The main vocal ranges are Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Contralto, Tenor, Baritone and Bass. I'll talk about the actual ranges in terms of the usual range when I talk about each specific vocal range (which I'll do one at a time, in between other posts).
Most of the people who come to me for singing lessons and some of those who join the choir that I run, don’t know what their vocal range is or even, in some cases, what the vocal ranges are! In actual fact, there are 25 (yes 25) distinct vocal types, which were developed originally so that types of voices could more easily be matched to specific roles by composers.
I’m always saying to my individual students, that one of the things we need to do is find the repertoire that suits their particular voice. So, even though the system I’m sharing with you here is generally used in operatic circles, it is still the case that these classifications most definitely relate to contemporary singing too. Voices were categorised dependent on their characteristics. The classifications are called The Fach System and consider:
• range – the notes your body can produce;
• weight – whether your voice is light, bright and agile; heavy, powerful, rich, or darker (this is actually dependent on the thickness of an individual’s vocal folds);
• size – the amount of sound you can produce and your voice’s dramatic effect;
• tessitura – within anyone’s range, this is the most comfortable part;
• timbre or colour – unique voice quality and texture;
• transition points – where you change from chest, to middle, to head register (resonators);
• vocal registers – how extended each register is; • speech level – speaking range;
• physical characteristics – height and build;
• age and experience.
So, at the very least, this will get you thinking about your particular voice in a more analytical way and hopefully help you to understand that it’s really not a ‘one size fits all’ with voices, just like with clothes! Something else I often say to new students is that finding out what suits your voice is like going into a clothes shop and seeing a row of tops. You see one that you really like, but when you try it on, it doesn’t suit you. It’s the same with your voice, what suits you is dependent on your particular voice and its characteristics (as identified below).
For example, would a contralto with a low, heavy and powerful voice be a good fit for the role of a young girl in an opera… or in contemporary music, would it sound right to have a Beach Boys song sung by a hard rock singer? Anyway, here are the 25 voice types for you:
SOPRANO VOICE TYPES Soubrette - young, light, bright Lyric Coloratura Soprano - high, bright, flexible Dramatic Coloratura Soprano - high, dark, flexible Lyric Soprano - warm, smooth, full Character Soprano - bright, metallic, theatrical Spinto/Young Dramatic Soprano - powerful, young, full Dramatic Soprano - powerful, dark, rich
MEZZO-SOPRANO VOICE TYPES Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano - agile, rich, bright Lyric Mezzo-Soprano - strong, flexible, melancholy Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano - rich, powerful, imposing Dramatic Alto - powerful, full, metallic Low Alto - low, full, warm
TENOR VOICE TYPES Countertenor - high, agile, powerful Lyric Tenor - soft, warm, flexible Acting Tenor - flexible, theatrical, light Dramatic Tenor - full, low, with stamina Character Tenor - bright, powerful, theatrical
BARITONE VOICE TYPES Lyric Baritone - smooth, flexible, sweet Cavalier Baritone - brilliant, warm, agile Character Baritone - flexible, powerful, theatrical Dramatic Baritone - powerful, full, imposing
BASS VOICE TYPES Character Bass - full, rich, with stamina Acting Bass - flexible, agile, rich Heavy Acting Bass - full, rich, imposing Serious Bass - mature, rich, powerful