Voice Types & Ranges
So far, we’ve discussed general exercises that should help anybody relax and prepare their voice. (For both speaking and singing.)
Now it’s finally time to differentiate. People’s voices have different pitch. Different people have different “best notes” or “preferred sounds”.
It’s helpful to know your own type. This chapter will talk about that and, where possible, talk about the biggest issues (for specific ranges).
Everybody is born with a different set of vocal chords. This means everybody has a different natural range. You can extend this with proper technique and training your higher notes. As mentioned before, your true lowest note can’t be altered, because your vocal folds can’t become shorter than they are.
These types are marked using the lowest and highest note. It’s easiest if you use a piano, or a picture of a piano with the notes labeled. The letter is the note, the number the octave. Here, C4 is the middle C (the note in the center of a piano).
- Bass: E2–E4
- Baritone: G2–G4
- Tenor: C3–C5
- Alto: G3–G5
- Mezzo-soprano: A3–A5
- Soprano: C4–C6
These types assume a vocal range of two octaves, which most people are able to achieve (and content with). Untrained singers, however, will usually have only 1 or 1.5 octave.
- Most men are a baritone
- Most women are a mezzo-soprano.
People often clearly fall inside a specific category. But these aren’t the only options. You might have an extended range, or have an unusually low/high voice.
Most pop and rock singers are low tenors or high tenors. Most people in the musical theatre business are tenors and sopranos, who begrudgingly learned how to sing the occasional low note as well. Honestly, it’s a miracle when you have a lead in a musical that doesn’t sound muddled in their low notes :p
Maybe I am the best example. I have a weirdly high voice for a male. My range is closer to an alto, the lowest voice for women. The “lowest note” for tenors is absolutely unreachable for me, by quite a margin. Yes, this has surprised every vocal coach I ever met. Especially because my speaking voice isn’t that high, though it can be.
Why is this important?
- If you know your range, you can find songs that fit like a glove. Or you know how to transpose songs.
- It helps audition, as they usually look for a specific voice type.
- There are other minute differences, besides the range.
Below are the most notable differences I’ve learned over the years, time and time again.
- The highest types (tenor and soprano) are more comfortable with an “ah” sound. Others are most comfortable with an “oh” sound.
- The few notes just below your highest note are usually your “money notes”. They just sound right for you. When they click, it’s like you’re the best singer in the world with the best tone ever. Those are your notes.
- The lowest types usually sing too much from the back of their threat, creating a dark or dull sound. They benefit the most from training to sing with good vocal placement
- The lowest types have an advantage: they have more potential for growth! With training, a bass can sing both extremely low notes, and extremely high ones. (To be honest, I envy them, as my low notes are another male’s high notes, which doesn’t leave as much range.)
Within each range exist multiple registers. These are parts of your range that sound slightly different or follow some different rules.
The registers below are from lowest to highest.
Chest Voice: your regular voice. Encompasses your speaking range and the bits below that. Sounds clear and strong, with a weight to it. Should use the least effort.
Mixed Voice: between your chest voice and head voice (see below). It contains semi-high notes for you. They are just above your comfortable level and start to sound different. They are usually louder and have less resonance or vibrato to them. Good vocal technique, as always, can eliminate these issues.
Head Voice: contains your highest connected notes. Many people have trained themselves to go louder and louder as they go up, and use more and more air. The opposite is actually true. The head voice functions on way less air and can easily sound more softly than the chest voice. The “high notes” or “spectacular held notes” from pop singers are in this range.
Falsetto: your highest unconnected notes. As stated before, this requires the most coordination and is the first register to go if you have bad technique (or an infected throat). Your vocal folds are barely touching, changing the sound, but allowing you to sing even higher. When a boy’s voice cracks (during puberty), it flips to falsetto. It is tough to make this sound as full and resonant as the other registers. There is some evidence, though not much, that it is harmful to overuse this register.
Why am I telling you this?
Firstly, so you understand why parts of the voice sound different. Now you might be able to tell when you switch (subconsciously), or what you’re using. As you go higher, reduce air and force.
Secondly, because the most common culprit for bad technique are the breaks between registers. (This is often called the “passagio”: the passage.)
These notes aren’t clearly in one register or the other. Sometimes they want to be chest voice, sometimes not. This makes them unstable and tense. One of the first things to do, when training pitch, is smoothing these breaks. Iron them out. So you can switch registers while singing without adding more tension.
Most people have two breaks:
- From Chest to Mixed
- From Mixed to Head
Additionally, some people notice a third break: going from Head to Falsetto. But this isn’t a true break. You can’t switch 100% smoothly between these registers, because one is connected and the other isn’t. What they mean is that you can make it sound like a smooth transition.
A baritone’s range is G2 to G4. Their first break is likely around F3-G3, their second break around C4-D4.
My range is E3-E5. (Conservatively. There are some higher notes, but they are spotty.) My first break is around B3-C4, my second around G4. When warming up, especially when just out of bed, these few notes will be troublesome.
This chapter is getting quite long. I will provide the exercises in the next chapter (for training pitch and smoothing breaks).
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