THE MALE TENOR VOICE
(for those new to my blog, it’s probably helpful to read this post in conjunction with Blog post no. 2 on voice types)
The tenor voice is one of the highest of the male singing voices with a range that generally stretches from C3 (one octave below middle C on a piano) and A4 (the A above middle C). Some tenors can, however, sing up to C5 and down to Ab2, although I appreciate that this may mean very little to a lot of people reading this!
Interestingly, until late into the 16th century, when the countertenor voice was “introduced” (a countertenor sings the theme music to the TV show “Silent Witness” – it’s a very androgenous sounding voice), tenor was usually the highest male voice and was often used as the “foundation” role in opera. This is probably why leading roles in opera are often tenor parts eg. Rudolpho in “La Boheme” by Puccini. In popular music, tenors include singers like Michael Buble, Chris Martin from Coldplay, all the singers in One Direction etc etc!).
As with other voice categories eg. Soprano, baritone etc. there are different types of tenor voices, although I think it’s important to remember that any “system” of categorization is only going to be a rough guide because, at the end of the day, we’re all individuals and it’s always going to be hard to categorize anything like this perfectly. There’s also inevitably considerable overlap between the categories and finally, voices can change! They can change with maturity, with training etc.
Leggero tenor - this type of tenor voice is more or less the equivalent of the female lyric coloratura, that is, it’s light, agile and able to sing difficult bits of what I call “twiddly bits” to my non-music reading students! Think of the sort of highly embellished notes that singers like Mariah Carey and Beyonce sing. I can’t actually think of a popular male singer in this category at the moment – any suggestions?!
Lyric Tenor - the lyric tenor is a warm voice with a bright, full timbre that is strong but not heavy and can be heard over an orchestra unmicrophoned. My favourite Luciano Pavarotti was a lyric tenor and what a beautiful voice he had!
Spinto Tenor - the spinto tenor has the brightness and height of a lyric tenor, but with a heavier vocal weight which means it can cope with dramatic climaxes with less strain than the lighter-voice counterparts mentioned above – it’s louder basically. Spinto tenors also have a darker tone than a lyric tenor.
Dramatic Tenor - the dramatic tenor has a very powerful sound (so, very loud!) – a big weighty voice.
There are others, but unless you're heavily into opera, they're not going to be very relevant to you.
The bottom line with any voice type is to try to sing what feels comfortable for you. This varies from one person to another – and to sing in keys that are comfortable.