”. Listen to her delicate weaving back and forth in the mix at the beginning of the song. I am disappointed that she picked such a low key. Her “big note” is only a B4…..however…..I guess that’s not really true…because on the words free she shows us her fabulous super head voice which I believe is a B6. This will be why she picked the Key of E major so she could fit this note in. I would have preferred a higher key and have her leave the super high note out.

Watch Beyonce here
Beyonce’s key choice is G major. Love this key and performance. She saves the belt for the appropriate spots in the song. She has a beautiful mix throughout.

Watch Whitney Houston here
Whitney’s key choice is A flat major. This is, of course, when Whitney was belting and mixing superbly. This performance is A+. Whitney’s decline in vocal ability over the last few years is a prime example of not taking care of your instrument. Her choice of lifestyle has all but destroyed her voice…..very sad to say the least.

Watch Faith Hill here
Faith’s key choice is G major. This is a good performance for Faith. She is mixing well. You can hear her carefulness at the beginning of the song, to be sure to include her head resonance in the low notes. This is important so that as she ascends she can stay well in her mix. Indeed, there is a beautiful balance in her belting notes of B4, C5 and D5.

Watch Kelly Clarkson here
Kelly’s key choice is E major. A very low key choice in my opinion for Kelly. This was I suppose a safe choice, but she can definitely belt higher in her mix. The “big note” is only a B4. Also, I feel she is rushing through the song. It could have been a touch slower with more emotion.

Watch Celine Dion here
Celine’s key choice is G major. This really is the optimum key choice for this song. I would have preferred to hear her start a little more subtle in dynamics. But, nonetheless, Celine is one of the best chest belters in the business, and this performance only proves that. Her big notes are B4, C5 and D5. This key allows the biggest part of the song to stay just under the next passagio which starts around D#5. Perfect key choice for chest belters.

Watch Carrie Underwood here
Carrie’s key choice is F#. Good performance for Carrie. She is mixing well and her belt is strong from A#5 through C#5.

Watch Taylor Swift here
Taylor’s key choice is E major. This is about the only key she could safely pick without having trouble at her bridge. Taylor is not a good mixer. Her big notes are G#4, A#4 and B4.

Well, there you have it. For anyone wanting to practise their chest belting I suggest you “copy” Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce. Get the feel of their gentle, relaxed mixed voice, which then leads into a beautiful mixed belt at the climax of the song. Work your belting this way, and you will get stronger the correct way. The reverse is true for copying singers who belt in their low range. You run the risk of not being in a good mix, and therefore you will get stuck. This kind of voice can rarely sing well above a B flat or high C. And, while I admire Christine Aguilera’s talent, I highly suggest you never ever try to copy her voice. You are only asking for trouble.

I appreciate your comments or questions. Why not drop me a line.

6 thoughts on “Analysis of Female Belters and the Star-Spangled Banner”

  1. Thank you so much for your quick and kind response. It was VERY helpful.
    I will be providing ballroom style music for a large singles dance of people in their 40’s/50’s/60’s and beyond. My retired female operatic singer friend enjoys singing along. She has a beautiful voice which enhances the recorded music that I play. We will be dancing to, foxtrots, cha-cha-cha, boleros, rumba’s, waltz, Swing, …..
    Again – thank you so much for your quick and helpful response.
    DJ Mel

  2. Recently a retired operatic singer friend of mine asked me to find some
    songs in MP3 format that she could sing along with. She says that she sings in a key of b6. Can you recommend popular singers that might
    appear in YouTube that she could accompany.

    • Hmm, a singer doesn’t just sing in one key. A singer has a range of notes which they are most comfortable singing in, and this can be any key…dependent on how the song was written.

      However, most songs are written with the “root” or “tonic” as their home base. When you say the key of B flat, it tells me your friend has a range up to about high C, or D.

      You say your friend is retired, so I highly doubt she is going to be interested in singers such as Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus. These are singers who would fit this range. Also country singers such Miranda Lambert have a low range as well.

      If we consider singers who recorded songs in the 40’s and 50’s, I would highly recommend Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera, or Dinah Shore’s Sentimental Journey. You could try songs recorded by Patti Page, Vera Lynn, and Patsy Cline.

      Hope this helps. If you give me a better idea of the era and style she likes, I may be able to suggest something more suitable. Thanks for writing. Susie

    • I should also mention songs recorded by Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Janet Jackson. These ladies never sang very high over their first passagio. Another singer to consider is Sarah McLaughlin. She recorded some beautiful songs. You might also consider songs recorded by male artists such as Bruno Mars and Journey. Females have a much easier time singing their songs, than men do!

  3. Hi Susan:

    I am an aspiring porfessional singer. That said, I would like to perform The National Anthem expertly. I’m feeling comfortable singing along with Whitney. But, I will certainly take your advise and listen and try singing in the keys you recommend. May I send you a link to me singing it for your critique?

    • Hi Cleda, I’d be happy to give you my input. Please send me your link.
      IMHO, the trick to picking the best key is being able to maximum your best belt notes, without compromising your lowest note on the word “say” in the first line. I look forward to listening to your rendition of the U.S. National Anthem. Susan

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