October 30, 2020

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Stefan Joubert
Stefan Joubert is the manager of the London Singing Institute. He is passionate about helping adults find their voice. He truly believes that no one is too old or not talented enough to start singing. To get started with your singing lessons contact Stefan at enrol@londonsinginginstitute.co.uk

As you begin to develop your vocals, learning more about your range, vocal style and other unique characteristics will assist you on your journey to become a better vocalist.

Getting to know your singing voice will help to find songs for your vocal range that highlight your best qualities, avoid straining and identify areas for improvement. You can also find your vocal range and famous singer match that may give you some ideas on how to use and train your own voice. Although you may have previously heard of the main voice ranges for males and females, there is so much more to your vocal that determines its unique type and sound. In this article, we will help you identify your vocal range and discover other aspects of your voice, so you can get to know your own instrument and plan your development with this information in mind.

What are the 7 vocal range names?

Male vocals are split into these 4 ranges:

  • Bass – these vocals have a characteristic, low rumble, producing a tone you’d almost expect to hear from a subwoofer. True bass vocals aren’t very common, however, a great famous example is Barry White.
  • Baritone – smooth and rich, baritone vocals have a good amount of ‘weight’ to them while maintaining the ability to hit higher notes, especially with proper training. Nat King Cole and Tom Jones are great examples of baritone.
  • Tenor – among the highest of male voices, tenors are popular in modern pop music due to their lighter tone and flexibility to hit beautiful top notes and falsettos. Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Luciano Pavarotti are all well-known tenor singers.
  • Countertenor – just like bass, countertenor isn’t very common among men and is characteristically lighter and higher than a tenor. Singers like Vitas might be a good contemporary example, however, with its origins in classical and choral music, countertenors are not quite as common in commercial music.

Female vocals are usually classed into 3 ranges:

  • Contralto – the lowest female vocal range, a contralto is distinctive with its rich low notes and can be less common than other vocal ranges. It’s often confused with alto, so it’s important to clarify that alto is actually used to identify choral parts and isn’t considered a vocal range in itself. Great examples of contraltos include Annie Lennox and Nina Simone.
  • Mezzo-Soprano – this is perhaps the most common vocal range for females and it’s characterised by ability to sustain lower notes as well as some impressive high notes. This vocal range is popular in pop music with famous examples featuring Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Madonna.
  • Soprano – light, yet powerful in the higher register, sopranos possess the highest female vocal range. Well known examples of this range include Bjork, Mariah Carey and FKA Twigs.

So, how can you determine your vocal range?

It is quite easy to do, especially if you have an instrument at your disposal that can play a large range of single notes. A piano or guitar is perfect, however, if you don’t have one, you can download a digital piano app that will work just as well for this exercise. Before you do this, make sure to perform some vocal warmups, as you’ll be going through your entire vocal range, which may put a strain on the vocal cords. If you’re using the piano keyboard, find the middle C (also known as C4). Try to sing a vowel sound like ‘ah’ and work your way down every note, including the black keys (or flats and sharps). Exploring your lower range first will help you warm-up for the task before stretching into your upper range. See how low you can go, while singing comfortably, which will determine the lowest note in your range. Do the same again from middle C, but this time, go up note by note. Again, the highest note you can reach comfortably will be the highest note in your range. Remember to include falsetto register as it also counts towards it. Here’s an approximate span of common vocal ranges:

  • Bass – E2 to E4
  • Baritone – A2 to A4
  • Tenor – C3 to C5
  • Countertenor – E3 to E5
  • Contralto – F3 to F5
  • Mezzo-Soprano – A3 to A5
  • Soprano – C4 to C6

Of course, these are simplified, approximate vocal spans and it’s likely that your voice falls a little outside of these barriers. Similarly, don’t get discouraged if your vocal range is a little smaller. Though many incredible vocalists like Mariah Carey boast an impressive vocal range of 4 octaves, a larger range doesn’t automatically mean better vocal quality. It’s possible to extend your range slightly, but it’s more important to develop a proper technique and control of your voice to sound your best.

So, is this enough to determine your vocal type? Not exactly.

Your vocal type – transitions, tone and tessitura

Commonly, the different vocal ranges will overlap – an alto will be able to reach some of the notes sung by sopranos and so on. While your vocal type is connected to your vocal range, there are other factors to consider when you are trying to get to know your singing voice. Your vocal type and, to some degree, the range, are determined by tessitura, which is the ‘sweet spot’ of your vocal, where you are most comfortable and the vocal shows off its best qualities. Although vocal ranges will overlap, the tessitura of the countertenor, for example, will be higher than that of a tenor.

Our vocal types also differ based on the transitions we experience as we move through the registers and where these transitions happen in our vocal range. Do you find that you’re able to belt in a certain range, while, as you move higher, your voice naturally approaches the notes in falsetto style? It’s important that you’re aware of these register changes and are able to use your voice effectively.

Have you noticed that some singers have a different tone and sound heavier or lighter, even though they sing the same note? An easy way to explain this is by comparing different instruments. A baritone saxophone and an alto saxophone might be able to reach similar notes in their range, but their tone is different. The same goes for vocals. Some vocalists also find it easier to project huge, belting notes, while others would have a softer approach. As singers, we have our own unique tone that makes us stand out from the rest, and it’s important we choose a repertoire that highlights our best qualities.

Finally, our speech level voice is one that we are most comfortable using every day, and it can help us determine our vocal range since we would normally talk within the confines of our tessitura.

What does this mean for you?

Firstly, understanding your vocal range will help you transpose vocal exercises and songs to suit your range, therefore, avoiding unnecessary straining and potential damage to your voice. It’s important to remember that straining in our upper range is typically more damaging than straining in our lower range. Identifying your ‘sweet voice’ or tessitura, as well as the unique tonal qualities and register changes, go one step further. Possessing this knowledge of your voice will help you pick out a repertoire or write songs that highlight the best qualities of your voice and really impress the listener. While proper vocal technique and training are crucial, getting to know your voice and how to use it will make you stand out and sound your best, as you will be singing in the style and range that suits you perfectly. If you are unsure about your vocal range, type, or notice any issues that you’d like to work on, the best thing to do is find a vocal coach that will work with you to tackle any problems. Online advice can be great, but the person behind the screen of an online tutorial has never heard you sing before, so they wouldn’t be able to identify the vocal qualities that are unique to you or focus on the things you struggle with in particular.

Tags: Vocal range, Vocal types, Singing range

Join London’s most distinguished vocal academy for adults

Exclusive vocal instruction for adults of all ages and abilities (absolute beginners are very welcome!)

View our singing courses
Tags: Vocal range, Vocal types, Singing range