Have you ever wondered about your vocal range? Maybe you’ve seen charts like this one or this one, and wondered where your own voice lines up. And, once you know what your range is, how do you decide what songs will fit your voice? Let’s unpack some basic ideas relating to range and registration to help you find your footing.
Perhaps you’re wondering about the classic “voice types” you’ve heard of: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass. And what about Mezzo-Soprano and Baritone? The study of singing goes back hundreds of years, so a lot of this terminology is irrelevant for today’s singers (in the contemporary spectrum, that is). Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass are, of course, the voice parts in choral singing– lumping singers together for different vocal lines based on loose ranges. Mezzo-Soprano and Baritone are terms associated with operatic voice types (along with Soprano, Tenor, and Bass). You might be surprised to learn that there are actually dozens of other voice type-related terms in the operatic style; but even in classical singing, this very specific type naming is starting to be considered unnecessary overkill.
As all bodies are different, all voices are, too! The good news is, however, as with most things, there are “averages”. Most men are Baritones (in between Tenor and Bass) with a range of roughly A2-F4 (with a register shift occurring in the neighborhood of E4 to include more “head voice”). Most women are mezzo-sopranos (in between Contraltos and Sopranos) with a range of A3-E5 (with a “vocal break” or register shift occurring somewhere between F4-A4). So, it’s best not to overthink voice typing labels and focus instead on identifying the notes you can comfortably and reliably access in your range— this is the area you should focus on training and for which you should choose song repertoire.
Although “Range” is generally considered the highest note you can sing to the lowest note your can sing, when picking songs to perform, a good rule of thumb for most singers is to pick songs that lay in the optimal part of your voice, the most comfortable zone. In fact, some teachers would suggest that, while you should always vocalize to your extremes in both directions, you may not want to rely on those top 2-3 or bottom 2-3 notes for performances. This is because, like everything else in your body, the voice is influenced by many factors– from hormone fluctuations, to hydration, to the quality of your sleep, and many more. You may even find that your vocal range varies somewhat from day to day (though if the changes in your range are more than subtle, you may want to pay a visit to your doctor). Famously, some female opera singers even have clauses in their contracts that they will not perform during certain times in their hormonal cycles because of the inevitable vocal changes that occur!
Some beginning singers– especially women!– mistake the very normal “break” or register shift in their voice as the top of their range; if this is you, do some more exploration using silly sounds like sirens, dove coos, baby “wah”s, or really whatever you can come up with to get outside of your “norm”! Sing lightly and with even airflow and you may discover another note or two at either end. If you are wanting to expand your vocal range (or develop more tone throughout), breath exercises may be key, but as all bodies and voices are different, the safest way to avoid injuring your voice while stretching for a larger range would be to consult a knowledgeable singing teacher.
Once you know a bit more about your own voice’s pitch constraints, make a list of singers (within your preferred style) who seem to have a similar range or quality (think of how light vs. heavy/dark their sound is) to your own. These singers’ songs will be a good jumping off point for you. If you need further help or more insight into your own voice, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a lesson. Cardon Studios’ teachers are a knowledgeable resource to point you in the right direction and we would love to help you along your vocal journey!