How Do You Know Which Voice Part You Are?

Article Written by Guest Author – Crystal Casey

What is a Voice Type?

young man singing into microphoneEvery singer has a specific voice type which sings a corresponding voice part. But what does this mean? When we refer to “voice type,” we are talking about a specific criteria for grouping types of voices. Most people would assume that voice type is solely a measure of vocal range (how high or low a person can sing.) This is the first step in identifying your voice type, but it’s not concrete, and there is more to the elements of vocals than that. We also must consider tessitura, transition points, and vocal weight. Even the speaking voice can provide clues about a person’s voice type.

The 8 Singing Voice Types

There are many different voice types, which are sometimes grouped broadly and other times grouped in more detail. For example, when we talk about voice part in choir, we usually refer to “SATB” arrangement, which stands for “Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass.” However, there are types that lie between those four main parts, and there are subtypes that are classified by even more specific criteria. Here are the 8 most commonly referred-to vocal types:

  1. Bass: The bass is the lowest male voice type with a range from E2 to E4. E2 is the 2nd E on an 88-key piano and E4 is the 4th. That means most bass voices are around two octaves wide, starting with the lowest notes that humans can produce.
  2. Baritone: The baritone is the 2nd lowest male voice type. It has a range from A2 to A4, which sits at an interval of a fourth higher than the Bass part.
  3. Tenor: The tenor is the 2nd highest male voice type and has a range a third higher than the baritone, from C3 to C5.
  4. Countertenor: While tenor is often considered the highest male vocal part (as in choral SATB arrangement, for example,) there is also the countertenor, which ranges a third higher than the tenor, from E3 to E5 on the piano.
  5. Contralto: The lowest female voice type also has a range from E3 to E5. It is the female equivalent, (range-wise anyway,) to the countertenor.
  6. Alto: The alto part is the 2nd lowest female voice type. It has a range only one note higher than the contralto, from F3 to F5.
  7. Mezzo Soprano: This medium-soprano voice is the 2nd highest female voice part, ranging from A3 to A5, a third higher than the alto.
  8. Soprano: The highest female voice type is the soprano, which has a vocal range from C4 to C6 on the piano, ending with the highest notes the human voice can produce.

How Do You Find Your Voice Type?

young girl taking with female vocal coachA qualified vocal coach can assess a singer’s true voice type using just a piano and their ear. They will not only assess the singer’s vocal range by having the student sing up and down the length of the piano to the extent of their ability, but will also consider other factors such as the singer’s most comfortable notes within their vocal range, or tessitura.
Passagio will be considered when determining a singer’s voice type as well. This is the “vocal break” between the lower chest voice and higher head voice that occurs somewhere in the middle of a singer’s range. Many untrained singers will find their voice cracks somewhere in the middle of their range as it shifts from chest to head. The location of this break can help in determining voice type.

Finally, vocal weight can also give clues to a singer’s true voice type. This has to do with the perceived “lightness” or “heaviness” of a singer’s tone, and this is where we can get into those previously mentioned subtypes. For example, there are three main types of soprano voice: The coloratura, lyric, and dramatic. The coloratura is the lightest and most agile soprano voice, and the dramatic soprano is the most deep and powerful.

Can You Determine Your Voice Type on Your Own?

Most students of singing have a certain idea about their voice type which is often incomplete or simply not correct. They’re surprised when they start voice lessons to find that they are not what they thought they were. This can be due to any number of factors.
For example, a young male singer may have gotten the idea that he was a bass when his school choir director had him singing the bass part, since he was the only student who could hit those notes. He may be shocked to learn that there simply were no true basses in the choir that year, and that he, in fact, is a tenor with an excellent range. These things happen all the time.

Is It Possible to Have Multiple Voice Types?

boys singing in a choirNo two voices are alike, and many voices can cover more than one voice part. Some singers have a 3+ octave range while other singers only have an octave and a half. Because “voice type” is a system for categorizing the billions of voices that exist in the world, the answer to this question is somewhat complicated. Yes, many singers can sing multiple parts. Our tenor who thought he was a bass is a prime example. Many sopranos can sing alto and some can even cover contralto parts when called upon to do so. There are plenty of baritones who can cover bass or tenor when there is a shortage of one or the other. However, it is almost certain that a single, specific voice type will fit any given singer the most. When a singer knows their type and chooses repertoire accordingly, they reduce potential for vocal harm and can rest assured that they will sound their absolute best.

So What is The Best Way to Determine Voice Type?

Ultimately, whether you’re just starting on your path to music with singing or simply looking to improve your vocal skills it is recommended that singers seek out a professional vocal coach to determine their voice type. A student with a good ear may be able to find their vocal range on their own using a piano, but voice type is so much more than vocal range. Teenage singers in particular will be dealing with vocal changes that come with puberty and biological growth of the larynx. There is also the issue of personal bias and identity. Many singers mistakenly identify with or long to be a type that they are not, and it can potentially lead to vocal damage to consistently sing outside of one’s vocal part.

Working with a great vocal coach with passion, experience, and understanding should be a priority. That’s why we work with you to match you with the best teacher to help you meet your goals. If you’re ready to start your musical journey, remember Forbes Music Company can help.

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