I have gotten many questions via YouTube and emails about Vocal Ranges and Types, and while there are many websites that talk about this, I wanted to focus on something that I feel is even more important to know about the contemporary voice.
The very basic types of voices are: Soprano and Alto for women/Tenor and Bass for men. Soprano and Tenor voices are higher and brighter (lighter) while Alto and Bass voices are lower and deeper (darker). What we use for separation of voice types is the German Fach System. The website Choirly has a fantastic explanation.
Here are the basics from a culmination of books that I use as reference:
C4 = middle C
*Every voice is different so these are approximations of a full range.
Soprano: B3 – E6
Mezzo Soprano: G3 – B5
Contralto: E3 – G5
Countertenor: G3 – A5
Tenor: A2 – C5
Baritone: G2 – A4
Bass/Bass-baritone: Eb2 – G4
Totally separate but most important to finding your vocal type is tessitura. In James C. McKinney’s Book, The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults he states,
“Where as range is concerned with the total compass of a vocal part of a singer. Tessitura is concerned with that part of the range which is receiving the most use; it may refer to the voice part itself or to how the singer relates to it.”
In other words, how long a voice stays within a certain range of notes.
Here are the approximate comfortable tessituras for vocal types.
Soprano: F4 – G5
Mezzo Soprano: D4 – F5
Contralto: C4 – E5
Countertenor: C4 – E5
Tenor: F3 – G4
Baritone: D3 – E4
Bass/bass-baritone: A2 – C4
The problem with the German Fach system is that it does not take on the demands of the 21st century pop/R&B/jazz/new musical theatre singer. Whereas, in classical literature singing in the passaggio is shunned, it is imperative for today’s singer. What is the passaggio you may ask? It’s area in your vocal sound where the lower register transitions via muscle movement to the upper register and vice versa. Many vocalists call this “middle voice.”
This is where certain vocal teachers hit head on. Those married to Richard Miller’s book The Structure of Singing will point out where he states,
“between the prima passaggio (first register transition) and the secondo passaggio (second register transition) lie pitches often used in the calling voice, that require and increase in breath energy, as well as heavier mechanical action than that takes place below the prima passaggio. In the singing voice this area is termed zona di passaggio (register transition zone), or zona intermedia (intermediate zone). (Any tendency to carry the unmodified “call” of the speaking voice over into the singing voice must be completely negated, however.)”
In other words, never ever, ever work specifically in your passaggio.
Well, for today’s contemporary singer? That is impossible. There are two schools of thought I want to look. 1) Learning to sing in a “mix” and 2) vocal building.
Singing in the mix, is where a vocalist learns to thin their sound in the transition with a “sassy/bratty/witchy/brassy or sad/pouty” vocal sensation that activates the CricoThyroid to thin out and lengthen the ThyroArytenoid muscle pairs. It usually incorporates nasal consonants like, “N, M and NG” alone or balanced with bright and dark vowels. This method uses vowel modification in the passaggio. Contemporary teachers who use this method: Seth Riggs, Roger Love, Brett Manning…etc.
Vocal building is where the ThyroArytenoid muscle pairs are taught via extreme Italian-style vowel pronunciation to handle intense air pressure through the transition building the muscles similarly to how an athlete builds his/her body muscles. This method uses the 5 pure Italian vowels (light to dark) to achieve balance. This method does NOT use vowel modification in the passaggio. Contemporary teachers who use this method: Gary Catona. This method resembles old Bel Canto style minus the slurring and extreme mouth postions.
Where is the passaggio (middle voice)?
For FEMALES it is Bb4 – E5 or F5.
For MALES it is E4 – B4.
Again this is an approximation.
What ever method you use, I advise working with a professional vocal teacher. They can listen to your voice and determine which type of exercises will benefit you now and in the future. Are there other schools of thought? Of course, and as a vocalist I encourage you to study and find what enhances your voice to it’s best.