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Info on voice ranges

27 Sep 99 - 03:24 PM (#118170)
Subject: Info on voice ranges
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Not wanting to seem uppity or anything, but I started a seperate thread for this because I thought that it was more likely to get to people who needed the information here than at the end of a long thread (Is that so wrong?;-))

People's voices tend to fall in a range of about three octaves--about an octave and a half either side of middle C--the lower side for men, the higher side for women--If your voice sounds better on the higher notes , you are a soprano or tenor, better on the lower notes, you are an alto or a baritone--if you can manage the lowest notes, you are a bass--

Choral music tends to be divided into four parts, Soprano, alto for women, tenor, baritone/bass for men--

People sometimes get very confused about what the actual ranges are, even performers with classical training, simply because certain of the parts are written an octave above the pitch that the voice actually uses--

Folk musicians can get even more confused, because they are usually most familiar with guitar parts, which are written an octave above where they actually sound--

Someone mentioned that a "jazz guy" told them that the A string, third fret, is where the middle C is--this is sort of right, that is the note that you play on the guitar when you see a middle C, however, that note is actually an octave below middle C--B string first fret is the actual middle C on a guitar--

The Soprano parts usually fall into a range of about an octave and a half, from middle C to the G above the staff--on the guitar this would be from B-string first fret to e-string, 15th fret.

The Alto parts fall about a fourth below this, the range being from G below middle C, to the high E on the staff, which is the third in the first octave above--the G-string open to e-string twelvth fret--

The Tenor part is written from middle C to G above the staff, corresponding to the Soprano, but actually sounds an octave below that--so it corresponds to A-string third fret to e-string third fret--

Bass/Baritone is written and sounds in the bass clef- from G in the second octave below middle C to the D above middle C--This would be from the E-String third fret to the D-string open. The Bass part only will go down to the C below that(a major third below the E-String), and the Baritone part only will go to the G above middle C.--the open G string--

Practically speaking, the four ranges are really five ranges, and they are a fourth apart, not an octave, as you might suppose --The soprano carries the melody in the range that it is written, the alto being a lower harmony part extending a fourth below it--The tenor falling an octave below the soprano, and runs to about a fifth below the alto, carrying the melody, and the baritone being the male lower harmony, a fourth below that--and the bass being generally left out of mixed groups--

So what do these divisions mean to people who sing folk and popular music?

Not so much as you might think--for a bunch of reasons--

First-- because most singers have a larger range than the group parts tend to be written for,

Second, you still have to to know what your good keys are, and what kind of range the song you are singing requires,

Thirdly, a lot of folk singing requires some strain or other sound quality that only works at the extremes of the singers range--whatever it is--

Fourth, and most important, as a soloist, the melody is wherever you want it to be (and, since it is folk music, whatever you want it to be)

The higher ranges tend to allow more for volume and power., and are easier to control, but tend to be difficult to differentiate--lower voices , alto and baritone, have more overtones, are more difficult to keep even and on pitch, and tend to need more air, because the high pitches carry farther than the low ones, but they offer more subtlety of expression and more unique character--

It takes quite few years for a low voice to develop--while the higher voices are great at an early age----Which is why old Bluesmen and Country singers and saloon singers just get better--while the boy sopranos just fade away--and why men often think they can"t sing, when it is just that their voice isn't ready yet--

27 Sep 99 - 03:46 PM (#118176)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: JR

Thnaks.. doesn't get any clearer than that.

16 May 00 - 08:52 AM (#228669)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: Jeremiah McCaw

Merci, M. Ted.

That does indeed summarize neatly a whole lot of stuff. Further question for you, or any kind soul out there. My useable range has me not quite able to hit the high notes of a tenor, but not quite low enough to do the lower range of a baritone. Does that make me a "counter tenor" or a "contra tenor" (never could keep 'em straight)?

16 May 00 - 09:01 AM (#228674)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler

Thanks MTed for that. Now I know that my voice just "isn't ready yet". If it's not ready at 56 how long should I wait?!

16 May 00 - 10:20 AM (#228726)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,Mimosa@work

Jeremiah, In opera chorus, we'd call you a second tenor, or as a soloist, maybe a heldentenor (if you can sing really, really loud)Counter tenors sing in the alto to soprano range, using falsetto.

16 May 00 - 11:57 AM (#228798)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,Douglas Fanshaw


The edges of the range tend to be notes that require a bit of work--you use the word "useable" and that tells me that the notes are there, but you have some other problem(often, for the low notes, it is too much air, not enough sound)--there are a lot of little tricks to getting those notes out, and those of us who seem to have been given the "gift" of a wide vocal range really have done a lot of work on the edges.


When you turned forty, you became entitled to do what you want, and if people don't like it, that is their problem-- I have been doing research into English Common Law, and it turns out that you have a fundamental right to sing, no matter what it sounds like.

Anyway, your voice is ready, you've just got to figure out how to get it to do what you want.

16 May 00 - 02:17 PM (#228899)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: Jim Krause

Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, and then practice, practice, and if your flight happens to take to you Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand, practise, practise, practise, and then practise. Enjoy.

16 May 00 - 04:36 PM (#228984)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: paddymac

Thanks M.Ted for the clearest, most succinct explanation and clarification of the lore of the voice that has ever come my way.

17 May 00 - 03:31 PM (#229462)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,MTed's Old Bass Player

MTed has asked me to tell you all that he is glad if his comments were helpful. He also takes it as a kindness that someone remembered this post of his from last year, and appreciates that it was refreshed when the questions about range came up again.

He keeps pointing out that anyone who has studied a little music theory would give you the same answers that he does, which I suppose is true, but his explanations seem to be a little easier to make sense out of than most.

You are lucky that he has written this stuff out, though, because once he starts talking about it, it is hard to shut him up.

18 May 00 - 01:29 AM (#229735)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: Escamillo

OK, let him talk !:) His explanation was excellent.

18 May 00 - 08:42 PM (#230226)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: John in Brisbane

Just a couple of things to add as a basso. Yes it's true that age will extend a male's vocal range, particularly into the bass range, but I'd put my money on practice and confidence any day.

The lowest notes I've personally seen in a SATB score is the D just below the bottom line of the Bass staff, but that's pretty rare. I have a peronal ambition to get down to Bb but I'm still a tone away.

Don't forget that women's voices improve with age and get a warmth and sexiness that younger kids cannot achieve.

Regards, John

18 May 00 - 08:53 PM (#230233)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,MTed's Old Bass Player

Good thoughts, John. It also seems like singers loosen up, and become more expressive as they get older.

04 May 04 - 08:38 PM (#1177975)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,Sarah

Does anyone know anything about coloratora sopranos? I am a very high soprano, but I am not sure of my voice type.

05 May 04 - 04:23 AM (#1178242)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,Crystal

And what about contralto? I've been told that my voice is in that range!

05 May 04 - 05:51 AM (#1178297)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: s&r

coloratura is an ornamented style of singin, usually but not always a soprano. Sometimes wrongly applied to mean high.

Contralto is the lowest female voice goes from about F below middle C to G two octaves and a bit higher.


05 May 04 - 05:59 AM (#1178308)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges


Coloratura - a lyric soprano that uses a lot of ornamentation
lyric - light soprano of moderate range
dramatic - powerful theatrical

05 May 04 - 06:06 AM (#1178315)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: Escamillo

You may find a brief explanation in
This site
A good classical teacher is the only one who can ascertain the best range for our voices. Very frequently we feel that certain range is comfortable for us, but ignore our capabilities in other ranges.

Un abrazo,
Andrés (the bass who was better as baritone, but happened to be a tenor)

05 May 04 - 11:20 AM (#1178530)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: clueless don

So, s&r, what is the correct term for a high soprano - i.e. the range above mezzo soprano? Just plain "soprano"?


05 May 04 - 11:40 AM (#1178552)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: s&r

Yes, as far as I am aware soprano is tops. Coloraturo ornaments for a soprano are often trills and grace notes and such higher than the written note. So a soprano singing in a coloraturo style would use notes at the top of her range as ornaments.

The overlaps between voice ranges are ill defined, since (say) a trained contralto can reach notes that would normally be regarded as the soprano range.

this is interesting

02 Jul 04 - 05:34 PM (#1218619)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,singerrr

i have been told i have an octave range of 3??

and i no nothing bout pianos... but i can hit the 6th note (an e i think_) from the end.

03 Jul 04 - 05:13 PM (#1219019)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: Merritt

Re working on the "edges of the range." Douglas Fanshaw can you expand on your comments? My effective singing range is from the 2nd A below middle C up to the G above middle C. Below that range I can't maintain the quality/consistency of the note, while I can only nail notes G# thru Bb above mid C after singing for a long period of time. Any suggestions you have for working "the edges" are greatly appreciated.

- Merritt

"It's all one big note." - Frank Zappa

26 Apr 20 - 11:12 PM (#4048786)
Subject: RE: Info on voice ranges
From: GUEST,Shannon stark

I am a female whose low sustainable note is G2 and high is D5 I sing most comfortably and with best quality and resonance within the higher "baritone" and lower "tenor" ranges    I'm certainly a contralto but sing best below those ranges. am I contralto profundo?    Also, I seem to possess a pronounced woodwind quality ..... if singers can be imagined as instruments, I would be an oboe to most everyone
any other thoughts on this is appreciated