I didn't know that! Issue #38- The Voice Range 2

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Vocal range and voice classification


Vocal range plays such an important role in classifying singing voices into voice types that sometimes the two terms are confused with one another.
- A voice type is a particular kind of human singing voice perceived as having certain identifying qualities or characteristics.

- A vocal range being only one of those characteristics. Other factors are vocal weight, vocal tessitura, vocal timbre, vocal transition points, physical characteristics, speech level, scientific testing, and vocal registration. All of these factors combined are used to categorize a singer's voice into a particular kind of singing voice or voice type.

There are a plethora of different voice types used by vocal pedagogists today in a variety of voice classification systems. Most of these types, however, are sub-types that fall under seven different major voice categories that are for the most part acknowledged across all of the major voice classification systems.

Women are typically divided into three groups: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Men are usually divided into four groups: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. When considering the pre-pubescent voices of children an eighth term, treble, can be applied. Within each of these major categories there are several sub-categories that identify specific vocal qualities like coloratura facility and vocal weight to differentiate between voices.

Vocal range in and of itself can not determine a singer's voice type. While each voice type does have a general vocal range associated with it, human singing voices may possess vocal ranges that encompass more than one voice type or are in between the typical ranges of two voice types. Therefore, voice teachers only use vocal range as one factor in classifying a singer's voice.

More important than range in voice classification is tessitura, or where the voice is most comfortable singing, and vocal timbre, or the characteristic sound of the singing voice.

For example, a female singer may have a vocal range that encompasses the high notes of a mezzo-soprano and the low notes of a soprano. A voice teacher would therefore look to see whether or not the singer were more comfortable singing up higher or singing lower. If the singer were more comfortable singing higher than the teacher would probably classify her as a soprano and if the singer were more comfortable singing lower than they would probably classify her as a mezzo-soprano.

The teacher would also listen to the sound of the voice. Sopranos tend to have a lighter and less rich vocal sound than a mezzo-soprano. A voice teacher, however, would never classify a singer in more than one voice type, regardless of the size of their vocal range.

The following are the general vocal ranges associated with each voice type using scientific pitch notation where middle C=C4. Some singers within these voice types may be able to sing somewhat higher or lower:

Soprano: C4 – C6
Mezzo-soprano: A3 – A5
Contralto: F3 – F5
Tenor: C3 – C5
Baritone: F2 – F4
Bass: E2 – E4

In terms of frequency, human voices are roughly in the range of 80 Hz to 1100 Hz (that is, E2 to C6) for normal male and female voices together.

Courtesy of wikipedia