If you're new to the singing world, you may be inundated with all sorts of new vocabulary. Words like "timbre" or "tessitura" are abound in choir practice, online singing courses, and music blogs.
You are not alone if you've already had to search a few to understand what someone is describing!
Many of the specialty terms vocalists use to describe their voice type, also known as a vocal range, can be confusing to beginner vocalists.
Vocal ranges generally represent the notes that you can sing comfortably (without any excessive strain), from the lowest to the highest. These ranges essentially define your voice type.
These ranges do not describe the absolute low or high notes you might be able to hit on a perfect day. Instead, they refer to where you sing comfortably most of the time.
Straining to reach certain notes can completely destroy your voice. Keeping it in your 'wheelhouse' by having a solid understanding of your vocal range can prevent this from ever occurring.
There are six primary vocal ranges you'll hear people use: bass, baritone, tenor, alto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano.
The first three refer to male voices and the last three to female voices.
Curious about how to find your vocal range?
First, warm up your vocal cords. Then, start matching notes with a piano.
You'll strike and sing middle C (C4) and work your way down until you are no longer comfortably hitting another note. Then, turn it around and do the same thing going up the scale.
If you get to the next C going up but not comfortably to D, your upper vocal range is C5. If you get to the G above middle C, it's G4.
Use the same system, in reverse, to find your lower range. These high and low notes will define your vocal range.
Now that you know what you can do, read on to determine into which category your vocal range falls.
We begin with the lowest range of them all. Think of booming, deep male voices or tubas and other low-note horns to get a feel for the bass range.
The bass range is one typically reserved for male voices, as it is quite rare for female vocal cords to go so low. Most bass singers can go between E2 and E4. However, expect some bass singers to go as low as C2 or up to G4.
Remember, not all men have deep singing voices. Do not assume this will be a comfortable range for every male.
The baritone range is the second-lowest range. These notes are the most common for male voices to cover. Think of baritone as the average man's singing voice. This range sits right in the middle of bass and tenor, overlapping them both.
When in doubt, assume that this is the range a man can sing and then work from there. People in this vocal range can sing from A2 up to A4. More extensive baritone ranges can drop to F2 or reach as high as C5.
Now, we're beginning to enter the lower end of the female vocal spectrum. Expect an alto vocalist to feel comfortable hitting notes between F3 and F5.
Remember, that means hitting them comfortably. Keep in mind, most people can branch out of their specified range but don't necessarily sound good there or feel confident doing so.
Altos who sing lower than the specified range are called contra-altos. This description fits females who comfortably sing within the same range as a male tenor.
Similarly, some altos fall on the higher end of the spectrum and can cross somewhat into mezzo-soprano levels. Altos have a bolder, full sound on the lower notes than their higher-ranged counterparts.
We call high male voices tenors. Tenors can sing between C3 and C5, often comfortably expanding into traditionally female alto ranges.
A defining characteristic of tenor vocalists is their ability to control their head voice, or falsetto, when singing high within their range.
It is not uncommon to hear arrangements in which tenors and altos sing together. Their similarity in range creates impressive depth through the combination of male and female voices on the same notes.
Tenor artists often divide into two – tenors and countertenors. A countertenor refers to a male singer whose range is higher than the average tenor vocalist.
All artists in this range can let their voices shine by learning to sing high notes softly.
Mezzo-soprano is the female version of a baritone for males. It is the range that falls in the middle of all the range that most female voices can sing.
You have more variability as a mezzo-soprano, and can take advantage of this given the right instruction or lessons.
They often can sing both alto and soprano parts.
The easiest way to separate a mezzo-soprano from the other two female ranges is to determine her vocal break.
A break is when your voice changes texture and tone when transitioning from the lower part of your register to the higher.
A mezzo-soprano voice will change higher than an alto's, but slightly lower than a soprano's, even when covering the same notes.
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The highest vocal range is the soprano. Often, these voices stand out the most during choral arrangements or female solos.
Most soprano singers can confidently hit notes as high as C6.
Many can even reach beyond that!
At the low end, sopranos can sing down to about a C4, or middle C. When hitting the lower notes, soprano voices will seem less resonant or slightly timid.
They are most confident and resounding in the higher octaves.
The Importance of Finding Your Vocal Range for Singing
You haven't been working hard on your singing skills to be fit inside a predetermined box, though.
You want to stand out and be a unique vocalist. Understanding and working with your vocal range does not take away from your individuality.
In fact, quite the opposite is true.
Knowing your vocal range expands the possibility of developing a vocal style that is all your own. By understanding your vocal range, you will be a better singer.
Increased self-awareness comes from knowing what you can do and understanding how you sing. This knowledge will help you make song choices that have you sounding your best. You'll be able to choose keys that let your skills shine, instead of highlighting where you begin to struggle.
Understanding this can give you the confidence to try pushing and extending your vocal range, which will make you a significantly better singer overall.
Working within your skillset will help you become a better singer. The better you sound, the more confident you will be.
Well, the more confident you are when you sing, the better you sound!
Improved knowledge and understanding will always work together to help you become a better singer. And, at the end of the day, that's your ultimate goal as a vocalist!
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.