About Vocal Range and Voice Type
If you have spent time in choirs, you might be familiar with the question: "Where do you sing?" Or maybe "what's your range?" or "what voice type are you?"
Your approximate range and current voice type are great things to know, but what even are they?
At it's most basic, someone's vocal range refers to how high or low that they can sing, and this has typically been taken as an indicator of where they sit on the voice type spectrum and accordingly what parts they sing in a choir. This can give the impression that range and type are just a way to pigeonhole a singer as high or low. Thankfully, there's a little more to it than that.
When we talk about range itself, you can have both a singable and a functional range. When we speak of either range, we tend to refer to only the notes on either extreme, high or low. It's generally understood that all notes between these two pitches are then within your range.
Singable range refers to the range of notes that you can sing both comfortably and consistently. This is the range that you are more likely to put on your CV or refer to when asked.
Functional range, on the other hand, is the range of notes that you can vocally produce, regardless of the clarity, comfort or consistency of sound.
On top of this, neither of these ranges are static. Just as regular practice with a qualified professional can teach you to safely jump higher or squat lower, regular healthy voice training with a professional's guidance can sometimes free your voice up for more extension higher or lower.
Although voices are all unique, your vocal range provides a quick guide to your general voice type and is an easy way for others (eg. an audition panel) to gain an approximate idea of your sound and suitability to sing different repertoire.
If you’re not sure of your range, let’s start by figuring out your general voice type.
As you explore your voice and the most common voice types remember that these voice types are not strict boxes, categories or labels, they’re more like broad guides.
Knowing your vocal type is less about what precise notes you can hit, but more about where your voice is the most comfortable. You may have a range that encompasses the range of a mezzo-soprano, alto, and tenor, but where in that range is most comfortable and natural for you to speak and sing?
From the highest to lowest, the most common voice types are: soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass.
The highest of the most common voice types is Soprano. On sheet music, the soprano line is often the highest on the treble clef. In cartoons and the like, when you see someone singing so high that they shatter glass, it's often a soprano!
Typical Range: approximately C4-C6
Well known sopranos: Julie Andrews, Audra McDonald, Ariana Grande, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Kristen Chenoweth
Mezzo-soprano, often simply called ‘mezzo’, is the next treble clef voice type. Mezzo-sopranos are often thought of as great all-rounders - they tend to have a fairly strong lower range, and are also comfortable singing a little higher as necessary. Typical Range: approximately A3-A5
Well known mezzo-sopranos: Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, Bernadette Peters, Caissie Levy, Patti Lupone (early years)
The lowest common voice type written out on the treble clef is the alto. Altos are known for two things: being more secure in their lower range and always getting the monotonous parts in harmony singing.
Typical Range: approximately F3-F5
Well known altos: Gladys Knight, Patti Lupone (later years), Annie Lennox
Tenor is generally considered the highest common bass clef voice type. Tenors are known for their ability to sing in falsetto, sometimes reaching the C above middle C or even higher!
Typical Range: approximately C3-C5
Well known tenors: Gene Kelly, Luciano Pavarotti, Tituss Burgess, Jonathan Groff, Andrea Bocelli, Aaron Tveit
The baritone's range sits between that of tenor and bass. It's the most common male voice type and usually carries some qualities and characteristics of both bass and tenor voice types. Interestingly, baritone wasn't recognised as a voice type until the 19th Century!
Typical Range: approximately A2-A4
Well known baritones: Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Leslie Odom Jr
Bass is generally considered to be the lowest common voice type, however the number of natural basses is far fewer than other vocal ranges. For this reason, there are not many musical theatre songs purely for the bass sound.
Typical Range: E2-E4
Well known basses: Johnny Cash, Barry White, Sir Willard White (Bari-Bass)