The Voice and Different Voice Types

The voice is the sound made by human with the aid of vocal cords or folds. This vocal cords enable us to talk, scream, shout and sing. We should also be aware that not only vocal cords function as our sound producing element, lungs, larynx and articulators (i.e. tongue, palate, cheek, lips, etc.) are also in function when we generate sounds. The vocal folds (vocal cords) are a vibrating valve that chops up the airflow from the lungs into audible pulses that form the laryngeal sound source. The lung (the pump) must produce adequate airflow and air pressure to vibrate vocal folds (this air pressure is the fuel of the voice). The muscles of the larynx adjust the length and tension of the vocal folds to ‘fine-tune’ pitch and tone. The articulators (the parts of the vocal tract above the larynx.) articulate and filter the sound emanating from the larynx and to some degree can interact with the laryngeal airflow to strengthen it or weaken it as a sound source.

Voice Types

Voice Types refers to the kinds of voices that singers may have and used to sing. A singer's voice type is identified by a process known as voice classification, by which the human voice is evaluated and thereby designated into a particular voice type. Voice type is a complex issue that is related to a few factors. Generally speaking, our speaking voice is not one of those factors.  When talking about classifying a voice into its type, we generally look at range, tessitura, timbre, and weight. Vocal register is important in this perceptive as well. 

As singer you may want to know what your voice type is, but it’s not always so easy to figure out the specifics. Figuring out your voice type is not only a matter of looking at your vocal range, but at a number of different characteristics as mentioned above. For example, vocal tessitura and timbre can be more important as range can be between types. This is usually the case with sopranos and mezzo-sopranos; they might have the same range but mezzo-sopranos have a lower tessitura and darker timbre. Several different voice classification systems are available to identify voice types and no system is universally applied or accepted. All together your voice type is a result of the following vocal variables:

Vocal range –This is the measure of the breadth of pitches of notes that a human voice and body can produce. Range is what many people focus on, and it is certainly important (can you hit all of the notes you need to be able to hit in a healthy, comfortable, and sustainable fashion?), but in many ways tessitura is important as well.

Vocal weight –Thisrefers to the perceived "lightness" or "heaviness" of a singing voice. (i.e. light voices, bright and agile; heavy voices, powerful, rich, and darker)

Vocal tessituraThis is the range in which a singing voice likes to sit for long periods of time. Thus, you can have a voice that can sing very high notes, but which is not comfortable spending extended periods of time in the upper register, or vice versa. Part of the range which is most comfortable to sing. We call it voice strength.

Vocal timbre – This is unique voice quality and texture. Timbre is a characteristic that is taken into account, at least in solo singing, as a singer with a bass-baritone's range and tessitura, but a high lyric tenor's timbre will have a lot of trouble finding work. However, in choral settings, timber is generally less important (though it can play a role).

Vocal transition points – This is a points where we change voice from chest, to middle, to head register. The transition area between the vocal registers of the voice lie between the different vocal registers, such as the chest voice, where any singer can produce a powerful sound, the middle voice, and the head voice, where a powerful and resonant sound is accessible, but usually only through vocal training.

Vocal registersThis is a range of tones in the human voice produced by a particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds. Here we consider how extended each register is.

Vocal speech level – This is speaking range. It is usually the voice with which we are most comfortable using, and it is also the voice that we would use the most in our everyday conversation. It gives us an important indication as to whether we are a tenor, baritone or bass singer, since we would most probably talk using our tessitura or most comfortable vocal range.

Vocal physical characteristics– This is height and build of the voice.

Major Voice Classification – Voice Types by Range and Tessitura

If you sing in a choir or take voice lessons, you have probably already been classified as a soprano, or contralto (alto) if you are a woman, and a tenor, or bass if you are a man. These are basic singing voice types that are common and popularly known as “S.A.T.B”, but we have more than these. In this section, I will mention the various kinds of singing voices and how they are classified and you will then be able to discover exactly what your UNIQUE voice is. This knowledge of your voice you will know the vocal range you have to focus on when training. There are basically 3 voice types for females and 4 voice types for males in the realm of classical singing, and they are as follows:
        Mezzo Soprano
        Baritone and

Soprano: - This is the highest range of female voice types, although it is also applied to boy sopranos (also called trebles). All of the sopranos have in common the ability to sing higher notes with ease. The typical soprano voices lies between B3, below middle C, and G6.

Soprano voices are often classified according to their colour or agility: a dramatic soprano has a rich, powerful quality; a lyric soprano, a lighter, singing tone; and a coloratura soprano possesses a high range (to the second C above middle C and higher) and extreme agility.

Mezzo Soprano: - This is the second highest female voice type. The mezzo-soprano voice lies between the soprano voice and contralto voice, over-lapping both of them. In a choir, a mezzo-soprano will usually sing along the sopranos and not the altos and will be given the title of Soprano II. When the sopranos split in half, she will sing the lower melody as her timbre is darker and tessitura lower than the sopranos. A typical mezzo-soprano can vocalize from G3 to A5, thought, some can’t sing as high and some can sing as high as a typical soprano.

Although this voice overlaps both the contralto and soprano voices, the tessitura of the mezzo-soprano is lower than that of the soprano and higher than that of the contralto. Mezzo-sopranos are often broken down into three subcategories: Lyric mezzo-soprano, Coloratura mezzo-soprano and Dramatic mezzo-soprano.

Contralto: - This is the lowest female voice type. In a choir, contraltos are commonly known as altos and sing the supporting melody to the sopranos. This doesn’t mean that contraltos are not as important. On the contrary, because true altos are hard to find, a true alto has greater chances of a solo carrier than a soprano. A contralto is expected to be able to vocalize from E3 to F5, however, the lower her tessitura, the more valuable she is.

The contralto voice has the lowest tessitura of the female voices. In current operatic practice, female singers with very low vocal tessituras are often included among mezzo-sopranos. Contraltos are often broken down into three subcategories: coloratura contralto, lyric contralto and dramatic contralto. A soprano sfogato is a contralto who has an extended high range reaching the soprano high C.

NOTE: What I noticed about altos in many choirs I have come across is that many women have been classified as altos in their choir, whereas their voice type is really that of a mezzo-soprano or soprano. Many choir directors, instead of spending more time to work with women who sing off tune, they decide to have them sing along the altos thinking that their false singing will blend in. This is bad.

Countertenor: - This is the rarest of all voice types and the highest male voice. A countertenor, also spelled Contra Tenor, is a male singer who can sing as high as a soprano or mezzo-soprano utilizing natural head resonance. Singers called countertenors generally sing in the falsetto register, sometimes using their modal voice for the lowest notes. Countertenor voices span a broad range, covering G3 to C6 (some as high as F6) to a range just above tenor covering D3 to about D5

Countertenors are often broken down into three subcategories: sopranist or "male soprano", the haute-contre, and the castrato.

Tenor: - This is the highest male voice type you will find in a typical choir. Though it is the voice type with the smallest range, it barely covers 2 octaves from C3 to B4, tenors are the most sought after choir singers. At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to F5 (the second F above middle C). Many a baritone will try to use this technique to classify as tenor and some will be successful; you’ll know who they are because of their red faces when trying to sing the high notes in the tenor melodic line.

Tenors are often divided into different subcategories based on range, vocal color or timbre, the weight of the voice, and dexterity of the voice. Tenors are often broken down into seven subcategories: tenorecontraltino, leggero tenor or tenore di grazia, lyric tenor, spinto tenor or tenorespinto, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and baritenor. The tessitura of the tenor voice lies above the baritone voice and below the countertenor voice. The leggero tenor has the highest tessitura of all the tenor subtypes.

Baritone: - This is the most common male voice type. The vocal range of the baritone lies between the bass and tenor ranges, overlapping both of them. Though common, baritone is not at all ordinary. On the contrary, the weight and power of his voice, give the baritone a very masculine feel, something that in the opera has been used in roles of generals and, most notably, noblemen. Baritone is the most common male voice type. Their range is anywhere between a G2 and a G4 but can extend in either way.

Baritones are often divided into different subcategories based on range, vocal color or timbre, the weight of the voice, and dexterity of the voice. Baritones are often broken down into nine subcategories: baryton-Martin, lyric baritone, bel canto or coloratura baritone, kavalierbariton, heldenbaritone, Verdi baritone, dramatic baritone, baryton-noble, and bass-baritone. Although this voice overlaps both the tenor and bass voices, the tessitura of the baritone is lower than that of the tenor and higher than that of the bass.

In a choir, a baritone will never learn about the particulars of his voice, since he will have to sing either with the tenors or the basses. Most baritones with a high tessitura choose to sing with the tenors, and respectively, the ones with a lower tessitura sing with the basses. 

NOTE: If you sing tenor and can’t reach the higher notes with ease, or sing bass and can’t reach the lower notes naturally, you’re most probably a baritone and you shouldn’t worry about it.

Bass: - This is the lowest male voice type, and thus a bass sings the lowest notes humanly possible. It’s really hard to find true basses and it’s almost impossible in the younger ages where the male bodies are still developing. I tend to think of the deep bass notes as comparable to those of a violoncello, though some charismatic basses can hit notes lower than those of a cello. A bass will be asked to sing anywhere between a D2 and an E4.

Basses are often divided into different subcategories based on range, vocal color or timbre, the weight of the voice, and dexterity of the voice. Basses are often broken down into six subcategories: basso profondo, basso buffo, bel canto bass, basso cantante, dramatic bass, and bass-baritone.

Choral Voice Classification
Unlike other classification systems, choral music divides voices solely on the basis of vocal range. Choral music most commonly divides vocal parts into high and low voices within each sex: soprano and alto vocal ranges for females, tenor and bass vocal ranges for males (SATB), and occasionally treble for children. As a result, the typical chorus affords many opportunities for misclassification to occur. Since most people have medium voices, they are often assigned a part that is either too high or too low for them; the mezzo-soprano must sing soprano or alto and the baritone must sing tenor or bass. Either option can present problems for the singer, but for most singers there are fewer dangers in singing too low, than in singing too high

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