Every vocal enthusiast and beginner muses over what he or she sounds like. We’ve all heard terms like baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano used to describe vocalists and singers. Yet, what must you do to figure out your voice type?
Just like an individual, each voice is distinct and unique. Luckily, figuring out what voice type you have is a simple and easy process once you understand the parameters to do so. It is an important exercise and should be done early so that you recognize your strengths and weaknesses.
Most novices are under the impression that vocal range is the only determining factor when it comes to the singing voice. This is far from the truth. Your ability to sing and your vocal range aren’t as closely related as you might think. You’ll find many successful singers who can only sing in a narrow range but still have numerous hit records under their belt.
This is why it is important to know what factors are important to understand your singing voice. This knowledge will act as a guide to what you can sing naturally and efficiently. That being said, let’s look at voice classification and the factors used to ascertain them.
Table of Contents
Singing Voice Classification and Categories
Traditionally composers and singers would identify the characteristics of a person’s voice for classification purposes. This classification helps assign the right songs to the best-suited voice for a music piece. Everyone’s voice has a different quality that is defined by their range, weight, timbre, and transition points.
Everyone functions within a certain division or category based on these factors and it is important to understand for a handful of reasons. For example, your singing range should comfortably cover the music’s tessiture – the pitches found in the vocal melody of the piece.
Men and women, as you can imagine, have very different vocal properties due to biological differences. While there are exceptions, this primarily means they have equally divergent roles when it comes to singing in the classical traditions.
Men are typically sub-divided into the four groups of countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass whereas women fall under the three categories of soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. These are simply the broad categorizations. You will find women who can sing tenor or even baritone or men who can handle contralto or soprano.
Important factors to determine your singing voice:
The most important factors that inform your voice type are the follows:
- Vocal Range
- Vocal Tone & Vocal Timbre
- Vocal Strength or Voice Strength
What is Vocal Range?
Your vocal range consists of all the notes between the highest and the lowest note you can sing. It is based on the inherent shape and structure of your vocal folds and cannot be broadened beyond a certain point.
Vocal training and experience can help you strengthen the edge of your range and improve the quality of the high and low notes of the register. You should identify you range early in your vocal training so that you can work on it. We’ll highlight how to do this in the next section.
What is Tessitura?
There are many notes that you can sing, but that doesn’t mean they sound pleasant. This is because of tessitura. Simplistically speaking, tessitura is the most comfortable part of your vocal range. It includes notes that sound hassle-free and natural.
When you push your voice to the edges of your vocal range, your voice strength and tone can become weak, wavering, or strident. This is because those notes are in your range but not in the tessitura. It is important to know your tessitura because you can check the vocal range of a music piece and figure out if it is a suitable song for you to pick.
Tessiture also refers to the melodic contour and contrapuntal motion. They refer to the ‘quality’ of your voice during certain types of melodic movements like conjunct/disjunct, stepwise, or skipwise movement. All professional singers, especially celebrities, write songs keeping their tessitura in mind. We’ll discuss how to identify your tessitura in more detail in a later section.
What is Vocal Tone or Timber?
We all have a unique tonal quality and texture. This perceived tone color is better known as timbre. Someone may sound warm or bright, heavy or airy, shrill or weighty – these are all shades of varying vocal timbre. Certain timbers are better suited for certain roles based on the style and genre of the music.
For instance, people who sing bass will often have a warm and dark tone color whereas soprano singers always sound bright. People with an airy and warm tone may sound great in pop songs but not in powerful rock ballads. Your timber and tone are intrinsic and inherent. This cannot be changed too much. However, you’ll be able to identify it by listening to your voice or through recordings. This will help you understand the texture and how to use it to your advantage.
What is Voice Strength?
Voice strength or projection is the ability to sound a note loud and clear at higher volume. Like we said earlier, singers tend to sound weak in the lower and upper notes of their vocal range. This is because of their voice strength fluctuates across the register.
Every singer has an inherent voice strength but it is one of the most malleable factors that can be improved with proper vocal training. There are various exercises to improve your projection. Breathing techniques, for example, help singers build good projection by optimal utilization of vocal folds and abdominal muscles. A good posture and stance while singing can also improve breathing and voice strength.
How to find your vocal range?
Generally, beginners need some time to explore their voice and train their ears before they develop a good sense of what they can and cannot sing naturally. Finding your vocal range is only one part of the equation and numerous singers are capable of going higher or lower than the predetermined ranges.
Step One: Sing “ah” as low as you comfortably or naturally can and markdown that note.
Step Two: Sing “ah” as high as you comfortably or naturally can and markdown that note.
Step Three: Compare your range against the list of voice types given below.
The vocal ranges from lowest to highest are:
- Bass: E2 – E5
- Baritone: G2 – G4
- Tenor: C3 – C5
- Alto: F3 – F5
- Mezzo-Soprano: A3 – A5
- Soprano: C4 – C6
Just because you can sing notes below the bottom note of the range or above the top of it doesn’t change the voice type. This is quite common. What matters is your ability to be comfortable while singing i.e. the tessitura. Your timbre is also an important factor because the texture and voice-quality also determine your voice type.
A typical choral arrangement divides women into higher and lower voices and men into higher or lower voices. Most voices can be assigned one of these four ranges, and this gives the composer four vocal lines to work with, which is usually enough. The four main vocal ranges are:
- Soprano – A high female (or boy’s) voice
- Alto – A low female (or boy’s) voice
- Tenor – A high (adult) male voice
- Bass – A low (adult) male voice
You can remember it as SATB, which stands for Soprano, Alto Tenor, and Bass. Bear in mind that these ranges are not exclusive or binding. They often overlap in vocalists, but they are indicative of what range is (as a general guideline. It means this is the range within which a vocalist can sing without straining his/her voice and sounding weak or unpleasant.
So, although the full ranges of an alto and a soprano may look quite similar, the soprano gets a strong, clear sound on the higher notes, and the alto a strong, clear sound in the lower part of the range. But there are vocalists whose strong, the best-sounding range falls in a distinctly different place from any of these four voices. The names for some of these ranges are:
Singers may also have a ‘sweet spot’ or a zone that suits their voice well. For instance, soprano A may have a narrow range but his or her voice sounds powerful in it. On the other hand, soprano B may have a wider range but may not sound as strong or pleasant as the narrow range of soprano A. Therefore, it is fair to say that ranges are a ballpark average for each category.
Famous vocalists with a four-octave range:
- Thom Yorke (Radiohead)
- Christina Aguilera,
- Jeff Buckley
- Chris Cornell (Stone Temple Pilots, Audioslave)
- Whitney Huston
- Paul McCartney (The Beatles)
- Freddie Mercury (Queen)
- Arianna Grande
- Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
Some Additional Tips to Find and Improve Your Voice Type:
Understand your current vocal range:
You can only work on your strengths and weaknesses once you have identified them. To that end, you must spend time identifying your range so that you can begin working on expanding it. Knowing your current range will also help you identify the best songs to cover or attempt that play to your strengths.
Find A Professional Vocal Coach
Identifying your voice type and range is among the first things you’ll do when you train under a professional voice coach. Moreover, a good teacher will improve your awareness and teach you how to use your strengths. Singing is a lifelong study that involves dedication, discipline, and commitment. However, the right coach can speed up that process with the right techniques, useful exercises, and well-planned lessons.
Push yourself and explore your vocals
This idea applies to every musician. You may have classified your voice based on our article but you need to try out different things before you make any binding conclusions. Voices change with age and experience. There are various perspectives to adapt your voice and improve the lower and upper notes of your range. Take time to explore them and push yourself to do new things.
Find The Genre That Suits You Best
Can you imagine Ozzy Osbourne trying to sing R&B or hip-hop? Conversely, can you imagine Snoop Dogg trying to sing a heavy metal song? All good singers are fully aware of their abilities and make subsequent decisions in zeroing on their style or genre. As a beginner, you may have to experiment with an open mind until you find the perfect alignment of voice, taste, and goals.
I hope the information and tips provided here will help you identify, understand, and improve your voice type. Whether you a just starting or have some experience with singing, there is always room to improve. Keep working on your vocals and don’t forget that consistency is the key to being a good vocalist. And remember, don’t forget to have fun.